Automotive News just reported that the guy in charge of running Toyota’s big new Tundra plant in San Antonio, Don Jackson, has been lured to Volkswagen, to be president of its upcoming new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This, to my mind, is big news.
Why? Because Volkswagen of America hopes to more than triple its sales over the next decade, to about 800,000 units, which is a tall order, indeed.
Because the new Tennessee factory will be key to that effort, as it will allow VW to build cars here affordably, without worrying as much about euro-dollar fluctuations. Because Volkswagen in America has been burned, big-time, by a lack of quality, and having someone in charge of their plant who has the DNA of the justifiably lauded Toyota Manufacturing System imprinted in his brain is a very, very good thing, indeed. Toyota is, unquestionably, the most proficient manufacturer of high-quality, reliable cars in the world. For Volkswagen to snare one of Toyota’s highest-ranking manufacturing experts is a coup.
Jackson will, obviously, be based in Chattanooga, but he will report to the plant’s CEO, Frank Fischer, who will remain at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. You can bet they will communicate with each other daily, because if Volkswagen cannot deliver world-beating quality from this new plant, its American operations are toast.
This announcement is also interesting because it underscores how Toyota has become, in some sense, a farm system for the rest of the industry, which is certainly beneficial for the automakers that manage to lure Toyota talent.
Although Jackson is not a super-high-profile hire of a Toyota alum like Jim Farley (Ford), Jim Press (Chrysler), and Deborah Myers (Chrysler), his move to Tennessee is very good news, indeed, for Volkswagen of America.