Volkswagen: how VW wants to catch up with its competitor Tesla – economy

This is the big discussion at Volkswagen: what will happen to the main plant in Wolfsburg? The clinker buildings that open onto the Mittelland Canal bear witness to the long tradition of production. They built the Beetle here first, then the Gulf. The eighth version is now on the market. But what comes next? Internal combustion cars will be phased out in the foreseeable future, as regulations in the EU and the rest of the world demand it and, at the same time, Chinese and American competitors are offering increasingly attractive battery-powered vehicles. In any case, employees are worried about the uncertain future, especially since CEO Herbert Diess has repeatedly complained about the lack of efficiency of the flagship brand’s factory. This is one of the reasons why the situation at Volkswagen got even worse a few days ago.

Today, for the first time, VW brand boss Ralf Brandstätter released a plan on how the transformation should take place at this factory. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he elaborated two possible scenarios for the construction of electric cars in Wolfsburg in the future: on the one hand, open-heart conversion. Much like BMW does in Munich, where an electric car plant is operating in the main plant in a difficult process, while operations are still ongoing. It’s possible, says Brandstätter, but he prefers a more radical solution: a new building on the green land near the factory. Fully optimized for the production of the Trinity electric car model, as the second generation of VW brand electric cars is called. “We need four square kilometers, they will be found,” he said. In the past six months both have been played out, the decision is to be made during VW’s so-called supervisory board planning cycle in early December.

The goal: to build electric vehicles in ten to eleven hours

Brandstätter probably suspects that a completely exterior new building would be a painful symbol for the employees of the main factory and that they might see it as a vote of no confidence. Because CEO Diess certifies that the entire site – factory and administration – has an inlay that must be demolished. This also includes the 14,000 of Volkswagen’s 60,000 employees in Wolfsburg who currently manufacture the Golf, Tiguan and Taracco of the Seat group’s sister company. So his colleague Brandstätter not only announces his preferred solution, but also includes the existing parent plant in his “target image” – as a second step.

“A brand new factory would save us time in terms of storage and tidying up and then we could also show that we can keep pace in terms of efficiency,” says Brandstätter. If construction was done on the green field, starting in 2026, Trinity vehicles could roll off the assembly line in ten or eleven hours. This is the exceptionally high production efficiency that Volkswagen’s biggest competitor, Tesla, is targeting at its new plant in Grünheide.

And a little later – as a second step – a second Trinity production would be set up in the main plant, which could start around the year 2030. Two of the four combustion lines would be dismantled for this. It would work well, according to Brandstätter, as demand for combustion cars is likely to drop significantly during this period anyway – by the early 2030s production of combustion engines will be completely halted.

Open detailed view

Still looks a bit like Gotham City from the “Batman” series: VW’s parent factory in Wolfsburg with its clinker brick power station chimneys.

(Photo: Rainer Jensen / dpa)

The head of VW then addresses the crucial point: employee representatives are involved in these discussions, explains Brandstätter. Everyone is also aware that less staff will be needed if the production time for electric cars is halved in the future: ten hours for Trinity instead of 25 for the Golf. However, this can be amortized by making more parts yourself instead of having them delivered to you. In addition, not all jobs would be filled when the VW folks retire.

It sounds like a well thought out plan. And yet there is still a problem: there is still a long way to go until 2026. What if demand for the Golf fell significantly sooner? This is the works council’s concern for Daniela Cavallo, who therefore calls for another electric car project earlier for Wolfsburg. Brandstätter is now ready to talk about it. Project Trinity can hardly be advanced as it is a whole new generation of vehicles with completely different electronics and software that have just been developed, he says. In principle, however, it is possible for an electric car from the ID family, which has already been launched, to move to Wolfsburg, says Brandstätter, and the plant conversion will cost triple-digit million. “We are discussing this with the works council. But one thing is clear: it must be economical,” says Brandstätter.

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