By Dudley Althaus and William Boston
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—A barren patch in the rugged hills along the Tennessee River is a sign of how Mexico has accelerated past the U.S. South in the global competition for auto investment.
The tract of cleared woodland lies alongside a factory Volkswagen AG set out to build in 2008. VW took an option on the adjacent 800 acres as a place where its Audi unit might build a North American plant someday.
But four years later, when Audi decided to move global production of its Q5 SUV to North America, the prize went to Mexico. Audi now is finishing a $1.3 billion factory in a gritty south-central Mexico town called San Jose Chiapa. The plant’s massive buildings rise like supertankers from dun-colored fields where families scrape by raising corn and beans.