“There’s No Shortage of Enthusiasm in the Team”

Not long ago Volkswagen presented its vision for the e-mobility of tomorrow to journalists from around the world at the Gläserne Manufaktur with its “Electric for all” campaign. In this interview conducted by the newspaper Sächsische Zeitung in the run-up to the groundbreaking event, Volkswagen Brand Board Member for e-Mobility and CEO of Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH Thomas Ulbrich explains how the brand aims to sell millions of electric vehicles in the near future – and what role Saxony will play in the process.

Mr. Ulbrich, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess wants Volkswagen managers to start driving electric company cars. What kind of car do you drive?

I currently drive an e-Golf*. It’s a great car with powerful acceleration and an environmentally friendly drive system.

What has Volkswagen been doing as an employer to ease the transition to electric vehicles for employees?

In general terms we’re planning to transition more of our company car fleet to electric than has been the case thus far. The proportion of such models is slated to rise significantly in the coming years. Detailed plans are currently in the works. We believe very strongly in the technology and our electric models, and our management will help promote enthusiasm for our electric model range within the company.

Mercedes recently celebrated the world premiere of the first model in its new EQ family of electric models. Are you getting impatient for series production of the first ID.** to get underway?

I am indeed. We are going to make the fully networked electric car affordable, which will help it achieve its breakthrough. With our ID.** family, we have the right concept at the right time. The conversion of our Zwickau plant is well underway and series production of the new generation of electric cars will begin in late 2019.

We build cars for millions of people, not for millionaires. Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen Brand Board Member for e-Mobility and CEO of Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH.
That’s a year from now. Won’t Volkswagen be falling behind in the competition for buyers of electric cars?

No, we’re coming in at exactly the right time. The Volkswagen brand has a clear objective: we want to make innovation accessible to many people. That’s exactly what the ID.** stands for: it will be the first electric car of the new generation that millions of people can afford. And our models such as the e-Golf* and the e-up!*** are already very popular.

So, the announcement that the first compact ID.** will cost roughly 30,000 euros still holds?

We’re sticking with our statement that the ID.** will come in at roughly the price level of a similarly equipped Golf diesel.

The ID.** will be produced in Zwickau. How far along is the conversion of the plant?

The first measures undertaken to enable the future production of vehicles with the Modular Electric Toolkit, or MEB for short, kicked off in late 2017. We are currently working on the infrastructure in Zwickau, so expanding the halls and laying tracks. The entire conveyor technology has to be made ready for the much heavier electric cars. The machinery for the Passat in the body construction area was already dismantled during the plant’s summer vacation to make space for the new machinery for the ID.** body construction. The major conversion of the first assembly line will then begin in 2019.

From left to right: Study ID. BUZZ, ID. and ID.CROZZ

Will the number of employees be decreased during the most intensive conversion phase, and will the affected staff have to commute to other Volkswagen plants again?

The number of employees in Zwickau will remain basically the same through the conversion phase. The current collective bargaining agreements provide enough flexibility for that. We will endeavor to structure the changeover in such a way that the team is as unaffected by it as possible. Part of that is the decision to continue producing the Golf and Golf Variant through mid-2019 and mid-2020, respectively. Talks are currently underway with the employee representatives regarding the exact changeover scenario. There will have to be some flexibility in the process at certain points – but we will agree on a suitable approach in the transition period. The preparation for the new models and new technology requires a very comprehensive qualification and ramp-up program. We will use the time corridors that open up during the conversion phases in 2019 and 2020 for that.

But the degree of automation is set to go up. What impact will that have on the jobs?

That will vary from one area to the next. Body construction is already heavily automated. In the paint shop, we will bump it up another ten percent or so. A more substantial boost will come in assembly. There we will practically triple the degree of mechanization in the course of transitioning to electric mobility. But we will do so in a job-neutral manner, because the volume of production will be raised at the same time. Moreover, this mechanization will be introduced in clear, predefined stages and won’t be fully operational all at once.

You worked in China for several years. Electric mobility is strongly supported there. What can we Germans learn from the Chinese?

Alongside Europe, China is a major driving force for e-mobility, there’s no question. The Chinese market accounts for a large number of vehicle sales throughout the entire Volkswagen Group – and that is particularly true for the coming generation of battery-powered vehicles. That is due in part to China’s openness to technology. And of course the state helps out with its regulatory requirements. The Chinese are much more agile, for example, when it comes to building the requisite infrastructure. Charging stations, and that includes fast charging stations, will be placed roughly every 50 kilometers on the most important highways in China. The Chinese are extremely fast in this regard.

How is the Gläserne Manufaktur in Dresden involved in the conversion at Volkswagen Saxony?

The Gläserne Manufaktur will become a “Center of Future Mobility” – a showcase for the entire mobility of the future. This applies to the areas of production, logistics and sales. In the process, we are moving away from the character of a pure manufactory or workshop. And with the start-up incubator and the new “Smart Production Lab,” it also operates as a center of innovation within the group. In addition to Zwickau, the Gläserne Manufaktur will become a second MEB location in Saxony. The models and precise timing of their introduction in Dresden will be decided later.

The interview was conducted by Nora Meithke for the newspaper Sächsische Zeitung.

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*e-Golf: Power consumption in kWh/100 km: 12.7 (combined); CO2 emissions in g/km: 0 (combined); efficiency class: A+

**ID.: This prototype vehicle is not yet available for sale and therefore are not subject to Directive 1999/94/EC.

***e-up!: Power consumption in kWh/100 km: 11.7 (combined); CO2 emissions in g/km: 0 (combined); efficiency class: A+