Volkswagen has begun to expand its Chattanooga plant in the USA in preparation for the production of the VW ID.4 before series production begins in 2022. The expansion not only applies not only to the assembly of electric cars but also to the development of new electric models.
Construction of a high-voltage laboratory will soon begin at Volkswagen’s engineering and planning centre in Chattanooga, where cells and battery packs for electric models assembled in the USA will be developed and tested. The laboratory should be fully operational by spring 2021. VW says it will present the ID.4 series version “shortly”.
The development centre is to have a Multi Axis Shaker Table (MAST) specially designed for electric cars, which will simulate the mechanical stress of poor road conditions in the laboratory. “We needed to build a MAST that could withstand the immense force and frequency that we need to test these batteries,” says Jason Swager, Director of Electrical Development at Volkswagen of America. For the MAST, he says, Volkswagen developed its own tools instead of using bought-in components.
“There are two ways that auto companies approach the development of electric vehicle batteries,” says 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.”
This may be true for development, but Volkswagen will still leave the production of the cells to a partner whereby not all issues have been resolved yet. Volkswagen wants to get cells for MEB production in Tennessee from a new battery plant from the Korean cell supplier SK Innovation in the neighbouring US state of Georgia. In a legal dispute with its Korean competitor LG Chem, SK Innovation was prohibited from importing key components into the USA. The decision is still preliminary and the final ruling is expected by early October.
VW and Ford intervened in the lawsuit in July, as both SK Innovation customers fear “catastrophic supply interruptions”. Ford apparently wants to use SK Innovation’s cells in the announced electric version of the best-selling F-150 pickup truck. There are still a few weeks of uncertainty as to how the legal dispute will end – or whether the two parties to the dispute will still reach an out-of-court settlement.
If VW does not have to reschedule at the battery supplier, the production of the ID.4 seems to be secured. At the end of July, Tom du Plessis, managing director of VW Chattanooga, had stated that the expansion of the plant was on schedule despite the Covid 19 pandemic.
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