Volkswagen Group of America is creating Volkswagen’s first innovation hub in North America at the University of Tennessee’s Research Park at Cherokee Farm in Knoxville. The collaboration, which will include Oak Ridge National Laboratory – the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory – involves research opportunities for doctoral students and space in the Innovation North building at the research park. Initial work will focus on developing lighter vehicle components made from composite materials, the electrification of vehicles, and other automotive innovation.
The hub marks the culmination of years of collaboration since Volkswagen opened its Chattanooga assembly plant in 2011. The facility assembles the Volkswagen Passat sedan and Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs, specifically designed for the North American market. This past autumn, Volkswagen of America broke ground on a new electric vehicle production facility, which includes a 564,000 square-foot body shop addition and up to 1,000 new jobs.
“Working with the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a great opportunity to continue growing Volkswagen’s engineering footprint in the North American region,” said Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, executive vice president and chief engineering officer for Volkswagen’s North American region. “This hub, along with other research institutions here, is an integral part of Volkswagen’s global research and development efforts and can also directly contribute to vehicles sold in North America.”
UT Chattanooga and Volkswagen have developed an MBA programme that lets Volkswagen employees earn the degree by taking classes at the plant or on campus. Volkswagen also is a member of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a cooperative agreement between UT Knoxville and the Department of Energy. As a part of this, Volkswagen engineers and UT researchers and their collaborators created a novel composite liftgate for the Volkswagen Atlas that reduces weight by 35%, as well as reducing investment cost.
“Our collaboration with the University of Tennessee is not just an opportunity to explore new fields of research, it’s also an opportunity to expand and grow what the Volkswagen Group has already achieved in the region,” said Nikolai Reimer, senior vice president of Volkswagen Group of America’s Innovation and Engineering Center California. “The Volkswagen Group has made significant strides in developing sustainable technologies and the Innovation Hub Knoxville can help continue this effort through research in advanced material design.”
The innovation hub in Knoxville will join Volkswagen’s larger global innovation network, which includes innovation centres in Belmont, California; Wolfsburg, Germany; and Beijing, China, along with innovation hubs in Barcelona, Spain; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Tokyo, Japan. The Innovation and Engineering Center California in Belmont opened in 1998 with three employees and now has grown to more than 200 engineers, scientists, designers and psychologists. Their work bridges the gap between Silicon Valley technology and the automotive group. Each centre manages the regional innovation ecosystem by designing collaborative mobility concepts.