Editor's note: An earlier version of this story overstated the number of full-electric cars for which VW has booked production. The figure is 15 million by 2025.
HERNDON, Va. — The global head of Volkswagen Group says the German automaker is actively looking to add U.S. manufacturing capacity — by enlarging its sole U.S. assembly plant in Tennessee or building new — to make electric vehicles and otherwise expand its offerings to American consumers.
In an expansive, hourlong exclusive interview, Herbert Diess, who took over as CEO of Volkswagen Group in April, also said his company's ongoing discussions with Ford Motor Co. center on small commercial vehicles for Europe. But Diess said the talks between the two on-again, off-again global partners could go much further, including the possible sharing of VW's flexible EV platform and the potential use of Ford's midsize Ranger platform to replace the aging VW Amarok pickup sold outside the U.S.
Diess visited Volkswagen Group of America headquarters last week, in part for a town hall meeting with employees to welcome longtime Audi boss Scott Keogh to his new role as VW's North American CEO. Keogh succeeded Hinrich Woebcken on Nov. 1.
During the interview, Diess, 60, repeatedly stressed Keogh's autonomy and decision-making power. That authority includes deciding how best to increase VW's U.S. manufacturing footprint, Diess said, as well as how to improve U.S. dealer profitability and expand VW sales in the market, as he did during his 12 years with Audi of America.
"We set up the plant in Chattanooga always with the idea to be able to grow it, to mirror it," Diess told Automotive News. "The plant is still too small, and we are considering different options — it might be electric cars, it might be a different derivative of the Atlas — it's still open. Scott will decide. We have opportunities there, and also economies of scale because it is still a bit underutilized as a facility."
VW opened its 3.4 million square-foot Tennessee plant in 2011 to initially build the Passat, then expanded it when adding production of the Atlas three-row crossover. The plant has about 3,500 workers today. VW plans to start making a two-row version of the Atlas — the Atlas Cross Sport — there in 2019.