Apprentices applying hands-on skills during the apprenticeship program. In the early 2000s, Volkswagen operated several successful apprenticeship programs in Germany and, because of its success abroad, the company decided to bring it stateside. The apprenticeship program, one of the core programs of the Volkswagen Academy, officially launched with the opening of the Chattanooga Plant in 2010 and has since trained over 100 apprentices. This year, as the program marked its 10th anniversary, 28 apprentices successfully completed the program and transitioned into jobs at the plant. Mark Limerick, a 2013 graduate says his training at the Academy helped him build a “great skill set” that allowed him to work on the floor. “I would recommend coming to the Volkswagen Academy,” said Limerick. “It helped me greatly with a future at Volkswagen. I’ve learned so much here.” The Volkswagen Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Academy continues to strengthen the Volkswagen workforce with additional upskill training and onboarding training for new Volkswagen hires. “Apprenticeship and educational programs date back centuries and have endured the test of time because they are truly effective ways for people to develop skills,” said Ilker Subasi, assistant manager, technical training, of the Volkswagen Apprenticeship Program at Volkswagen Chattanooga. “We are proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past 10 years at the Academy and look forward to continuing to train our next generations of automotive technicians in the years and decades to come.” In addition to the apprenticeship program, the Volkswagen Academy is home to the High School Mechatronics Akademie, a two-year mechatronics program that is open to eligible high school students in the Hamilton County School District. This program combines high school and college courses into one program for students who are interested in studying mechatronics. Since its inaugural year, 54 students have graduated from the program. Apprentices applying hands-on skills during the apprenticeship program. Under normal circumstances, the Academy would also host Volkswagen’s Academy Summer Camp. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 camp was cancelled. During previous summer camp sessions, 14- to 18-year-old campers received hands-on experience in robotics and automation, and a variety of educational programming tied to the automotive manufacturing field. “This is a great way for teenagers in the community to be involved with Volkswagen and a wonderful way for us to give back to the community as well,” said Steffi Wegener, technical training specialist at Volkswagen Chattanooga. “It’s exciting to watch the campers face challenges and use critical thinking skills to resolve issues they might encounter during an activity. This program really allows these youths to get a glimpse of some of the things we do here at the plant.” In addition to its many successful educational programs, the Academy also serves as the plant’s primary workforce development resource. Prior to the start of production at the plant, employees undergo training at the Academy to ensure the workforce is well-versed and ready to hit the ground running. This will be of added importance with the launch of the new battery plant and the electric vehicle build in Chattanooga, which will see the need for new skillsets in the plant’s employees.
With the all-electric Volkswagen ID.4 due to be revealed in full-production form soon, Volkswagen has begun expanding its Chattanooga factory to build a North American center for electric vehicles – not only for assembly, but for engineering the EVs of the future. To power those efforts, Volkswagen‘s Engineering and Planning Center in Chattanooga will soon feature a unique, 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. 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.” The EPC plans to break ground on the lab soon, with the goal of being fully operational by spring 2021. It will feature cutting-edge equipment, including pressure testers, explosion-rated climate chambers and – perhaps the most unique – a custom 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. Most automotive labs have MASTs, but almost none were 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. “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 had to design its own tool rather than using an outside supplier. The supports for the MAST will be buried 12 feet under the lab’s floor and buttressed with concrete to help withstand the forces in use. Volkswagen’s new lab will be only the second location in the country with a MAST of this size. Rendering of the Chattanooga plant expansion for EV production. Beyond the tools, Chattanooga’s high-voltage lab will have other unique features. In line with Volkswagen’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the lab is planned to be built to LEED standards for environmental impacts, through steps such as a battery-to-grid connection that sends unused energy back to utilities. “This lab was planned to be as sustainable as possible,” said Maluche. And the lab adds to the growing tech scene in Chattanooga. From the engineering work of Volkswagen and other firms to its early embrace of affordable gigabit Internet for its downtown business center, Chattanooga has managed to grow a core of technology businesses while retaining its Tennessee mountain charm. Swager has lived in Chattanooga since 2009 and has seen the Engineering and Planning Center grow alongside the town. “It feels like gold rush time,” he said. “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. “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.” Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change.
Inspired by his love for detailing, Jason Otterness launched his popular DIY YouTube channel as a resource for those getting into car care for the first time. When shelter-in-place orders took effect in cities across the U.S. this spring, a hobby renaissance began. Images of people comfort baking, knitting and puzzling flooded social media, along with car enthusiasts showing off their new DIY car detailing projects. “Our business was doing some doomsday planning as most small businesses were at the start of the pandemic, waiting for the wall to close in and it just never did,” said Jared Toops, General Manager and Director of E-Commerce at Car Supplies Warehouse, a subsidiary of the Chicago Auto Pros detail shop. Solving problems and learning new skills online are some of the ways many of us are coping and keeping busy and engaged during these unprecedented times. “Our viewership was increasing on our YouTube channel, and a lot of people were asking questions about how to clean their cars now that they couldn’t go to a carwash or go to a dealer,” Toops explained. “Our e-commerce sales kept increasing month over month as DIY-ers dove into car care for the first time.” Co-Owner Jason Otterness, who launched his YouTube channel in tandem with Chicago Auto Pros’ detailing business 12 years ago, said the channel just hit a milestone of 100K followers. “I fell in love with detailing first before I fell in love with cars, and now I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” Otterness said. “As I’ve chronicled our business in recent months, the number one question we now we get is, ‘What do I need to make my car look the way it does when you all do it?’ and honestly the easiest thing for consumers to do at home is regular maintenance—things like washing, tire shines and vacuuming.” Whether you’re a newbie or avid detail DIYer, Otterness and Toops (who own a Volkswagen Golf Mk7 and 2020 Tiguan, respectively) sat down with us to share some of their best tips for helping to maintain your car at home: Otterness’ favorite car to detail happens to his own: a white Golf Mk7. WASHING YOUR EXTERIOR LIKE A PRO: Use soft towels: “One of the biggest things I think people don’t understand is how delicate the paint on their car is and how easy it scratches,” said Otterness. When it comes to both washing and drying your vehicle, bath towels won’t cut it. Otterness says it’s best to use microfiber towels or mitts, which are already designed for gentler care. Use two buckets: If you are only using one bucket to wash down your car, chances are you are going to wipe dirt, salt and sand back onto your car. This can create little scratches on a car’s clear coat, known as “spider webs.” Toops suggests having a bucket that’s used solely for rinsing out your towel or washing mitt to remove debris, and a separate soap bucket to dunk it in before going back to work on the car’s surface. Wash from the top to the bottom: It should be no surprise that most of the dirt and grime your car collects is located on the bottom half of your vehicle. Start washing from the hood of your car and working your way down to its wheels and grille to help eliminate the amount of debris that gets dragged across the paint’s surface. Lubricate properly: Oftentimes, consumers will grab whatever is close at hand to clean their cars, including dish soap. Otterness says that dish soap can actually dry out and strip the rubber seals and wax that help protect your car, so it’s best to avoid it at all costs. Even if your resources are limited, he suggests purchasing a car-dedicated shampoo product for cleaning. Don’t wash your car in the sun: On a nice day in the summer, it’s tempting to go outside to wash your car in the driveway but Toops advises against it as it can possibly damage your car’s clear coat. If you allow your car to dry naturally in the hot sun—even just from washing it with water—the minerals left behind can eventually etch their way into the clear coat. Toops says it’s best to minimize exposure to the sun and hand dry your car with a towel whenever possible. Leave paint correction and buffing to professionals: While using a machine to polish out scratches and swirls can be done by newbies, Otterness and Toops warn that there can be many risks involved with it and those unfamiliar with the equipment risk damaging the vehicle (i.e. taking off too much paint, leaving dull spots or discoloring plastic trim). They suggest holding off on these fixes until your next visit with your dealer. Lastly, wash often: Otterness says that while it differs depending on how much you drive, on average, consumers should aim to wash their car every other week to help keep it looking new and free from contaminants like pollen and iron particles that can damage the cars’ paint. An interior shot of the 2017 Tiguan Limited. KEEPING YOUR INTERIOR IN TIP-TOP SHAPE: According to Toops, interiors are often overlooked when it comes to detailing, but should be regularly maintained. “It’s kind of gross, but when leather seats, steering wheels or shifters are dirty inside a vehicle—especially higher quality materials, like you would see with a Volkswagen—it’s mostly dead skin cells piling up,” Toops said. Interior maintenance, he says, is incredibly simple: A microfiber towel and water go a long way: These items do an adequate job of helping to keep debris off the seats and avoiding buildup, especially if done regularly. Focus on high traffic areas – like steering wheels, shifters and door panels – and avoid using household cleaners as they can dry out quality materials and strip the grip on car’s pedals and steering wheel. For most American families, a car is the second biggest purchase they make. “Cleaning your car does matter,” Otterness said. “Especially when it’s one as nice as a Volkswagen.”
In this pandemic summer, Americans have hit the roads to get away, with AAA predicting an estimated 683 million road trips from July to September. That has also driven many owners to buy accessories that they may have overlooked until now. Robert Gal, a senior manager of performance and accessories at Volkswagen, says the company has seen a “really big, year-over-year spike” in sales of its road trip-related accessories. Here’s a look at the Volkswagen accessories that have seen some of the largest increases in demand over the past several months. Hitch mounted bike rack. Disclaimer: Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Requires factory or dealer installed tow hitch receiver. Hitch mounted bike rack: Bicycle sales nationwide have surged since the pandemic started, and so has the demand for hitch mount bike racks. Summer travelers can quickly and easily carry up to four bikes on the back of their Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport and Tiguan, with Volkswagen’s available hitch mounted bike racks. An alternative to the available roof-mount bike carrier, the SUV-dependent rack is easy to operate and can provide the user with easy hatch access should they need to reach the trunk. The rack’s unique bike arm design also features ratcheting bike tie-downs that help with easy loading and helps reduce the amount of contact between the bicycles.1 Universal Tablet Holder. Disclaimer: Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Tablet device not included. Universal tablet holder: This kid-friendly accessory is the perfect gadget to help entertain younger passengers. Secured to the back of front seat headrests, the holder is adjustable and locks in a compatible tablet so backseat travelers can comfortably watch a movie, play a game or stream content on the road through the available on-board VW Car-Net® 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.23 “Instead of investing in permanent headrest-mounted DVD players that are over a $1,000, you can [use] your own compatible tablets you bring from home,” Gal says. Bonus: the tablet holder base also features two shopping hooks for added utility when the tablet holder is not attached. Bumperdillo® protection plate. Disclaimer: Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Bumperdillo® protection plate: Sales of the Bumperdillo have surged over the past several months. Why? It’s a great shield to help protect your top bumper from the traditional wear and tear of unloading your outdoor adventure gear. Strong and self-adhesive, this easy-to-install rear bumper guard helps protect the car’s painted surface. “It’s a universal accessory that helps drivers keep their paint jobs intact” and provides travelers “a piece of mind,” says Roger Chung, Manager, Accessories Development at Volkswagen.4 Rear Sunshade. Disclaimer: Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Rear sunshade: Looking to keep your passengers cool and shaded in the scorching summer heat? Volkswagen rear sunshades help reduce sun glare and heat and will help keep your kids and pets feel more comfortable in the backseat. The polyester fabric mesh, which has seen sales double in year-to-year sales, is custom made to fit to your specific Volkswagen model.5 Base carrier bars. Disclaimer: All roof-rack system attachments require the base carrier bars. All accessories sold separately. Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Base carrier bars: The carrier bars include a T-Slot channel, keyed end caps and the newest models include an integrated turn dial for easy installation. Adventure seekers can also purchase separate attachments, to help transport their skis, snowboards, kayaks, canoes, and other miscellaneous gear.5 Privacy cover. Disclaimer: Proper installation required. Professional installation may be recommended. See owner’s literature and dealer for details. Privacy cover: Keep your travel and personal gear out of sight from onlookers with this retractable rear privacy cover. Use it in your Atlas, Cross Sport or Tiguan to help cover belongings in your trunk while you are out and about.6
Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory. Over the past decade, a growing movement of van dwellers have ditched their cubicles for the open road, living out of their vehicles and documenting their journeys as they travel the world. It has become a lifestyle, online aesthetic and career — one both Kristen Bor and Linda Romero have embraced. When they met, Bor and Romero were studying for their master’s degrees in Environmental Science and Management from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The now full-time bloggers went their separate ways after graduation, with Bor working in environmental policy in Washington, D.C. and Romero employed at a sustainable energy nonprofit in San Diego. After a few years, both realized they wanted more adventure than their current jobs could offer. “I wanted to see the world,” said Bor. “It was not enough for me to fly to a new country just to sit in a conference room for a few days. I wanted to integrate travel into [all aspects of] my life in a more meaningful way than would have been possible in a traditional corporate setting.” Bor (L) and Romero (R) pose together at a van life festival. Bor traveled solo across New Zealand in her van in 2014. Photo credit: Kristen Bor and Bearfoot Theory. After one year of planning, Bor created a travel blog, booked a ticket to New Zealand and quit her desk job. She devoted the next four months to travelling across the island in a converted van and chronicling her adventure online. “Van life allowed me to get to know the country in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Bor said. “I was able to spend as much time as I wanted in each area, without worrying about paying for a hotel or catching a train. It was total freedom.” After her trip, Bor began living in her van full-time. Bor traveled solo across New Zealand in her van in 2014. Photo credit: Kristen Bor and Bearfoot Theory. Meanwhile, Romero was having a van-life journey of her own. The California native always wanted to drive through the Americas, and in 2012, she decided to make that dream a reality. She and her partner fixed up a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, equipping it with a new motor, installing a solar panel, and designing the interior with the comforts of home, including a refrigerator, lights, fan and bed. “We realized that ‘van life’ wasn’t such an unrealistic idea,” Romero explains. “We saved, we planned, we quit our jobs and we made it happen.” They spent 15 months in the Vanagon, going through California, Mexico, Central America, across the Panama Canal and down into South America to the south of Argentina — and back. “After that, I knew I wanted the freedom to travel [at any time],” Romero said. Romero and her partner converted their Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia before they left in 2012. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory. She and Bor reconnected after their trips and began working together on Bor’s website. “The ability to work remotely has opened up so many doors for me and allowed me to travel not just once or twice a year, but as a part of my life,” Romero says. Bor’s goal is to make travel more accessible to the average person. “I want to show people that with the right planning, this lifestyle can be accessible for anyone,” Bor says. She added that she is especially passionate about providing resources for women who are interested in van life. “It hit me when I was driving past the Grand Canyon around sunset. I wanted to stop and camp there, but it was getting dark and I didn’t feel safe camping alone [so] I drove right past it,” said Bor. “With a van, you can have more security. You have everything needed to get by all in one space. I can make those detours now and know I am okay.” Now, she uses her experience to help guide other travelers to experience nature to its fullest. Romero met other van-lifers and Volkswagen enthusiasts along the way. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory. Bor was inspired to make the leap by other women who embraced solo travel. “When you’re living in a van, you’re totally self-sufficient. You don’t need to rely on anyone or be tied to other schedules. I think online communities like ours can empower women to enjoy nature and give them the right tools to make it happen.” For Romero, this supportive community has been one of the most fun aspects of van life. “We’ve met so many Volkswagen enthusiasts on our journey,” she said. “The brand is so recognizable that people would honk and cheer when our Vanagon drove past, even in more remote areas. We would meet up along the way and exchange stories about our lives, our travels and how we have been living out of our Volkswagens.” The converted Vanagon made it from California to Argentina and back. Photo credit: Linda Romero and Bearfoot Theory. The choice to embrace van life also connects to Bor and Romero’s passion for environmentalism. “You only have so much space, so you have to live a very minimalist life,” said Romero. “Your consumption goes way down, and you use less water and electricity. You don’t have a huge house to keep heated and cooled.” Bor added that the lifestyle itself connects to her environmentalism. “I live in my van so that I can access nature more easily. Spending time in wild spaces deepens your connection to nature and creates a new meaning to it that even with my work, I didn’t quite have before,” Bor said. “It’s my home, but it’s also how I’m able to live a life full of adventure.”
Across the country, civic groups are looking for unique and creative ways to reach prospective voters amidst the pandemic, which has disrupted the traditional means of voter registration and election participation. “People don’t vote every day, they vote twice a year – if that – so it’s really important for us to help them understand the rules, their options and how they can make their votes count,” said David Thornburgh, president of the Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan, good government group founded in 1904. Enter the Committee of Seventy’s Vanagon Westfalia, a patriotically wrapped 1991 van that recently played a crucial role in Philadelphia’s recent primary election, where it helped collect over 5,000 mail-in ballots from local voters. Before measures to combat the coronavirus were put into place, Pennsylvania had already decided to give voters the ability to vote by mail in this year’s primary election. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the response from voters was overwhelming; over 1.8 million residents applied to vote via absentee ballot or by mail. To help ease the strain on the system, the city commissioners’ office reached out to Thornburgh to see whether the Committee of Seventy could put the Committee of Seventy’s Vanagon Westfalia to work publicizing the ballot drop-off locations. Thornburgh immediately said yes. “My thought was pretty simple: people would stop and spot this crazy red, white and blue van and think, well, this must be the right place to drop off my ballot,” Thornburgh says. A VW enthusiast, Thornburgh has owned multiple Volkswagens, including a 1985 Golf and two other “Westys” (a 1987 and 1988 model) before purchasing the Vanagon Westfalia in August 2016. “A Westfalia is a car that always invites a conversation. People just want to come and share their stories with you,” says Thornburgh. “And I love the driving experience. It’s like a Swiss Army knife on wheels – wherever you stop is home.” Originally painted a classic white, Thornburgh got his 1991 Westfalia wrapped in Wilmington, Del., in early March before pandemic lockdown measures began. He thought about getting the car wrapped– especially after his wife came up with its quippy nickname – and decided to pull the trigger ahead of the 2020 election. In addition to adding bright colors, he decorated the van with several of the committee’s ongoing campaigns and slogans, including hashtags promoting civic education and engaging messages like “Voters Wanted.” “We believe in the old-fashioned notion that democracy works better when more people are better informed and get involved at all levels of government,” Thornburgh says. In the three days leading up to the election, the van made 10 stops at different polling locations in Philadelphia. The team worked 12-hour days helping collect over 5,000 ballots that may not have been counted otherwise due to post office delays and an imminent deadline. Thornburgh says the Westfalia is the “perfect vehicle to promote local democracy, voting and community awareness” ahead of a busy 2020 election. “There’s something special about the Volkswagen brand that feels familiar and inviting,” he says. “Volkswagens have always felt like they’re part of our community.”
While America adjusts to the new normal of a world with masks and social distancing, the need for personal transportation remains – and for some, it’s stronger than ever. Yet buying a vehicle has long required in-person communication, often followed by a request to fill out a customer survey a few miles long. Over the past few months, Volkswagen has tackled both of those challenges with two new tools. Volkswagen of America and VW Credit have worked with CDK Global, Inc. to launch Sign Anywhere, a digital signature tool that’s among the first of its kind in the U.S. auto industry, allowing vehicle buyers to finish their financial paperwork with a participating dealer without having to visit the dealership. The other step is a new system of customer surveys that ditches a long list of multiple-choice questions for a few open-ended questions that gives customers the power to give detailed feedback and post their review to VW.com and the dealer’s website. The Sign Anywhere tool developed by CDK Global allows customers to remotely and securely digitally sign financial documents with their own computer or mobile device. While digital signatures are common in many industries, many laws and state regulations governing financial documents in vehicle buying have usually required in-person or “wet” signatures. Volkswagen began planning to roll out this tool two years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the deployment, and more than 400 Volkswagen dealers now have access in states where laws allow it. “Customers are asking for flexibility and looking for peace of mind especially during this time, and Sign Anywhere helps provide that.” said Anthony Bandmann, President and CEO of VW Credit, Inc. “Planning to implement this technology began two years ago but since this pandemic took hold, we’ve accelerated our plan to make this a permanent tool for our dealers.” If you’ve ever bought a vehicle, you know that post-sale surveys are part of the process. Dealers and automakers use these surveys to gather feedback and tackle any customer problems. Over time, many such surveys have grown to be a long list of questions asking for numerical rankings, with many customers advised to give only perfect scores. That system often leads to a large percentage of surveys never being completed, said Erin Buhrmaster, Director of Customer Experience for Volkswagen of America, and was often cited as one of the pain points in the shopping process. The new online survey rolled out to Volkswagen dealers in late January and features far fewer questions and allows customers to describe their experiences without the barrier of a 1-10 ranking or multiple choice responses. At the end, customers are offered the chance to share their responses on VW.com and the dealer’s website. “We’re focusing more on getting a word-for-word experience from the customer,” Buhrmaster said. “That gives everyone more insight, whether for addressing an issue or going back and praising people who deserve recognition. We stopped chasing a numerical score and started listening to what people had to say.” And since the pandemic, the surveys have shown that the steps dealers took to handle a new set of challenges, especially at-home test drives and deliveries, have been well received. “Customers have really been overwhelmed at the meaningful ways dealers have responded,” Buhrmaster said. “We have a lot of comments along the lines of ‘this is the best car buying experience I’ve ever had.’”