Volkswagen’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is still tooling up to build its first product, the new Passat, but plans are already being laid for a major expansion. Although nobody will confirm it at this stage, reliable sources tell us that the Germans are almost ready to sign off on a second phase that would increase the plant’s output by 180,000 to 200,000 units a year. The plan is to let three brands participate in the new venture: Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche. Chattanooga 1 is geared to paint and assemble passenger cars, but Chattanooga 2 will almost certainly be adapted for high-roof vehicles. A second paint shop is thus a necessity.
The primary product would be a mid-size crossover for Volkswagen.
Although the Cross Passat — an off-road wagon similar to the Volvo XC70 — is due later this year, VW still would like a true mid-size crossover in North America to plug the gap between the compact Tiguan and the pricey Touareg. Enter the so-called B-SUV, which could be based on either VW’s transverse architecture (MQB, in VW-speak) or longitudinal architecture (referred to as MLB), depending on whether it needs to be available with a V-6.
Audi faces a similar dilemma. Even with the addition of the Tiguan-based Q3 later this year, there will still be room for a fourth crossover positioned between the sporty Q5 and the mighty Q7. Not surprisingly, the solution could be badged Q6. This dark-horse proposal would be significantly roomier, more comfortable, and more amenity-oriented than the Q5. It could be an MQB derivative if Audi is willing to restrict powertrain options to its trademark five-cylinder, but it would probably be better positioned as V-6-capable Q5-plus.
The third player in Chattanooga is Porsche. The upcoming Cajun crossover, which is closely related to the Q5, could easily be built in the United States. Since the Q5 is an MLB product, the Cajun would have to use the same underpinnings.
According to preliminary planning, VW is looking at about 90,000 vehicles, Audi would be happy with 60,000 Q6s, and Porsche should have little problem selling 30,000 U.S.-made Cajuns. According to those in the know, 2014 is a realistic time frame for yet another opening ceremony in southern Tennessee.