Volkswagen to Build EV Battery Cells & Packs in Tennessee for its Future Electric Models
Five years after the dieselgate scandal rocked the Volkswagen Group and severely damaged its global reputation, the automaker has switched focus to build millions of electric vehicles over the next decade, as the company begins to move away from combustion engine powered vehicles.
However, all of Volkswagen's planned electric models will require a steady and reliable supply of batteries, so the company is expanding its battery cell production capacities around the world, including in the U.S. for the first time.
Volkswagen has already begun to expand the Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant to become its North American center for electric vehicles, but now the automaker is building a new Engineering and Planning Center (EPC) in Chattanooga to test its EV batteries and also for engineering the EVs of the future, the automaker said.
The Chattanooga assembly plant will include new production lines for both battery cell and battery packs that will be installed in the company's future electric vehicles, including the new ID.4, which the production version is scheduled to be revealed soon in its final production form.
The automaker is also building a state-of-the-art high-voltage laboratory designed to develop and test electric vehicle cells and battery packs for upcoming models assembled in the United States. By doing so, Volkswagen will develop its future EV batteries in-house.
In the interim, Volkswagen is planning to use battery cells manufactured by SKI in Georgia for the EVs it builds in Chattanooga.
"There are two ways that auto companies approach the development of electric vehicle batteries," said Wolfgang Maluche, Vice President of Engineering at Volkswagen of America. "A lot of them will farm out the development and testing of batteries to another company, and some will actually do the work of developing and testing in-house. We are doing the latter."
Volkswagen's sprawling assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee will become its North American center for electric vehicles.
The EPC plans to break ground on the lab soon, with the goal of being fully operational by spring 2021.
The EPC will feature cutting-edge equipment, including pressure testers, explosion-rated climate chambers and a unique custom-built multi-axis shaker table (MAST), which is designed to test the integrity of vehicle components in some of the roughest conditions they might face on the road. The MAST literally shakes the components to simulate the harshest conditions a vehicle's systems will ever encounter.
Volskwagen pointed out that most global automakers have MAST's, but few are designed for electric vehicle batteries. EV battery packs are the largest and heaviest component in an EV, typically weighing hundreds of pounds and running the width of the vehicle, so its needs to be built to withstand the harshest conditions.
"The battery is not only shaking; it is going through a series of harsh conditions to test its durability in a variety of possible environments, from the South Pole to the Sahara," said Jason Swager, the Director of Electrical Development. "We needed to build a MAST that could withstand the immense force and frequency that we need to test these batteries."
To run a MAST at such high frequencies, Volkswagen said it had to design its own, rather than using an outside supplier, since EV batteries are extremely heavy. The supports for the MAST will be buried 12 feet under the lab's floor and buttressed with concrete to help withstand the enormous forces.
Chattanooga's high-voltage lab will have other unique features as well, including a battery-to-grid connection that sends unused energy back to utilities. It also will be built to LEED standards as part of Volkswagen's long-term goal of becoming a carbon neutral company by 2050.
"This lab was planned to be as sustainable as possible," said Maluche.
Volkswagen has been building cars in Chattanooga since 2011. Now with the plant to become a major production hub for both electric vehicles, batteries and research, it is changing the once sleepy town into a booming tech hub similar to what is happening in Austin, Texas.
"There is this great spirit in Chattanooga, where everyone is excited about what the city can become. It's a great town for an engineer like me, but also for others in tech and start-ups," said Maluche.
"The future of driving is coming to Chattanooga. We have the chance to help shape how Volkswagen and the entire automotive industry engineers electric vehicles to be as safe and sustainable as possible."
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