The official start of production for the Volkswagen ID.3 began in Zwickau, Germany, today, November 4, 2019. This momentous occasion was attended by hundreds of journalists from around the world and featured remarks by Herbert Diess, chairman of the board for Volkswagen Group, Thomas Ulbrich, head of e-mobility for the company, and Jens Rothe, head of the labor union that represents the more than 8,000 workers at the Zwickau factory.
Also in attendance were Michael Kretschmer, Prime Minister of the Free State of Saxony, and German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel. We will have more to say about Chancellor Merkel after we share some of the details about the car and the factory with you.
The ID.3 Is A Fantastic Electric Car
Let’s begin by saying the ID.3 is not a direct competitor to the Tesla Model 3. It is not a computer on wheels in the way all Teslas are. It will not have full self-driving capability, at least not at first. It also does not have a 15″ horizontal touchscreen mounted in the middle of the dashboard. What it does have is two screens — one in front of the driver and one centrally mounted on the dashboard. A heads-up display is available. And it looks absolutely stunning up close.
It features an interior as spacious as a Volkswagen Passat in a car that is close to the size of a current model Volkswagen Golf. It will be offered with three battery sizes at three different price points. The first cars off the line will have a 62 kWh battery and a range of approximately 425 kilometers (264 miles). Later, an 82 kWh battery with 500 kilometers (310 miles) of range will be offered as well as a 48 kWh battery with 330 kilometers (205 miles) of range.
First Edition models featuring a 200 horsepower electric motor mounted in the rear and tons of premium interior features — including a sophisticated heads-up display — will sell for around €40,000 (~$45,500). The MEB platform allows for the installation of a second electric motor driving the front wheels, so some versions of the ID-branded cars may come with all-wheel drive in the future.
Later, a standard version of the ID.3 with the 62 kWh battery will be offered starting at around €32,000 (~$35,600). It is believed the version of the car with the smallest battery will be priced closer to €22,000 (~$24,400). Prices for the long range model have not been confirmed. So far as we understand, all prices quoted above do not include national or local incentives.
Pre-production at the Zwickau factory has been going on for some time as the new automated line gets calibrated and workers on the line adapt to their new roles. Eventually, there will be four assembly lines running simultaneously with a total output of 800 cars a day. Right now, only the first line is operational and it is building 80 cars a day. The pace is leisurely at present as workers and machines learn how to work together. The space where the new production line is today once was home to an assembly line that built VW Golfs. It has been converted over the past 3 months to accept the company’s new MEB electric car platform at a cost of €1.2 billion.
This assembly area will build three different electric car models — the ID.3, the ID Crozz (aka ID.4), and an as yet unnamed larger sedan seen in photos during the factory tour. The ID.3 models will be badged as Volkswagens, while a similar model will come from SEAT. The ID Crozz SUV will be badged as a Volkswagen as well, and a similar electric SUV from Audi is also on the way.
Sales are expected to begin all across Europe in the late spring or early summer of next year. The company expects to build 100,000 cars at the Zwickau factory in 2020 and reach full capacity of 330,000 cars a year by the end of 2021. Between then and now, another assembly line at the Zwickau factory that builds conventional cars will be shut down and converted to making MEB-based electric cars.
The US factory for electric cars is under construction in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the first car — the ID.Crozz SUV, which may or may not be known as the ID.4 — expected to roll off the line in late 2022. Prior to that, Volkswagen will ship ID.Crozz vehicles manufactured in Germany to dealers in America in the fourth quarter of 2021, so the first ID-branded cars in America will go on sale in approximately 24 months. A company representative confirmed that Volkswagen and Audi will be treated as one manufacturer when it comes to determining eligibility for the US federal tax credit for electric vehicles.
Volkswagen is converting an existing factory in China to MEB production and building one new factory there. The converted factory is expected to begin production in about 1 year. The new factory should come online a year later. We do not know what products the company expects to build in those factories.
Volkswagen Is Serious About Electric Cars
After all the speechifying (which was mercifully short) and the factory tour, Thomas Ulbrich met with us in small groups to answer questions. This is a man who believes with all his heart in the transition to electric mobility. He says after driving an e-Golf for the past year, he finds going back to a conventional car is not as enjoyable as it used to be.
Ulbrich had a lot to say, all of it pertinent. For this man, the e-mobility transition is of paramount importance. He says building out the charging infrastructure is key because more convenient charging options mean less range anxiety which will translate into more sales of electric cars. The ID.3 and its MEB cousins will use batteries that operate on a 400 volt architecture. Ulbrich says the largest battery — 82 kWh — can be recharged to 80% using a DC fast charger in under 30 minutes. After driving that many kilometers, most drivers will be ready for a break anyway.
His primary goal is satisfied owners. People who are happy with their cars will tell other people and the cycle of evolution will speed up accordingly. There is fire in his eyes when he speaks. Anyone who doubts Volkswagen is fully committed to electric cars only needs to spend 5 minutes with Ulbrich to feel the power of vision.
Asked about battery chemistry, he acknowledged that Tesla is leading the industry when it comes to lowering the amount of cobalt used in today’s battery cells and is closest to making cells that use no cobalt at all. But Volkswagen is working with its battery partners to accomplish the same goal. Ulbrich says the company’s primary battery partners are Korean companies SK Innovation and LG Chem, but claims the company is not wedded to one or two suppliers and will consider cells manufactured by CATL in its new German factory near Erfurt, which is only about 100 kilometers away from Zwickau.
Asked about how the company’s US dealers will handle selling electric cars, Ulbrich said he thinks dealers are aware that things are changing in the marketplace and they will need to get on board or be gone. He also thinks the connectivity built into the cars will create a new opportunity for dealers to market services like tire rotation and replacement or brake work though the cars’ computer touchscreen.
The ID.3 and its siblings will offer over-the-air updates on all software except systems that affect the safe operation of the vehicles. Updates will typically take about 15 minutes to download and install and the cars cannot be driven while the updates are in process.
Angela Merkel Speaks From The Heart
In her remarks, Chancellor Angela Merkel showed why she has held onto political power for more than 15 years. In contrast to the jackasses leading the US and UK governments, she is empathetic and masterful at building coalitions among groups with competing interests.
Merkel grew up in East Germany during the difficult years when it was under Russian control. She was at pains to point out that the start of production of the ID.3 is taking place 30 years after the Berlin Wall was dismantled. The day’s presentations also included a clip of Ronald Reagan saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That was clearly an emotional moment in history for Merkel.
She pointed out that cars have been manufactured in Zwickau for 105 years, beginning with August Horch and continuing with Auto Union and later Audi. After World War II, the lowly Trabant, virtually the only new car available in East Germany, was manufactured there too.
Merkel made a special point of saying that walls impede economic progress, a pointed reference to Trump’s border wall. She targeted Boris Johnson as well, arguing that rules-based open markets were the best way to bring peace and prosperity to all countries who participate in such arrangements. She definitely sounded like the only adult in a room full of childish leaders who mistake tweets for leadership and texts for diplomacy.
In her remarks, Merkel pledged that Germany will increase grants for plug-in hybrid cars under €40,000 to €4,500 from €3,000 and grants for fully electric cars under €40,000 will rise to €6,000. For electric vehicles that cost €40,000–60,000, the grants will increase to €5,000. (Note that automakers and government split those subsidies 50–50.) The country will also invest €3.5 billion to improve Germany’s EV charging network. The German government plans to have 10 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.
Volkswagen’s Pragmatic Approach
Many CleanTechnica readers are dismayed that Volkswagen is not shutting down the production of conventional cars sooner. The company is taking a fundamentally pragmatic approach. It is responsible for more than 650,000 direct and indirect employees worldwide and they all have families and they all have to eat. Thomas Ulbrich recognizes that any false step could spell the end of the company despite its size.
And so Volkswagen will continue to manufacture conventional cars while it ramps up its electric car production. Ulbrich admits that people fear change, but he points to the 8,000 workers at the Zwickau factory as an example of what’s possible. At first, they were uncomfortable with the idea of building electric cars. Some were openly hostile to the change. But today the mood is one of excitement and quiet optimism as those same workers see electric cars as their passport to a brighter future.
If Volkswagen can produce the same effect among its customers, the EV revolution will accelerate dramatically. The company may even decide to speed up how quickly it transitions to building more electric cars if the market supports such a move. Make no mistake, Volkswagen is as serious as a heart attack about transitioning to e-mobility and will leave no stone unturned on its way to electrification. It is approaching the change the way responsible adults should.
I left the presentation confident the company intends to keep its commitment to building a transportation system that runs on electricity just as soon as makes sense. And I guaran-damn-tee you that when you get to test drive an ID-branded car, you will want one in your own driveway. These are seriously good cars with great styling. I wish I could smuggle an ID.3 into my carry-on bag when I leave Germany tomorrow.
Note: Volkswagen paid my airfare to and from Germany, put me up in a nice hotel in Leipzig, and fed me more times than I can count. Some of you will say all that financial support means my reporting is necessarily biased in favor of the company. Those who think that don’t know me very well. If I write it, it’s because I believe what I am saying, not because I have been bought off by a few dollars (all right — quite a few dollars) that happened to come my way. I am grateful to Volkswagen, however, for making this boondoggle possible. It was a memorable journey.