Volkswagen Chattanooga President and CEO Christian Koch told Tennessee legislators that the local plant expansion is still on track and is essential to the company’s overall success. (Photo: Staff)

The Volkswagen Chattanooga facility is essential to the global company’s overall success, and taxpayers should feel good about the state’s investment in the German automaker: Those are the messages from today’s meeting between state lawmakers and VW officials, State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson said.

Other details of the meeting 

-Koch apologized for the company’s emissions problems and said leaders take full responsibility. 

-Updates to Volkswagen’s plant include platforms that have the ability to build either hybrids or electric vehicles, Koch also said, adding that no decision has been made about whether that will actually happen. 

-State lawmakers said they are supporting Volkswagen as leaders work through the fallout of the emissions scandal. “In historical context, this is a small bump in the road for a company like Volkswagen,” McCormick said. “Thousands of people weren’t killed.”

-Boyd went to Village Volkswagen after Thursday’s hearing to preorder the first locally made SUV. “I’m not being a martyr by buying this car,” Boyd said. “This is a great car.” 

“[This morning], we had VW come out publicly and reaffirm this is absolutely necessary to them; I wanted to drive that point home,” Watson said after the Thursday afternoon meeting. “It’s a company that’s got some problems and they are going to have to work that out, but the production at this plant is an absolutely necessary component of their overall success.”

VW’s problems center around EPA allegations that the company broke the law by installing “defeat device” software, which detects when a car is undergoing an emissions test and only turns on full emission controls to pass the test. When the car isn’t being tested, it is polluting more than officials reported to the EPA. 

Volkswagen’s new CEO Matthias Müller recently said the company’s emissions scandal has caused “enormous financial damage” and that any planned investments that aren’t vital will be delayed or canceled. 

It was Müller’s comments that prompted Watson to ask whether the local plant’s expansion was considered vital. 

“This plant is the pillar of [the company’s] North American region strategy,” Volkswagen Chattanooga President and CEO Christian Koch said. 

He also said the plant’s local expansion is still on track. Click here to read background about the expansion, which includes the manufacture of the new SUV. 

Before the meeting Thursday, Volkswagen reaffirmed its commitment to Chattanooga. Click here to read more about that. 

Watson called for the meeting soon after news of the emissions problems broke.

On Thursday afternoon, members of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Appropriations Subcommittee met with VW leaders and officials from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to discuss the situation.

Other members of the Tennessee General Assembly, such as Rep. Gerald, McCormick, also attended the meeting.

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd told legislators about how state leaders can ensure that Volkswagen follows through with its commitment to the state. 

VW has plans to invest about $900 million in the production of a new seven-passenger SUV. Production is slated to begin at the end of 2016. 

In the state of Tennessee alone, Volkswagen Group anticipates a $600 million investment and the creation of 2,000 additional jobs. 

Boyd said that the company must maintain at least 80 percent of those 2,000 jobs to avoid giving back the state’s incentive money. Click here for background about the expected economic impact to the state, which leaders referenced Thursday. 

He also said that there are measures in place to make sure that VW is providing accurate information about the company’s local economic and jobs impact. For example, leaders compare VW’s jobs numbers to data from independent information from the Department of Labor. State leaders also have the ability to perform independent audits. 

Leaders also noted that incentive practices have been updated in recent years to ensure that the state doesn’t lose money on its investments if a company doesn’t perform. 

The message to taxpayers is that this was a good investment and leaders are continuing to monitor that investment, Watson said. 

“I have no reason to doubt that we are watching our money closely,” Watson said.