Friday’s announcement of the new Volkswagen Innovation Hub at the University of Tennessee (UT) Research Park drew a trio of senior VW executives, at least two of whom are based in Wolfsburg, Germany; two members of Congress; a number of state legislators; and locally-elected officials including new Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.
As you might imagine at an event like this, orange was the dominating color, starting with the specially-produced liftgate for the VW Atlas SUV (see thumbnail) that was adorned with a license plate highlighting the four partners in the venture – VW, UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI).
Oliver Schauerte, Volkswagen Group’s Research Head of Materials and Manufacturing Processes, quickly endeared himself to the attendees by sporting an orange tie that UT Interim President Randy Boyd said Schauerte brought from Wolfsburg.
“Today, I’m the happiest man on stage,” the VW executive said as he described a several year journey to find the right materials research expertise in the U.S. “We talked with other universities but, in the end, decided Tennessee is where we needed to be.”
Noting that ORNL, UT and IACMI provide a “unique combination” of research and education, Schauerte said, “What we are doing today is a starting point.” Then, just to emphasize the partnership, he concluded with those magical two words: “Go Vols.”
Boyd presided at the announcement and brought along his own personal VW Beetle. It was a perfect complement to the VW Atlas SUV parked just outside the main entrance to the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials with a significant reminder of the partnership attached to the side with these words: “Volswagen.”
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann’s district includes ORNL, UT Chattanooga and the VW plant, assets he touted during his comments, particularly the lab. Congressman Tim Burchett, who represents Knoxville, also praised both ORNL and UT while noting the fact that he owns two Karmann Ghias, a discontinued VW brand, and quipped, “I need a good body man if you know one.”
The ranking VW executive in attendance was Nikolai Ardey, Executive Director for Volkswagen Group Innovation for all brands.
At the outset, three doctoral students at UT Knoxville will work in the Innovation Hub at the UT Research Park. They are Andrew Foote, William Henken and Nathan Strain. From the faculty side, the research collaboration will be led by Uday Vaidya, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing. Participating faculty members include Kevin Bai, Daniel Costinett, Helen Cui, Dayakar Penumadu and Leon Tolbert.
NOTE: Tomorrow, we begin a multi-part series that is focused on one of the region’s industrial assets – ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.