Volkswagen, UT Partnership Drives Tennessee’s Innovation Economy
Across the river from our campus, at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, scientists from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Volkswagen are working side by side to develop technologies that are going to change the way we build, power, and drive vehicles—both here in the US and around the world.
These research teams are making vehicles lighter through new composite materials and manufacturing processes, developing sustainable materials for vehicle parts, and optimizing wireless charging so electric cars may soon be able to recharge simply by pulling into a parking spot.
Advances like these are shifting the landscape of the automotive industry, delivering us to a critical moment in the history of mobility and driving new R&D opportunities right here in Tennessee.
This is why partnerships like our collaboration with Volkswagen are so critical—not just for the university but also for the state.
What began as an informal collaboration when Volkswagen Group of America opened its Chattanooga factory in 2011 was formalized in 2020, when the manufacturer established its first North American Innovation Hub at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. Since then, the hub has outpaced expectations, with more than 25 joint research projects now underway—some producing breakthroughs that have already been incorporated across Volkswagen’s brands.
Recently UT System President Randy Boyd and I welcomed Pablo Di Si, CEO and president of VWGoA, and his leadership team to the research park. The team wanted to see firsthand the impressive work our research faculty and students are conducting and to talk about the possibilities for the future. They visited labs at the Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing and the Center for Renewable Carbon and got an in-person look at some of the emerging technologies the teams are developing.
The partnership between UT and Volkswagen has been so productive that we recently announced an expansion that includes more joint research projects, more doctoral fellowships, and more internship positions for our students at the company. Volkswagen has announced plans to accelerate its automotive research presence in the US, particularly at the Innovation Hub located at Cherokee Farm.
These are significant moves that are driving the future of mobility and boosting the innovation economy here in East Tennessee and across the state. When major global leaders invest in place-based innovation alongside a major research university and partners like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, it creates a gravitational force that draws companies from adjacent industries as well as emerging and established entrepreneurs.
This buy-in from both public and private entities is what feeds the innovation economy, building a place where smart, creative, and curious people want to be. That’s what we have created right here in Tennessee.