Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: Who built Volkswagen’s ill-fated Westmoreland PA factory?
If you think you know the answer make the jump and see if you are right.
Volkswagen has been going though a rough patch of late, something for which the company has only itself to blame. Their current diesel emissions debacle is the latest roadblock to VW’s goal of world domination, or at least to become the biggest car seller on the planet. Previous hindrances to achieving this goal have been a spate of quality control issues in the ’90s and ’00s and something called WWII.
VW has expanded its empire to include other makes – SEAT, Skoda, Audi, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley presently make up the company’s sub-brands (and I’m sure I’m missing a few there). They have also extended their manufacturing capabilities globally and now are producing cars and trucks on every continent on the planet save for Australia and Antarctica. Here in the Americas those include the Puebla Mexico plant which is the largest of the company’s manufacturing concerns outside of Germany, and the Passat plant in Chattanooga Tennessee which is Volkswagen’s second attempt at a manufacturing foothold in the U.S..
The first was the Rabbit plant in Westmoreland Pennsylvania which opened in 1978 and closed 9 years later in 1987. The 2,000,000 square foot plant was the first foreign expansion for car production into the U.S. since Rolls Royce closed its Springfield Massachusetts assembly plant in 1931. Volkswagen planned on U.S. production to overcome unstable exchange rates between the Dollar and the Deutschmark. They also sought to “American-ize” the Rabbit which was to be produced here, endowing it with lurid color-coordinated interiors and tacky chrome trim on the exterior. None of the changes were well received by the car-buying public, most of whom strangely wanted German cars that looked and felt German. Issues with quality and labor vexed the plant as well.
Before settling on the Westmoreland location, VW searched every state in the contiguous 48 for a possible plant location. They were met with gift basket’s galore and promises of tax incentives at every turn, but one of the attractions of the Westmoreland site that made it the winner was that it was already half-built, significantly cutting the time needed to get the production lines up and running. The Westmoreland site wasn’t just on VW’s radar, it had been chosen by another car maker years before.
From the Westmoreland County Development Council:
Decades before Sony, the area was first deemed attractive to Chrysler Corporation officials who saw the industrial potential of the rural swath of land between Route 119 and Interstate 70. This is where they began construction of an auto plant in 1968, but due to an industry-wide slowdown, Chrysler was forced to delay opening indefinitely and never finished construction of the building. The unfinished shell sat idle for several years, but the state’s investment paid off.
In 1976, Volkswagen of America was attracted to the empty building where they completed infrastructure improvements and set up an assembly plant for the company’s fuel-efficient Rabbit. The German company’s arrival brought a much-anticipated measure of prosperity to the region. The first Rabbits rolled off the line in 1978, eventually producing some 200,000 cars, and employing close to 5,700 people at its peak production. For almost 12 years, with an average employment of 2,500, Volkswagen operated its assembly plant producing the fuel-efficient model and then the community suffered yet another setback. In 1988, Volkswagen announced it would close its doors, presenting the County once again with the challenge of finding a new tenant for the 2.8 million SF facility.
As noted, after VW left Westmoreland the plant became occupied by another foreign entity, Sony. The Japanese electronics giant built televisions there from 1990 to 2010, employing more than 3,000 at its height. Today the Westmoreland property remains only partially occupied by a number of smaller concerns. The 330-acre site is owned and operated by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania (RIDC) and is Western Pennsylvania’s largest improved commercial space available.