I flew into Germany at dawn today on my way to Zwickau, where Volkswagen has converted a factory that used to make almost 300,000 gasoline- and diesel-powered cars per year, most of them part of its Golf family of vehicles. In 2018, production at the Zwickau factory was phased out so crews could begin transforming it into a production facility devoted exclusively to making 100% battery electric cars.
Tomorrow, November 4, German chancellor Angela Merkel and a host of dignitaries will be on hand in Zwickau to witness the start of series production of the ID.3, Volkswagen’s first electric car built on the all new MEB platform. By 2021, the Zwickau factory will be turning out 6 different models for three different Volkswagen Group brands for a total of 330,000 electric vehicles a year.
“Production start of the ID.3 ushers in a new era for Volkswagen — one comparable to the first Beetle or the first Golf. Zwickau will become the lead plant for this new era in the automotive industry: The plant is undergoing a phased conversion — from 100% internal combustion engines to 100% electric drives. We are therefore initiating a system changeover in the automotive industry that will unfold over the next one or two decades,” says Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen board member for E-Mobility.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Volkswagen. After a series of scandals rocked the company in 2015, there was a time when many thought Volkswagen — one of the largest automobile manufacturers on the planet — might actually go out of business. To stave off such a drastic result, the company committed to spending more than $35 billion on the design and manufacture of electric automobiles. It has committed to spending more than $50 billion for the batteries those cars will need over the next decade.
In short, it has gone back to basics and begun restructuring itself as an automobile manufacturing powerhouse for the 21st century. Shortly it will have 6 electric vehicle production facilities — two in Germany, one in the Czech Republic, one in the United States, and two in China. It says it will build 22 million electric cars between now and 2028.
The question on everyone’s mind is, will it find 22 million customers for its electric cars? It’s all well and good that its Porsche division is building great electric sports cars for the affluent, but to reach its volume targets it will need to have models that ordinary people can afford. Last spring, the company hinted it could offer versions of its electric cars that retail for as little as $22,000, albeit with smaller batteries and a range of around 125 miles.
But range may not be as much of a hindrance to EV sales in years to come as it once was. The charging infrastructure is expanding in Europe, where Volkswagen is part of the Ionity fast charging network, and in the US, where its Electrify America subsidiary is expanding rapidly. Volkswagen is also pushing ahead with EV charging infrastructure in China.
I have come to Germany armed with a list of questions compiled from suggestions made by several writers at CleanTechnica. I will endeavor to get answers to things like how does Volkswagen plan to overcome resistance to electric cars from its dealers in the US, and will it market its electric cars with the same vigor as it does its conventional cars? The press session with company officials is limited to about an hour, so I may have to fight my way to the head of the line. [Editor’s note: Steve, use your elbows! Or bribe other journalists with Halloween candy.]
There is a lingering feeling in many quarters that Volkswagen is still over-promising and under-delivering when it comes to electric cars. After all, it has been hinting at an electric version of the iconic VW Microbus for almost a decade. But it really does seem to be moving ahead with electrification in a bold and forthright way. Recently it embarked on an ad campaign touting its electric vehicles. How many ads have you seen for the Jaguar I-PACE, the Chevy Bolt, or the Nissan LEAF? Exactly. I rest my case.
Our own Zachary Shahan crunched some numbers recently and concluded the ID.3 will have a lower total cost of ownership than its gas-powered Golf cousins, as well as the Skoda Octavia, Renault Megane, and Peugeot 308. Much of Zachary’s analysis is based on assumptions that may or may not turn out to be accurate in the face of real-world experience, but if buyers can be convinced an electric car will save them money, that will overcome a lot of initial sales resistance to EVs.
Tomorrow is the big day and I will have a report for you just as soon as possible after it is over. I promise all the fizzy drinks and Chateaubriand Volkswagen is plying me with will not affect my judgment one iota. I am looking forward to seeing the ID.3 up close and personal. From everything I have seen and heard so far, it is an impressive automobile, one that should appeal to lots of folks. I’ll know more soon enough.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
EV Obsession Daily!
Tesla Sales in 2023, 2024, and 2030
CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.