FROM ONE HAND
ON THE PATH TO THE ALL-ELECTRIC AUTOMOTIVE FUTURE AND CONTROL OVER VALUE CHAINS
Dr. Fazel, in your doctorate you dealt with the acceptance of e-mobility. What did you find out in the process?
I started my dissertation in 2011. At that time, e-mobility was still in its infancy, Tesla was a small start-up and mass production was still completely unthinkable. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the topic, and the further development could already be guessed at. I was particularly interested in what the levers were that would allow this technology to catch on with customers. I therefore transferred a behavioural science approach from the IT world - the so-called "Technology Acceptance Model" - to e-mobility and applied it. One of the key results was that use must be simple and convenient. And even back then, the data showed that this requires, above all, a nationwide and reliable charging infrastructure. Interestingly, the vehicle price also played an important role from the customer's point of view, but with less influence than the charging infrastructure.
And what do you derive from this today as the person responsible at Volkswagen?
We come from a world in which manufacturers focused primarily on vehicle technology. No carmaker used to think about filling stations - that was the job of the big mineral oil companies. With the shift towards e-mobility, this is changing fundamentally. At Volkswagen, we recognised very early on that the charging infrastructure needs a lot more players. We need an interplay between manufacturers, the energy industry, the petroleum industry and local authorities. And of course we are also taking the lead ourselves: together with partners, we are building around 18,000 fast-charging points in Europe alone. This is an important contribution to helping e-mobility achieve its final breakthrough.
So cooperations yes, but VW as an "e-filling station operator" no?
We have already installed a large number of charging points worldwide - either on our own or together with partners. For example, we are involved in IONITY, the leading open-access fast charging network in Europe. In the USA, Electrify America operates the largest open fast-charging network in North America, and we have also already built thousands of fast-charging points in China through the joint venture CAMS. By 2025, there will be around 45,000 fast charging points worldwide. So we've been going full throttle in this market for a long time. At the same time, we are aware that this will only cover a partial demand. We cannot build the necessary nationwide charging infrastructure on our own; all parties involved have to pull together and also shoulder the investments together.
The acceptance of e-mobility by customers is one thing. What is the state of acceptance within the Volkswagen Group?
Volkswagen is now a pioneer of e-mobility; no other automotive company has initiated the change so early and so consistently. Since 2016, we have massively ramped up investments in e-mobility, developed new electric models and converted the plants. In the beginning, there were still many question marks: How long will it take for e-mobility to become established? Will it catch on at all - or will it be other alternative drives like the fuel cell? Today, this is no longer an issue; the entire Volkswagen Group is geared towards e-mobility. In the meantime, it has also become clear that it was the right decision.
In Europe we are now the undisputed market leader, and we are also doing well in the USA and China. And we are not standing still: For example, we are investing around 90 billion euros in e-mobility and digitalisation as part of the current five-year plan in the Group out of a total of 160 billion euros - that's around 60 %. And this share will continue to rise over the next few years. It is absolutely the right step.
What is VW doing to create facts? When will the last combustion engine Golf roll off the production line?
Basically, we as a company want to be completely climate neutral by 2050 at the latest. The exact roadmap depends on the brand and the region. The Volkswagen brand, for example, has announced that the last vehicle with an internal combustion engine is expected to roll off the production line in Europe between 2033 and 2035, and at Audi a little earlier. In China and the USA it will take a little longer due to the general conditions. But as I said, the future is electric there, too. What does that mean for your value chain? The battery accounts for a very high share of the value chain and thus of the costs for electric cars. Currently, Asian companies dominate this market. In the future, we want to take this value driver into our own hands, also in order to secure the supply of battery cells for our electric offensive. That is why we have decided to enter into battery cell production.
As you know, they are planning their own factories ...
In a first step, we want to build six gigafactories in Europe by 2030. According to current plans, they will cover our own demand in the passenger car sector in Europe. We are talking about a total installed capacity of 240 gigawatt hours per year. The first two cell factories will be built in Germany and Sweden. In the coming years we will expand the current engine site in Salzgitter into the Group's battery hub. We are already operating cell laboratories and pilot lines there, and we want to start battery cell production in 2025. Such production has more in common with smartphone manufacturing than with car manufacturing. This makes the extent of the transformation very clear for our employees. We also want to establish a value-added cycle for batteries.
Dr. Ludwig Fazel
Global Head of Strategy Volkswagen Group Technology & Global Head of Platform Business Volkswagen Group
What does this look like?
We don't just want to do manufacturing, but also enter the input material chain. Together with Umicore, for example, we are planning a joint venture for the production of cathode material. We are currently looking at more than 200 lithium mines worldwide. And we are already operating a recycling plant to bring the valuable raw materials back into the cycle. The goal is a recycling efficiency of more than 90 %. Ultimately, as the Volkswagen Group, we want to control all the key parts of the value chain, even if we do not necessarily operate them ourselves: from mining, through raw material refinement and battery cell and vehicle production, to the use of batteries in large-scale storage systems ("2nd life") and ultimately recycling. Basically, the pure assembly of the vehicle is different for an e-vehicle than for a combustion engine, especially with regard to the use of high-voltage technologies. But a large part of the change takes place outside the vehicle plant, and we at Volkswagen are actively involved in shaping this change.
The MEB vehicle platform from Volkswagen. © Volkswagen AG
In the e-sector, VW is also positioning itself as a supplier. Why does the competition come to you?
With the "Modular E-Drive System" (MEB) and the "Premium Platform Electric" (PPE), we already have functioning vehicle platforms on the market that have been specially developed for e-vehicles. The technology is convincing, which can be seen, among other things, in the many vehicle awards such as the "Golden Steering Wheel" that our MEB vehicles have won. In order to further promote the democratisation of e-mobility and to allow other manufacturers to participate in our economies of scale, we have decided to also offer our vehicle platforms to external cooperation partners. We offer the complete vehicle platform including e-drive, battery system and chassis components from a single source. This is unique worldwide and enables our partners to implement their projects quickly and successfully - an advantage that should not be underestimated, especially against the background of increasingly complex vehicles.
Thank you very much for the interesting interview.
DR. LUDWIG FAZEL
Dr. Ludwig Fazel © Volkswagen AG
After studying at the Technical University of Munich, he worked as a management consultant at Roland Berger, where he was most recently a member of the Global Management Team Automotive as a Principal. He has been with Volkswagen AG since 2017 and is currently Head of Group Technology, where he is responsible for strategy, the new Platform Business division and cooperation with Ford across the Group.