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Deborah Crawford, vice chancellor for research, innovation, and economic development, UT; Chuhee Lee, vice president of mobility design and technology, Volkswagen Group Innovation Center California; Maha Krishnamurthy, president, UT Research Foundation.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Volkswagen Group of America announced the signing of a new five-year master research agreement, reinforcing a longstanding and productive innovation partnership.

Over the past five years, the collaboration has produced 27 active research projects, 15 publications, and multiple pending patents. Together, UT research faculty and Volkswagen scientists are collaborating on technology to make vehicles that are lighter, batteries that last longer and materials that are more sustainable.

Left to right, front row: Crawford; Lee; Krishnamurthy; Christoph Kaeppner, principal program lead, Volkswagen Group Innovation Center California; Stephanie Cook, assistant director industry engagement partnership, UT. Back row: Marc Gibson, associate vice chancellor for research, innovation, and economic development, UT; Wolfgang Maluche, vice president of engineering, Engineering and Planning Center, VW; Hendrik Mainka, project lead senior, Volkswagen Group Innovation Hub Knoxville; Marton Kardos, research scientist, Volkswagen Group Innovation Hub Knoxville.

“We want Tennessee, which is already a major manufacturer of automobiles, to be a destination for mobility research and innovation. That’s why we are so proud to have a partner like Volkswagen Group, who is a global leader in the automotive industry,” said Deb Crawford, UT’s vice chancellor for research, innovation, and economic development. “Together, we leverage the real-world experience of industry and the ingenuity of UT faculty and students to solve critical problems and create the vehicles of the future.”

Joint UT and Volkswagen Group projects include reducing vehicle weight through new fiber composites and AI-optimized material structures, creating more sustainable vehicle interiors with new paper-based materials and making it easier to charge electric vehicles with high-powered wireless charging concepts.

Breakthrough technologies have already made their way into Volkswagen Group brands around the world including VW, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

“Partnering with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for research has accelerated Volkswagen Group’s ability to bring practical innovations to our products,” said Chuhee Lee, vice president of mobility design and technology at Volkswagen Group Innovation Center California. “With this extension, we’ll be able to continue this invaluable research and bring more materials and power electronics solutions for more sustainable mobility. UT has been an invaluable partner, bringing incredible research talent with an interest in the automotive industry and sustainability.”

UT’s relationship with one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers goes back to 2011, when Volkswagen opened its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The partnership was formalized in 2018 with the first master research agreement before taking another step forward in 2020 with opening the North American Innovation Hub at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

The Innovation Hub in Knoxville, one of Volkswagen’s four Innovation Hubs worldwide (with the others in Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Singapore), accelerates research for VW Group Innovation and focuses on the company’s lighthouse R&D projects such as electric mobility, sustainable transportation, lightweight composites and recycled materials. Through the Innovation Hub in Knoxville, UT and VW developed the VW Ph.D. Fellows program, a one-of-a-kind doctoral fellowship program that integrates Ph.D. candidates into Volkswagen as full-time employees while they work toward their dissertation at UT.

In May, the university and automaker announced plans to expand their partnership with 10 new joint research projects, additional Ph.D. fellowship and internship positions at Volkswagen, and the creation of new student engagement programs.

“The partnership with Volkswagen is already one of the most fruitful industry relationships in university history, and as the partnership continues to deepen, we expect to see even more innovations making their way to market,” said UT Research Foundation President Maha Krishnamurthy, who is responsible for the intellectual property management.


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,