Mr. Ulbrich, what is Zwickau’s role in Volkswagen’s transformation to a provider of e-mobility?
Thomas Ulbrich: We want to make electric cars popular and support their breakthrough on the market. That’s our strategic goal and, what’s more, the key to achieving sustainable mobility. In a sense, Zwickau will become the lead plant for this new era in the automotive industry: The first ID. will roll off the assembly line here at the end of 2019. We’re converting the plant completely – from 100% combustion engines to 100% electric powertrains. That’s pretty unique, and it’s a very clear signal that we’re all-in on “e”. In the future, we’ll build 330,000 e-cars every year in Zwickau – making that location the largest electric car factory in Europe.
Why did you choose the plant in Zwickau?
Ulbrich: Saxony and Zwickau can boast an automaking tradition that goes back more than 100 years. Last year alone, our 7,700 employees there built around 290,000 vehicles of the highest quality. The team in Zwickau can handle large-scale production, such as the entire Volkswagen brand. So we’re relying on that experience and know-how when it comes to the production of the future ID. models as well. The choice of Zwickau for our lead e-mobility plant is also a clear sign of our commitment to Germany as an automaking country. And since it’s “made in Germany”, the electric ID. also offers our staff long-term employment prospects – not just in Zwickau, but also in Development in Wolfsburg and in component production in Braunschweig, Hanover, Salzgitter and Kassel.
How are you preparing the employees for the challenges of the electric age?
Ulbrich: In Zwickau, Volkswagen started the biggest training program in the history of the company. By 2020, all 7,700 employees will attend information events that prepare them for the plant’s new function. 3,000 employees will be trained at the e-mobility training center on specific technical e-mobility content. Overall, this will amount to 13,000 days of training. And 1,500 employees will complete a kind of “driver’s license” for working with high voltage. In other works, we’re preparing the team in Zwickau optimally for the new requirements of e-mobility and the jobs that will be created as part of electrification and digitization.
And in Emden and Hanover, the next plants are waiting to build the e-cars of the future. What can they learn from Zwickau?
Ulbrich: Every plant has its own character, but Zwickau is definitely a kind of pioneer in the transformation to e-mobility. A worldwide MEB production network will arise over the next few years: Currently there are two MEB plants being developed in the Chinese cities Anting and Foshan, and they will start production just a few months after the pilot plant in Zwickau. We’ll be building e-cars in North America, too. And in Europe, we’re adding Emden and Hanover. All of them will benefit from the experience and know-how we’re building in Zwickau.
You’re promising that the production of the ID. will be CO2-neutral. What does that mean in concrete terms?
Ulbrich: At Volkswagen, we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection. The ID. will take on a pioneering role in this regard; its production will balance out as CO2-neutral across the entire supply and production chain. That means that the production of CO2 will be avoided or reduced as far as possible during the manufacturing process, and we will compensate for the unavoidable emissions through climate protection measures. For instance, the plant in Zwickau will use green electricity generated by hydropower.
Battery cell manufacturing in particular is very energy-intensive. How will you make that item “green”?
Ulbrich: When we say that on balance we can produce a CO2-neutral vehicle, then naturally we mean battery cell production, too. That’s big leverage to use in improving the environmental footprint of e-cars. People who buy an ID. get a truly sustainable car.