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Cloud hangs over VW in Chattanooga

Volkswagen is one of the biggest employers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The mood has become more uncertain since the scandal broke, but VW has some staunch loyalists. Miriam Braun reports from Chattanooga.

The scandal surrounding Volkswagen's pollutant-emitting cars hasn't diminished Jim Coppinger's enthusiasm in driving his own diesel-engine Passat.

Coppinger is the mayor of Tennessee's Hamilton County, the region to which Chattanooga belongs. Chattanooga is of course, home to the Volkswagen's only factory in the US. But it's not just in his Volkswagen car that Coppinger still has faith. The company itself has brought a lot of benefit to his county.

VW, pillar of the Chattanooga community

"They promised 2,000 jobs. It was well between 2,500 and 3,000 at one time. It's around 2,500 now. said Coppinger. “So they delivered on every promise they said."

VW plant in Chattanooga

VW is an integral part of Chattanooga's economy.

Companies supplying parts to Volkswagen followed the carmaker to Hamilton County, bringing additional jobs. Volkswagen provides sponsorships to schools and sports teams. In July, the 500,000th Passat rolled off the Chattanooga plant's assembly line to fanfare and celebration.

Even now, in the wake of the worst scandal in Volkswagen's history, Coppinger said it's business as usual at the plant. Preparations are ongoing for the release of the 2016 Passat and the new sport utility vehicle to be produced at the end of next year.

Angry plaintiffs live here too

But Coppinger's steadfast belief in Volkswagen isn't shared by all. The Patrick, Beard, Schulman & Jacoway law firm in Chattanooga's city center is one of the many who have filed class action lawsuits against the German automaker.

Michael Anderson, a lawyer with the firm, said the $18 billion fine Volkswagen potentially faces is insufficient relative to the damage the cars could have caused.

"We know from what has been released by the company and revealed by the EPA at this point, that the levels of nitric oxide that people were exposed to is very significant," said Michael Anderson, a lawyer with the firm. "We know that the type of exposure can aggravate or cause problems for people who are asthmatic."

Anderson said Volkswagen's legal troubles in the US are likely to stretch on for years and be very expensive. Many have wondered what a Volkswagen forced to cut corners would do to Chattanooga. Apart from the 2, 500 jobs, the city had supported Volkswagen in building its factory with nearly half a billion dollars in tax breaks.

Chattanooga will endure

But William Kilbride, the president of Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce said the city would survive. Volkswagen might be one of the biggest employers in the region, but it's not the biggest. Chattanooga's economy depends much more on small and medium enterprises.

VW plant in Chattanooga

Volkswagen provides jobs for around 2,500 people in Chattanooga

If Volkswagen ever did have to slash jobs, other sectors would likely absorb the workers easily, Kilbride said.

Even likelier is the outcome that Volkswagen makes it through the crisis whole, according to Kilbride.

"They are a strong company," he said. "This will be painful, but there really is no doubt in my mind that they'll come out on the other side."

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