Volkswagen Is Optimistic About Its Electric Car Future

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Volkswagen is bullish on the future of electric cars. On its company blog, it has published a number of new posts in recent days. Yes, much of it is happy talk intended to burnish the company’s luster in public, but there are some bits of information our readers may find of particular interest.

Zachary Shahan published a piece just a short while ago that questions whether Volkswagen will be able to get its software issues resolved in time to begin deliveries of the ID.3 this summer as planned. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. What is clear from his story is that talented software engineers are in short supply these days and the competition to recruit the best of the best is fierce. Here in no particular order are some of the highlights from the VW blog.

Sales, Revenue, & Deliveries Are Up

Volkswagen FY 2019 sales
Image credit: Volkswagen

For fiscal year 2019, the company delivered more cars than the previous year while net and gross revenue were up appreciably. Sales in Europe and South America were up while sales in North America and the Asia-Pacific area were off slightly. You may recall that sales of electric cars in China were off sharply last year after the government eliminated some EV incentives. Market share increased in almost all areas.

Independent Sustainability Council Visits Zwickau

Voklkswagen Sustainability Council
Volkswagen Sustainability Council. L-R: Michael Sommer, Gesche Joost, Elhadj As Sy and Yves Leterme. Image credit: Volkswagen

Volkswagen is committed to lowering the carbon footprint of its manufacturing process. Its independent sustainability council was included from the beginning of the planning for its new ID electric car division. Recently, the council, headed by Gesche Joost, paid a visit to the factory at Zwickau where production of the ID.3 began on one assembly line last November and a second assembly line is being converted to build electric cars.

Compared to the way things were in 2016 when the council was first formed, “We have another company in front of us,” Joost says. All of the electricity needed to manufacture electric cars at the Zwickau factory and to manufacture battery comes from renewable energy. The company says it plans to have 75 all electric models in its lineup by 2024 with another 65 hybrid models.

“The CO2 emissions per vehicle at the Zwickau site have more than halved within ten years,” CFO Bursig told the members of the sustainability council during their visit. But the company plans to lower emissions even further in the near future. “[W]e will expand the press shop that enables us to manufacture additional components directly on site,” he says, thereby eliminating the emissions associated with transporting components from distant factories.

The company is also engaging in small climate mitigation strategies. Employees have planted fruit trees around the Zwickau factory and now more than 400,000 bees produce “VW honey” on the premises. The goal is to implant the idea of sustainability in the mind of everyone who works at the factory. “It should be visible at all times how important the subject of sustainability is to us,” says Bursig.

Volkswagen is determined that its workers not be left behind by the EV revolution. It has 10,000 employees in the Saxony region where the Zwickau factory is located. “We are taking all our employees with us,” says Dirk Coers, director of human resources at the Zwickau location.

In concrete terms, this means that 8,000 employees at the Zwickau site will be trained in electric mobility. So far, 2,000 production employees alone have passed through the e-mobility training center. More than 1,500 employees have acquired the so-called high-voltage license, so that by the end of 2019 the team had completed around 13,000 training days. “We are Volkswagen Group’s largest training hub,” says Coers.

Sustainability Council member Michael Sommer describes the qualification of the employees as “exemplary”, but also necessary. The former chairman of the German Trade Union Federation says it is vital to reassure workers who fear losing their jobs.

The Volkswagen Battery Warranty

Frank Blom, head of Volkswagen’s battery cell division, has some information about the warranty that will come with the company’s electric cars and some advice on how owners can maximize battery life. “We guarantee a minimum battery capacity of 70 percent over eight years, or 160,000 kilometers. Similar to smartphones, customers can also influence the battery’s durability. Rule of thumb: Normal charging is gentler than quick charging. And if one charges the battery to only 80 percent instead of 100 percent, you can also increase its service life. In most everyday situations, this is quite sufficient.”

He also has something to say about recycling depleted batteries, thinking of them as resources rather than e-waste.

“Volkswagen assumes responsibility for the entire battery raw material cycle. All activities from battery cell production to recycling are bundled at Volkswagen Group Components. Batteries are not hazardous waste, but a valuable source of raw materials. The aim is to achieve the highest possible level of material recycling and the reuse of valuable E-raw-materials such as nickel, manganese, cobalt as well as copper, steel and aluminum — in an ecologically and economically sustainable manner.

“At the end of its life cycle, the battery is repaired as far as possible, used for a second use in new products such as flexible quick charging stations and then recycled. Volkswagen… working on a recycling concept to return raw materials to the manufacturing process chain. A pilot recycling plant is currently being built at the Salzgitter site, where recycling processes, already being researched, are being validated and scaled up. The pilot recycling plant is initially designed for up to 1,200 tons of batteries per year. This corresponds to around 3,000 battery systems. Larger quantities of battery returns are not expected until 2030.”

Blom says the company is planning to start of production of solid state EV batteries in 2024 in cooperation with QuantumScape. It is also partnering with Northvolt to build a battery cell factory at Satzgitter, with an initial capacity of 16 GWh per year. Plans are already in place to expand that to 24 GWh.

The Takeaway

Volkswagen has big plans for its electric car division. If it can solve its software issues, it could be on its way to becoming one of the largest electric car producers in the world. But there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as my old Irish grandmother liked to say. Volkswagen is running as fast as it can into the electric car future and has committed €33 billion to making the transition to EVs.

Of course, other manufacturers, especially Tesla, are not waiting around. A 2024 electric Volkswagen may be equivalent to a 2020 Tesla, technologically speaking. And then there is the question whether the coronavirus will fundamentally alter the automobile industry in ways that cannot be foreseen at the moment. The final chapter of this story is a long way from being written.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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