In a move that it believes is the first of its kind in the world for a major car factory, Volkswagen is converting its automotive factory in Zwickau, Germany from the production of internal combustion vehicles to produce electric vehicles. The news this week builds on a higher level announcement that VW issued about the conversion of the Zwickau plant to support electric vehicles late last year.
After many years of concept vehicles and vaporous promises, the move is one of the first concrete steps from the automaker to signal that it might actually be serious about producing electric vehicles once and for all.
The Zwickau factory had an annual production capacity of 330,000 internal combustion vehicles per year which, if converted to the production of electric vehicles, would put the company in the ballpark of Tesla’s current production capacity. At its factory in Fremont, California, Tesla can produce 100,000 Model S/X per year and 310,000 Model 3s, assuming a production rate of 6,000 Model 3s per week.
The fact that VW is celebrating the start of the conversion of one of its factories as the first in the world highlights just how far ahead of the competition Tesla is. Legacy auto manufacturers are only just beginning to explore what is needed to secure battery production capacity and to explore, for the first time, what it would take to produce electric vehicles at scale. Welcome to the game, finally, and we will keep an eye out for your SEC-approved #BatteryCapacitySecured tweets over the coming weeks and months!
The Zwickau plant conversion will serve as the pilot plant conversion, with Volkswagen looking to the work done there as the basis for the conversion of its global fleet of factories. To some extent, not having to decommission or retrofit an existing network of production facilities for electric vehicle production is a significant advantage as it is able to optimize the layout and manufacturing equipment at each new factory for the current need.
Remember, Volkswagen has developed, or is developing the completely new MEB platform as the basis for its
10 million 50 million electric vehicles. That platform comes with a completely new chassis, new layout, and new equipment, which all requires new manufacturing equipment. Looking at the cutaways of the MEB platform, it constitutes the majority of the complexity within the vehicle. All it needs is a body wrapped around it and it’s good to go.
“The start of production of the ID in a good 12 months’ time will herald a new era for Volkswagen – comparable with the first Beetle or the first Golf,” says Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen Brand Board Member responsible for E-Mobility. “We intend to take e-mobility out of its niche and to make the electric car affordable for millions of people. Efficient, modern production facilities will be the key. This is why we are bundling electric car production across the Group’s brands at Zwickau. In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive. As the first MEB plant in the Volkswagen Group, Zwickau will therefore play a pioneering role for this future-oriented technology.
Zwickau currently produced the Golf and the Golf Estate, but these brands will be phased out at the factory as work commences to convert all production lines to support electric vehicles. The plant will initially setup production lines for its ID, based on its modular electric toolkit (MEB), by the end of next year. Beyond that, it will install production equipment to support the production of six electric models from three of the Volkswagen Group brands by 2021.
Importantly, VW is working to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations, with a target of producing and delivery an entirely carbon neutral vehicle. Efforts to accomplish this will start by avoiding or reducing emissions, followed by ‘climate protection measures’ to account for emissions that cannot be avoided. VW is taking this commitment seriously and even including the footprint of its battery manufacturers in scope, in so far as to obtain agreements from its battery suppliers that they will use renewable power for the production of battery cells for VW.
The factory itself has already been converted to run completely on eco-friendly energy last year, but the new focus on delivering a completely carbon neutral vehicle to customers has reinvigorated efforts to offset the remaining emissions from the on site cogeneration facility with climate friendly protection projects.
“With our electric cars we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection. The decisive factor is that electric cars will be both built and used sustainably,” Ulbrich said. “The ID. will be a model for sustainable mobility.”
Featured image credit: Volkswagen
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