WASHINGTON -- Frank Fischer, who has led Volkswagen AG’s operations in Chattanooga since the automaker announced its return to U.S. manufacturing in 2008, has been reassigned to lead an assembly plant in Germany, the company announced today.
Fischer, 52, will take over as manager of Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Emden, Germany, which builds the European version of the Passat mid-sized sedan, a Passat-based wagon and the CC four-door coupe.
He will be replaced in Chattanooga by Christian Koch. Koch, 50, is currently managing director at Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH, which also assembles the European-spec Passat, as well as the Golf. It also builds bodies for the Volkswagen Phaeton luxury sedan and its cousin, the Bentley Continental.
The top job at the Emden plant opened up when that plant’s manager, Jens Herrmann, was named manager and head of vehicle production at Volkswagen’s hometown assembly plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Fischer previously led VW’s parts plant in Braunschweig, Germany, from 2005 to 2008. After coming to Chattanooga, he oversaw construction of the assembly plant, which he nicknamed the “plant of short distances” because of a layout that put the body shop, paint shop, assembly shop and management office in close proximity.
Production started on schedule in 2011 and the plant’s inaugural product, a version of the Passat tailored to American car buyers, went on sale that September. The car won accolades upon its launch, including Car of the Year honors from Motor Trend magazine, but sales have been somewhat lower than hoped, causing the plant to operate shy of its nominal capacity of 150,000 units per year.
Fischer’s move, scheduled to take place in April, comes at a tumultuous time for the Chattanooga plant. Hourly workers at the factory voted 712-626 in February against representation by the UAW, which is appealing the decision on the grounds of interference by Tennessee politicians.
Meanwhile, Fischer and other top VW managers in the United States have been pushing to expand the Chattanooga plant to build a three-row SUV due to go on sale in the United States in 2016. A decision on a plant site is expected this year. The SUV could be assembled in Mexico.