Interview: Interview with VW CEO Thomas Schäfer: The fight for the 20,000 euro car

Question: US President Biden's Anti-Inflation Act has drawn attention from across the supply chain.

Interview: Interview with VW CEO Thomas Schäfer: The fight for the 20,000 euro car

Question: US President Biden's Anti-Inflation Act has drawn attention from across the supply chain. How much is at stake for Volkswagen if Northvolt decides to prioritize the US plant and delay the European one? Thomas Schäfer: There is a lot of hype throughout the industry about the installation of battery capacities. As we will be sourcing the Northvolt produced cells from Sweden and not from the Northvolt project in Germany you are referring to, there will be no impact. Question: Is your plan to commission six battery factories by 2030; Is this still valid? Thomas Schäfer: Yes, we are ramping up the battery factories as we have a requirement of 240 GWh by 2030 based on our sales assumptions. Question: BMW will produce batteries of the first and second chemical class for different segments and purposes. Will Volkswagen take a similar path? Thomas Schäfer: The uniform cell concept developed by the group offers full flexibility with considerable cost advantages. We will use cost-optimized chemistry for the entry-level segment, mainstream chemistry with a balanced price-performance ratio for the volume segment, and best-in-class chemistry for high-performance vehicles.

Question: You currently build around 400,000 cars a year at the Wolfsburg plant, which corresponds to around half of the installed capacity. It's probably all due to the disruption in the supply chain. What solutions are there to mitigate the problem? Thomas Schäfer: It is clearly due to the disruption in the supply chain. We have an order backlog that we would like to fulfill but are unable to fulfill due to disruptions at our suppliers, particularly since late 2021 for volume models such as the Tiguan and Golf, both of which are built in Wolfsburg. We hope to get a grip on the big issues in the course of 2023, for which we have taken important measures in the last few months. I'm not sure if that will be enough to ramp up production as quickly as we need to, but we're doing our best. The forecast for this year is better than last year, but expecting a 30 or 40 percent increase in production doesn't seem realistic, at least not in the first quarter of 2023. Question: Would importing cars from your Chinese factories help solve the production problems that you face in Europe? Thomas Schäfer: Not really. Of course we optimized production processes in China when the factories were closed, but that doesn't make sense in the long run, at least not for us. Question: The MEB platform, as you announced, will come sometime between 2025 and 2026. That's a long time considering what technological developments your competitors will have and even the 800 volt technology the Koreans are already using. Is that a cause for concern for you? Thomas Schäfer: Our cars are competitive, we can see that in all the tests that are carried out in the media around the world. The MEB was a real turning point for us because it is very flexible. We can produce cars for almost every segment. Our 400 volt technology works well in terms of actual charge time and speed, as well as range. In that regard, I believe we have a competitive package. The next step, 800 volt technology, will come with the SSP platform (note: Scalable Systems Platform, which will replace the MEB and PPE platforms in the group) and not with the MEB because it doesn't make sense , previously to change the entire platform. What does the consumer want in real life? Is it worth investing millions to shave a few minutes off a half-hour fast charge? Question: What is the current status of the Trinity project? Looking at the situation from the outside, using Wolfsburg for the production of future advanced ADAS systems and extended-range electric vehicles seems to make more sense than investing two billion euros in a new factory. But of course you're in a better position to judge that. Thomas Schäfer: There are two sides to the Trinity project: the vehicle that was moved and the factory outside the Wolfsburg plant. Originally the vehicle was planned to be launched in 2026, but we realized that it was simply not possible to integrate vehicle production into the Wolfsburg industrial complex, which essentially consists of four large independent production lines. They were all operating at full capacity, and if we had decided to have the Trinity assembly line up and running by 2026, we would have to literally integrate it horizontally into the plant. And that would lead to chaos. That's why we decided to build the new assembly line outside of Wolfsburg and - as soon as the production of vehicles with combustion engines is phased out - to convert the four existing assembly lines into two new assembly lines for SSP vehicles. But the delay in the production of the Trinity car coincided with the development of the Wolfsburg site, so we see a new opportunity: to build the car in Wolfsburg. It's not 100% certain yet, but we're doing the math and will make a decision very soon, in the first quarter of 2023. This would save us investing in a new factory.

Question: The first Trinity car has been delayed...so is it closer to 2030 than 2026? Thomas Schäfer: A two-year delay means that it should be launched in 2028. Question: There are rumors that you could launch an e-Golf and an e-Tiguan in the near future to achieve a longer range. Is there a connection between these hypothetical cars and the Trinity vehicles being delayed? Thomas Schäfer: There is a connection in the sense that these two names belong to iconic models. Almost brands within the Volkswagen brand... does it make sense to let them die when the cars are all electric and throw those two assets away? Definitely not. With the Trinity Delay, we can certainly use some products to bridge the two ages; a vehicle that can have a transverse appeal, mainstream, probably closer to the silhouette of a Tiguan than a Golf, all-electric based on the MEB. This is another decision that we will announce very soon. Question: The first Trinity car was supposed to be a sedan, but there are rumors that you and the CEO prefer a more SUV-like shape because of the width effect and despite the aerodynamic disadvantage. Is that correct? Thomas Schäfer: I'm not convinced that the original project assumption was the best. We turn every stone to find the right answers and come up with the best solutions. Perhaps it's best to go for a vehicle whose shape can have strong global appeal. This is another decision that we will be announcing in the coming weeks.

Question: It seems like Q1 2023 is a trend-setting quarter for your company. Thomas Schäfer: Without a doubt. The lengthy discussion that took place on the software glitches when I took office also gave us an opportunity to review the grand plan on a much broader scale. We asked ourselves very basic and crucial questions: Do we have the right plan? The right vehicles? Are they coming at the right time? Do customers understand our portfolio? This has happened and we are now focused on translating the answers we found into a planning framework, which then needs to be balanced with our industrial footprint and resources. Which factories are running at full speed, which ones still have significant capacity that can be used, do we need to hire more employees? Can we avoid doubling or tripling investments in one and the same model, as with the ID4, which has two locations in Europe (Emden and Zwickau) as well as in China (Foschan) and now also in the USA (Chattanooga). It is a long and complicated task, but it will determine our future. Question: Can we expect the new mobility division to accelerate EV projects and does the recent changes in corporate structure mean that Cariad has not been successful so far? Thomas Schäfer: Cariad has achieved a lot in such a short time after it was founded. I admit that things weren't always perfect, but part of that had to do with the fact that in just a few years we'd developed many different vehicles that required different software flavors, which made everything overly complex. So it was partly up to us, not Cariad, to come up with a leaner and more streamlined model plan. It was a steep learning curve for everyone, including us at Volkswagen, because software wasn't "business as usual".

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