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How Volkswagen is helping diverse suppliers find their footing

Edkedsha “KeeKee” Mathis is the Manager of Supplier Diversity at Volkswagen Group of America at Chattanooga Plant. Automakers may be fierce competitors on the showroom floors and production lines, but in one critical area they share a common goal: working to equip diverse suppliers to help build the future of electric mobility and autonomous cars. The Automotive Industry Group (AIG)—a coalition of industry competitors including Volkswagen Group of America—works to develop and train suppliers in advanced technologies so that minority-, women-, veteran- and LGBTQ+-owned businesses have a chance to compete. “A unique challenge with diverse suppliers is helping them perform at the level needed to compete with the current and actual needs of the automotive industry today,” said Volkswagen Manager of Supplier Diversity Edkedsha “KeeKee” Mathis. “Technology is a massive area in which minority and diverse suppliers need to build their competencies, so it’s more difficult to award that type of business to those we’ve committed to working with. As technologies evolve and change, my role is to make them aware of our existing needs and to help develop their capabilities to better [align] with the future of the industry.” When Mathis stepped into her role with Volkswagen in 2013, she focused not only on significantly contributing her time to the AIG, but also on providing one-on-one mentorship to help Volkswagen’s existing diverse supply base streamline operations to enhance their competitiveness, and adopt development plans to help them hone in on their strengths and sharpen their areas of weakness. Mathis and James Wingard, CEO & President of Wingard Supply, LLC. at the 2018 Volkswagen Group of America’s 9th Annual Partnering for Success Conference. Presenting Mr. Wingard with a Volkswagen Passion for Diversity Award. For many diverse suppliers in the industry, the biggest barrier to being awarded work by Fortune 500 companies is access. Smaller minority-owned businesses do not typically have someone who can walk them through an RFQ (request for quotation) process. Without that insider knowledge, they can also lag in developing the right technologies and skillsets needed to help meet changing industry demands. “If you are not able to provide certain technologies or meet scopes in their entirety without deviation, you are simply not going to be competitive in these spaces,” said Mathis. For some of the businesses Mathis works with, adjustments to marketing, inventory and structural operations are all that is needed to help move the needle. With Wingard Quality Supply, LLC, for example, one of the target areas was in finding ways for the second-generation minority-owned business to better market the company to other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). From a thorough website review, to creating speaking engagements for company president James Wingard, Mathis worked with the company in helping to provide opportunities to engage with other OEMs and business leaders. “KeeKee was really pushing me to become a company that is visible, making me stand up in front of audiences to talk about our business,” said Wingard, whose tire and wheel assembly business has been a supplier with Volkswagen since 2010. “It was all out of my comfort zone, but it helped open the door for me to explore new business opportunities.” Mathis speaking at our 2016 Volkswagen Group of America’s 7th Annual Partnering for Success Conference. An integral part of Volkswagen’s acquisition process is for Mathis to sit down with suppliers one-on-one, both to provide education about the industry and to give them feedback, especially if they did not win a particular RFQ. Her goal is not only to help each business identify their strengths, but to point out their weaknesses so they can both better align themselves with Volkswagen for the next RFQ, or with any Fortune 500 company. For BarPellam, Inc.’s CEO David Barfield, Mathis has been an invaluable coach as well as an advocate in helping the business expand its footprint within Volkswagen. “In no way has our long-term relationship resulted in her being easier on us; in certain instances, its resulted in her being tougher on us—in a good way—because she really wants us to perform well and therefore she challenges us and certainly holds us accountable,” said Barfield, who manages the staffing and recruiting company. “KeeKee is very direct, but she always comes about it in a spirit of partnership and really caring for BarPellam as one of her suppliers. We are a better company because of her support, her mentorship, her guidance—and quite honestly, her tough love.” For Mathis, supplier diversity is not just about short-term contracts, but long-term invested partnerships, so that as Volkswagen grows, these underutilized minority and diverse companies can grow alongside. “I believe it’s incumbent on Corporate America to help ensure that diverse firms are invited to participate in the bidding process, and that ultimately the supply base reflects the nature of our country’s changing demographics,” said Barfield. “I just think it is critical that responsible companies like Volkswagen continue to seek partnerships with leading minority and women-owned firms to ensure all of its customers are represented in the supply chain.” “For me, programs they come and go with an organization,” Mathis said. “This is not a program—this is a part of our process; it’s embedded in our policies, procedures and guidelines and it is here to stay.”

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#TBT: Volkswagens tie grandkids to their family legacies

Frank R. Shoemaker Sr. purchased a 1967 Beetle brand new in December 1966. It’s been in the family ever since. Eric Shoemaker had no real interest in cars. As a designer and entrepreneur, he primarily took an interest in hobbies like woodworking, furniture restoration, and photography. Today, however, he not only owns a business with his wife Amanda that restores air-cooled German engine components, but his website (1967beetle.com) is a go-to resource for tech tips, classifieds, and Volkswagen stories from around the globe. And what he attributes as the catalyst for his newfound passion is a 1967 Beetle his grandfather drove that almost ended up in the crusher. Eric’s grandpa, Frank R. Shoemaker Sr., was 54 years old when he purchased the family Beetle brand new. As someone who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, Frank bought the car in December 1966 because it was economical and reliable as a piece of quality German engineering that could get him to and from work. For young Eric, however, the Beetle was more than a car—it was a vehicle, literally, for drawing the family together. Frank R. Shoemaker Sr. (L) and his grandson, Eric Shoemaker (R), pose with the family Beetle. Frank passed away in 2019, but his grandson Eric carries on his legacy through his business and his family’s love for the Beetle. “I have many fond memories riding around in our ’67 Beetle with my family—that ‘Volkswagen smell’ and the cadence of an air-cooled engine,” Eric said, who lives with Amanda and seven-year-old twins in Decatur, Ga. “It’s special to me now for obvious reasons—nostalgia from the family history and the connection to my grandparents.” As studies have found over the years, car culture and consumption are never simply about consumers’ making economic choices to meeting a material need—aesthetics, emotional responses and the ability to build relations are driving factors in the cars they choose to buy and drive. In fact, Volkswagen’s 2019 SUV survey revealed that more than 80 percent of parents today view their cars as a place where important family discussions take place, creating a new space for family time, whether they are running errands or on a family road trip. It should be no surprise that many fans of vintage Volkswagen models feel an emotional connection to their vehicles because of how it ties them back to their families.   Margo and Tony Huizing live out of their 1982 VW Vanagon Westfalia for eight months of the year, but still find unique ways to connect with their six grandchildren. For grandparents like Margo Huizing and her husband, Tony, their Volkswagen camper is a tool they use to build lasting memories with their six grandchildren. After retiring 10 years ago, the couple has spent their time split between living in a sailboat off the coast of Baja California and living out of their 1982 Vanagon Westfalia for eight months of the year. Since 2000, the Huizings have traveled to 49 of the 50 states in their van (Hawaii is out since they can’t get there by car) and have created a special way to connect with their grandchildren from afar. “Our grandkids have grown up with our lifestyle, and when we’re on the road I make maps so they can follow us when we travel and color in all the places we’ve been,” said Margo. “I make a point to send them pictures and we bring them home things that are not traditional souvenirs—like volcano dust from Alaska—so they can learn about our adventures and we can teach them to follow their dreams.” Margo Huizing makes maps for her grandkids so they can follow their grandparents on their travels. For Eric, the nostalgic tie between his family’s history and the Beetle came later in life when he learned that the car was sitting unused in his grandpa’s garage. “I asked my Dad about it because I thought it could be a fun creative side project, then one day, my Grandpa called me up and simply said, ‘Come over, let’s talk about it’,” said Eric. His grandfather had all the car’s original records since it left the factory. “The window dealership sticker, bill of sale, all service records, everything,” said Eric. “He proudly signed the title and handed over the keys.” The car did not run well at all at first, and the restoration journey was long, so Eric and Amanda created their website in 2009 to share their progress on the Beetle. As he worked, the site became a canvas to tell his family story, and the catalyst for eventually launching their business, Lane Russell LLC. Eric Shoemaker (L) and his grandfather Frank R. Shoemaker Sr. (R). The most rewarding moment for Eric, however, was when he finally drove the fully restored Beetle to his grandpa’s house for the first time. “I can still see Grandpa standing in the driveway as I pulled up the hill to his house saying, ‘Well, I’ll be damned, Eric!’” said Eric. “My Grandpa left us last year at 99, but our family ‘67 Beetle lives on as a symbol of hard work, creativity, and my family history.” For Margo, the family Volkswagen symbolizes more than simply building memories, but an important tool to instill life lessons and pass on what she and Tony have learned over the years. “I tell them: ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it,’ and I show them how through the way we live our life,” said Margo. “I want to instill in them that there is more to the world than sitting on the couch with a video game—there is the possibility of today. Our van gives us that.”

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A new name in small SUVs from Volkswagen: The Volkswagen Taos

Tiguan, Touareg, even Thing – over the decades, most Volkswagen SUVs have a certain alliteration in their names. On Oct. 13, Volkswagen will reveal an all-new SUV for the small compact space in America, and with it a new name: the Volkswagen Taos. The Volkswagen Taos SUV shares the same name as the New Mexico town of about 6,000 residents that has a rich history and culture. Occupied for more than 1,000 years, the town offers artist colonies that have thrived in the beautiful, mountain-ringed landscape since the early 20th century. “It was important to choose a name that really embodied the nature of the car and the town of Taos, New Mexico was a perfect fit,” said Hein Schafer, Senior Vice President for Product Marketing and Strategy, Volkswagen of America, Inc. “It’s a small city that offers big things—from outdoor adventure to arts and design and great cuisine.” Taos also has a bit of connection to Volkswagen history. A must-read of the original van life culture, his book has helped keep countless VW models running, from Beetles and Buses to Type 3 and Type 4 models. The Taos will slot into the Volkswagen lineup beneath the Tiguan, and represents not just another SUV model, but one designed in the North American region, with its consumers’ needs in mind, with superb space, handling, efficiency and technology. You’ll get your first glimpse of the Taos on Oct. 13.

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Why battery power will drive the future of transportation

Chances are you might have at least two lithium-ion batteries on your body right now – one on your wrist, and one in the phone in your pocket. You may have multiple more if you’re holding a car key fob or have a pacemaker or any other electronic device. But do you know how those batteries actually work? For a technology at the heart of modern life, batteries remain something of a mystery. While humans have used batteries for hundreds of years, it’s only within the past decade that the science of batteries has advanced enough to make long-range electric vehicles like the Volkswagen ID.4 electric vehicle possible. Among all alternatives, researchers suggest that battery-powered vehicles hold the promise today of reducing carbon emissions from personal vehicles enough to help make significant progress against climate change. And Volkswagen hopes to have the next evolution of these batteries powering its vehicles within a few years. Batteries rely on basic chemistry to work, formulas that were first identified by Alessandro Volta in 1799. Basically, every battery cell has two electrodes – one positive (the cathode), one negative (the anode) – and a substance in between called an electrolyte. When connected to an electric circuit, electrons move from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, while ions move in the opposite direction, creating electric current. In rechargeable batteries, the process reverses. It wasn’t long after the invention of the early batteries that people began experimenting with vehicles built around them. In the early years of the auto industry at the turn of the 20th century, EVs were among the best-sellers, thanks to their quiet operation, ease of driving and low maintenance needs around newly paved cities. Only when roads improved and gas vehicles became more affordable did the first EV era end, aided by the increasing prevalence of gasoline stations, the lack of charging options for batteries, and the short range of early EVs. The modern revival of EVs was made possible by lithium-ion batteries, first invented in the 1970s, and  Volkswagen’s own electric history shows how far EV batteries have evolved. In the early 1970s, Volkswagen built a handful of Microbus vans converted to electric power, using the lead-acid batteries that you find under the hood of gas-powered vehicles today. The tray of batteries in the floor provided 25 miles of range– and added 1,847 lbs. of weight. Today, the largest lithium-ion battery pack in the Europe-only ID.3 EV holds nearly four times as much energy (82 kWh) at a third of the weight. And the battery lies at the heart of why EVs are considered by experts to be one of the best choices for vehicles that combat climate change. Liquid fueled vehicles only use about a third of the energy it contains to move the vehicle – the rest escapes as heat and friction, and it generates carbon dioxide when burned. Similar waste happens with alternative fuels, from ethanol to hydrogen. But according to the EPA, EVs typically convert over 75% percent of their energy to movement and, if charged with renewable energy, have zero direct emissions in use. Most EV owners will never see the batteries that power their vehicles. In the Volkswagen MEB electric vehicle platform, the batteries are built into the floor, for optimal weight distribution. EV batteries – like those in the upcoming ID.4 electric vehicle – aren’t one huge cell. It’s a modular package, where flat, individual “pouch” batteries are stacked 24 to a “module,” with up to 12 modules then connected into a single unit like the squares of a chocolate bar. The components of the MEB battery system There are multiple reasons for building EV batteries this way. Smaller cells carry more energy per pound. It can be easy to add or subtract battery modules to offer EVs with different ranges and prices. Most importantly, as each individual battery can be controlled through software, it can be easier to maximize power flow and battery life, helping ensure a steady delivery of energy as the batteries discharge. These systems can store and deploy tremendous amounts of electrical power. A typical cell phone battery runs at 3.7 volts; the battery pack in Volkswagen’s MEB electric vehicle platform operates at up to 408 volts. This helps allow the ID.4 EV to provide ample energy to its electric motors and power all the internal accessories, including heating and air conditioning. Battery power for vehicles comes with some drawbacks. EVs simply don’t hold as much energy as a liquid-fuel vehicle and therefore have shorter ranges. It can take hours to recharge a large battery pack with a home 110-volt supply, and although there are fast charging options, everyday use of high-power charging can degrade EV cells. And EV batteries are the most expensive component in the vehicle. Volkswagen Group has started to tackle these challenges with battery innovation start-up QuantumScape, and the concept of the solid-state lithium battery. Today, most lithium-ion batteries use either a liquid or gel electrolyte. A solid electrolyte could in theory create a battery that holds more energy per pound, at a lower cost, with fast recharging times in normal use. Volkswagen Group has invested approximately $300 million with QuantumScape since 2012 to research and develop such batteries, toward the goal of bringing the technology to market over the next few years.

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Volkswagen marks National Wildlife Day with Chattanooga preservation efforts

When Volkswagen built the Chattanooga plant, the company pledged to restore nearby wetlands in an effort to help protect local wildlife and preserve the natural environment. In the first several years after the plant’s opening, Volkswagen successfully restored over 40 acres of biodiverse wetland through regular testing, monitoring and studies. Today, the total wetland area spans over 88 acres and is home to 15 endangered animals, hundreds of species of wildlife, including 167 species of birds, and continues to grow. The area is restricted, which means there is no hunting or fishing allowed on site, and people come from all over to see the protected environment throughout the year. The wetlands’ water is tested regularly and regarded as some of the highest grade in the state of Tennessee. “Volkswagen’s commitment to environmental stewardship is inspiring,” said Kaye Fiorello, an environmental compliance specialist at Volkswagen. “At the plant in Chattanooga, precautions are taken to help protect local wildlife, wetlands and surrounding land. We take our commitment to the environment seriously. It’s a special place to work.” Sherry Teas, a licensed rehabber from Happinest Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, gives a red-tailed hawk a final check before release. Today, September 4, is National Wildlife Day, and Volkswagen is more committed than ever to helping protect our environment. Globally, the automaker has made large-scale commitments to employ more sustainable practices, such as working to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and bringing electric vehicles to market, including the ID.4 introduction later this month. The company continues to help protect the land surrounding the Chattanooga plant, and as a result, fosters a habitable environment for an array of wildlife species. Volkswagen employees are no strangers to the local wildlife. Animals often need to be rescued from the plant perimeter and relocated for their safety. To do this, Volkswagen has collaborated with Happinest Wildlife Rehabilitation & Rescue, Inc., a group of licensed volunteer rehabilitators who help sick, injured and orphaned animals. The organization is also trained to inform the public about wildlife and their habitats so people can become more aware of the native wildlife surrounding them. Injured wildlife are rescued, brought back to health, and released back into the wild. “We have a really great relationship with our local animal rehabbers,” said Timothy Youngblood, a technical assistance manager at Volkswagen. “They help take injured animals from us and put them into rehab. Once the animals are healthy again, we release them back into the wetlands park onsite. You’d be amazed at the amount of wildlife we have at the plant. We often see deer, hawks, owls, snapping turtles, raccoons, nutria and more. It’s really neat.” In addition to the outside help from nonprofits, Volkswagen also leverages its onsite fire department to assist with animal rescues. Members of the fire department are often tasked with moving wildlife back to wetlands or other safe areas outside the plant property. Placing a Common Nighthawk in a tree so it would be ready to fly at dusk with other birds. Over the years, Volkswagen has proudly hosted graduate students who are interested in birding and wildlife studies. One student used the wetlands as part of a study on Tree Swallows, which included counting how many of the birdhouses had Swallows, and for those with eggs, how many hatched, and how often the parents fed them, as well as how they responded to stressors such as human and predator presence. “We are really lucky to live and work where we do,” adds Youngblood. “The ability to see wildlife at work so easily at a vehicle production plant is pretty unique. It sounds crazy, but the animals are part of us. We name them, help protect them. They are part of the Volkswagen community.”

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#TBT: One owner, 42 Volkswagen vehicles, endless memories

Taylor Bryant. Photo by Jesse James of Jams Media. You always remember your first car. For Taylor Bryant, that first car – an old Beetle – drew the template of a life-long connection to Volkswagen that has grown to more than 40 vehicles over the years. “I’ve always liked European cars and had a soft spot for Volkswagens,” Bryant said. His affection for VW began as a kid in Charleston, South Carolina. Bryant would ride his bike to the local Volkswagen dealership and admire the latest models while chatting with technicians. Six years later, he bought his first car – a 1961 light blue Beetle – for $500 after spotting the car while waiting at a red light. He rolled down his window, asked the driver if he would be willing to sell it and, a few weeks later, the car was his. “I drove it all the way through high school and the beginning of college. It really got me into cars because I had to work on it constantly,” Bryant said. “You can’t pay a whole lot of people to work on your car on a Taco Bell salary at 16.” Bryant received a degree in automotive technology from Aiken Technical College in South Carolina in 2001 and worked as a Volkswagen master auto technician for 12 years. His work introduced him to all sorts of Volkswagen vehicles, from older classics, like the Corrado and original Beetle, to more modern models, like the Jetta and Tiguan. He quickly began building his own car collection, often buying trade-in vehicles, and taking them on as project cars. Once a car was complete, he would sell it for whatever money he put into it and use the earnings to fund the next build. Over the years, his 42 Volkswagen car collection has included multiple Golf, Jetta and Passat models. “I pretty much love them all [and] have touched or owned all of them at some point,” said Bryant. Some of his fondest family memories are tied to his Volkswagen cars. Bryant ran for school board in 2010 and used a 2005 Jetta GLI as his campaign car. He bought his wife a Cabriolet for their fifth wedding anniversary, and his son’s first car was a Jetta. His current collection includes a 1999 Jetta, a 2004 Passat Wagon and a 2017 Jetta. He recently spotted one of his favorite project cars – a beautifully restored red 1967 Karmann Ghia – for sale on Facebook Marketplace. “It was pretty neat to see a car I restored 20 years ago still running around and looking beautiful,” Bryant said. In 2013, after 12 years of working as a Volkswagen mechanic, he left the shop to become an instructor at Augusta Technical College in Georgia. “It feels really good to give back to the career that has given me everything I’ve ever had,” Bryant said. Due to COVID, he has moved his classes online and spends some of his spare time tracking down models to use for teaching purposes. As to his personal collection, it always has room to grow. He is currently eyeing the Atlas SUV as his next big purchase to cart his four large pups and two children around town. “[Volkswagen] was the first car I bought and will likely be the last,” Bryant said.

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RSVP for an EV SUV with a $100 reservation for the Volkswagen ID.4 electric vehicle

In good times or bad, people need their vehicles. Over the past few months, Volkswagen of America has worked with dealers on a new shopping and buying experience so our customers can shop from home. Next month, Volkswagen will unveil its first electric SUV, the ID.4 — and a new system that allows customers to reserve their car. The Volkswagen reservation platform will make its debut on Sept. 23rd, immediately following the reveal of the all-new, zero-tailpipe emission Volkswagen ID.4 electric vehicle at 11 a.m. EDT. on VW.com. Customers who want to experience the future of driving will be able to reserve an ID.4 before it hits dealer showrooms later this year. The easy-to-use platform lets Volkswagen fans reserve an  ID.4 in a few simple steps. The platform also includes shopping tools such as a range estimator, payment tool and dealer selection to assist shoppers with finding an ID.4 model and making the transition to EV ownership. “Our online reservations portal will give those who are ready to make the switch to an EV SUV a place at the front of the line,” said Duncan Movassaghi, executive vice president, sales and marketing for Volkswagen. “We’re excited to share the future of Volkswagen with the ID.4. It’s a compelling, zero direct emissions alternative to the compact SUVs on the market today.” Once a user has built their vehicle, they can secure their place in line with a fully refundable $100 reservation payment. As vehicle production starts, our reservation holders will be invited to lock their configuration and confirm their order with an additional $400 deposit. From placing a reservation, to production and through delivery, the customer can see where they stand and when they can expect their ID. 4 to arrive at their preferred local VW dealer.  At that time, the customer can transact with their dealer and complete their purchase. Volkswagen plans to offer the ID.4 electric vehicle across all 50 states, and throughout its network of more than 600 dealers. The reservation platform will also invite owners and prospective EV customers to become insiders by allowing them to subscribe to Volkswagen’s latest EV news as it plans to sell 26 million electric vehicles globally by 2029.

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