Volkswagen expands US electrification strategy with new battery test facility

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Volkswagen of America (VWoA) recently opened its Battery Engineering Lab (BEL) in Chattanooga, to test and optimize batteries for all electric vehicles in the American marketplace.

By developing critical battery expertise in-house, the $22 million, 32,000 square feet facility will enable Volkswagen to gain a competitive edge in the push to electric mobility. Coupled with the $800 million factory electrification in Chattanooga, the opening of the BEL is the latest step in Volkswagen’s $7.1 billion commitment to boost its product portfolio, R&D, and manufacturing capabilities in the North American region. The first American-assembled Volkswagen EV, the ID.4 compact SUV, is poised to roll off the assembly line in 2022.  

“When we began making investments in electrification, it was because we saw a future for our industry and the North American region in which Volkswagen could take a leadership position,” said Scott Keogh, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. “The Battery Engineering Lab helps make that vision a reality today, accelerating us decades into the future with advanced battery engineering to support our expanding EV push in North America.”

The BEL is the first facility of its kind for Volkswagen of America and one of four strategically located units in the Volkswagen Group globally, with one in Germany (Braunschweig) and two in China (Shanghai, Changchun). Engineers will initially focus on batteries and battery packs for Volkswagen’s MEB vehicle platform, with the potential to incorporate various types for all vehicle brands across the Volkswagen Group.

Going forward, Volkswagen aims to look at emerging battery technologies and get an early understanding of how new concepts and prototypes can withstand the company’s rigid specifications. These insights are crucial know-how, as battery technologies continue to improve in terms of energy density, weight and cost, and shape the characteristics of an electric vehicle.

“We are applying cutting-edge technologies to make sure that our EV batteries and ultimately our electric vehicles for American consumers are safe and strong,” said Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, EVP and Chief Engineering Officer, Volkswagen of America. “With our new Battery Engineering Lab as the new center for battery know-how, we can react quickly to the fast-paced EV market by applying data to our local engineering and assembly.”

Volkswagen of America’s local engineering group in Chattanooga consists of more than 100 dedicated engineers in various roles, from chassis to driving performance, interior and digital technologies. With the BEL, Volkswagen is adding more highly-qualified jobs. Working on-site or remote via cloud access, a new team of 30 engineers will focus on various climatic, mechanical, electrical, and corrosion tests of battery cells and battery packs. They can replicate every climatic environment in the world and scale between extreme settings well beyond what a typical customer would put a vehicle through. This is especially important in countries like the U.S. – and even more so for the North American continent – with its climate variations, from arctic cold to desert heat.

Building the Battery Engineering Lab from the ground up allowed Volkswagen to install highly specialized equipment. One of them is the electrical Multi-Axial Shaker Table (eMAST). This unique machine allows for extreme vibration tests to simulate one average year of driving (15,000 km or about 9,321 mi) in just one week. That’s the equivalent of driving from Orlando to Seattle three times in seven days. Other primary tests include a drive-in climate chamber that can fit a larger SUV model, and the ability to set temperature ranges between -70° to 130° Celsius (-94° to 266° F) to mirror hundreds of possible climate conditions. The BEL is also equipped with thermal-shock chambers that rapidly expose battery packs to changing hot and cold environments to stress their welds and fasteners, durability tests with certified, super-fine “Arizona” dust to add abrasive elements and test the sealing of battery packs, and water immersion tanks to simulate water ingress scenarios.

The BEL’s focus on sustainability goes beyond its work, encompassing the facility’s operation. When batteries are discharged during testing, the energy produced will be transferred back into the building, and local public grid and scrapped materials will be recycled.

Volkswagen has invested more than $800 million to prepare its Chattanooga plant for the local assembly of the ID.4 SUV in 2022, including dedicated facilities for vehicle and battery pack assembly. Basing on the global Volkswagen Group’s MEB electric vehicle platform, the ID. product line-up and its battery packs follow a standardized modular approach. Since 2019, Volkswagen has already transformed four of its global factories to assemble these MEB-specific battery packs, with sites in Germany, Czech Republic and two in China – Chattanooga is the fifth one. Volkswagen employs more than 4,000 people at its factory, and aims to hire 1,000 new production team members through 2022, to help meet customer demand for the Volkswagen Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport, and upcoming ID.4.

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