By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A legislative hearing called by a leading Volkswagen critic just days after news of a diesel emissions cheating scheme broke last month turned into more of a pep rally than a grilling in the city that is home to the German automaker’s lone U.S. plant on Thursday.
A top Republican in the state House said he expects the scandal will turn out to be a “small bump in the road;” a former governor said critics were doing a disservice to more than 3,000 workers at the plant; and the state’s economic development chief went to a nearby dealership to put a $5,000 deposit on a new SUV to be made at the factory next year.
Volkswagen earlier in the day announced an official decision to stick with its lone U.S. plant in Chattanooga — including production of the new midsized SUV next year — despite the uncertainty caused by its emissions scandal.
The Chattanooga meeting was presided over by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, a longtime critic of the company for not taking a harder line against the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize the plant. But Watson opened the hearing by saying that labor issues were not the reason for the hearing, and the issue did not come up during the discussion.
“I’m kind of interested in what’s happening in my hometown and home state,” Watson said.
Christian Koch, the plant’s president and CEO, said that diesels made up an average of between 20 percent and 25 percent of the midsized Passat sedans produced in Chattanooga before sales were halted following the revelations. The plant has made more than 500,000 Passats since it opened in 2011.