Volkswagen, UT, ORNL Announce Collaboration, Innovation Hub

IACMI’s Sean Lee and Tessa Patton work on the composite liftgate created for Volkswagen in their lab at SERF (Science Engineering Research Facility) on the campus of UT Knoxville. December 11, 2019. Photo by Sam Thomas

KNOXVILLE, TN — Volkswagen Group of America, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee recently announced a collaboration to create Volkswagen’s first innovation hub in North America at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

“Working with the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a great opportunity to continue growing Volkswagen’s engineering footprint in the North American region,” said Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, executive vice president and chief engineering officer for Volkswagen’s North American region.
“This hub, along with other research institutions here, is an integral part of Volkswagen’s global research and development efforts and can also directly contribute to vehicles in North America.”

The collaboration involves research opportunities for doctoral students and space in the Innovation North building at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm in Knoxville. Initial work will focus on developing lighter vehicle components made from composite materials and the electrification of vehicles.

“The partnership between UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Volkswagen strengthens Tennessee’s position as a significant source of innovation and talent for the Volkswagen’s North American manufacturing base, especially at the flagship Chattanooga facility,” UT Interim President Randy Boyd said. “These types of partnerships are transforming the Tennessee Valley Corridor into a global innovation leader.”

ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia noted the power of aligning industry, academia and a national laboratory. “By identifying difficult challenges and pursuing creative solutions with immediate industrial application, we can accelerate fields such as materials science, energy storage and advanced manufacturing while making vehicles better, safer and more fuel efficient,” Zacharia said.

Volkswagen has been a valued partner of the University of Tennessee since opening its Chattanooga Assembly plant in 2011. The Chattanooga facility assembles the Volkswagen Passat sedan and Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs, specifically designed for the North American market. This past fall Volkswagen of America broke ground on a new electric vehicle production facility, which includes a 564,000-square-foot body shop addition and up to 1,000 new jobs in Tennessee.

UT Chattanooga and Volkswagen developed an MBA program allowing Volkswagen employees to earn the degree by taking classes at the plant or on campus. Volkswagen also is a member of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI—The Composites Institute), managed by Collaborative Composite Solutions, a not-for profit organization established by the UT Research Foundation. IACMI is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, and has supported UT researchers, Volkswagen engineers and their collaborators in the creation of a novel composite liftgate for the Volkswagen Atlas that reduces weight by 35 percent as well as reducing investment cost.

“The innovations stemming from the IACMI partnership with Volkswagen have a direct and immediate impact on vehicle design and manufacturing right here in Tennessee,” UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said. “These collaborative discoveries demonstrate the real-world potential of public-private partnerships.”

The new innovation hub in Knoxville will join Volkswagen’s larger global innovation ecosystem. This includes innovation centers in Belmont, California; Wolfsburg, Germany; and Beijing, China along with innovation hubs in Barcelona, Spain; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Tokyo, Japan.

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