It’s a premiere – and an amazing one at that! For the first time in the world, a major car factory is being entirely restructured to make vehicles with electric drive systems instead of combustion engines. The project is turning Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant into the largest and most high-performing electric car factory in Europe. The first fully electric ID.* models will be rolling from its assembly line already in 2019. When the plant reaches its final level of expansion in 2021, it will produce 330,000 purely electric cars a year. It will then be making six models for three brands: Volkswagen, Audi, and Seat. The Group will invest a total of 1.2 billion euros in this highly modern site in Saxony.
The mission is clear: Volkswagen is making attractive and affordable electric cars for everyone. E-cars for millions – not for millionaires.
Zwickau has a long history of building cars.
More than 100 years ago August Horch & Cie. Automobilbau AG and Audi Automobilwerke GmbH began making vehicles in Zwickau. The two companies later became part of Auto Union AG, which ultimately became AUDI AG. After German reunification Volkswagen returned to the region in 1990 and founded Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH. Since being founded in 1990, the company has produced more than 5.5 million cars. The Zwickau plant premises have a total surface area of 1.8 million square meters, of which 1.4 million are developed.
No Jobs Will Be Lost
The Zwickau team has the know-how and commitment to make electric cars of the highest quality. “We have laid very careful plans for converting the Zwickau site. Detailed preparations and plans are essential for this type of mega-project,” says Reinhard de Vries, Managing Director for Technology and Logistics at Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH. “After all we are talking about the dawn of a new age in Saxony’s car country, and this transformation is taking place without a break in production.”
The Zwickau plant is currently being converted entirely to make electric cars – while production goes on. The project will take a total of three years. The site made the Passat until mid-2018, and continues to make both the Golf and Golf Variant. Production of the ID. will begin in late fall. The Golf Variant will be produced in parallel to the ID. until mid-2020.
The purely electric models that Zwickau will make in the future are based on efficient, stable and sustainable production processes. The site’s maximum daily capacity will rise from the current level of 1,350 cars to 1,500. And because the number of models will also rise from three to six, the number of employees at the site will remain stable – even though electric cars require less effort to make.
All of the site’s 8,000 employees will be trained and acquire long-term prospects in the process. The environment will also benefit, because production of the ID. will leave a carbon footprint of zero. This factory of the future will combine a forward-looking car with highly innovative production processes.
“Changing your clothes in your closet”
The conversion project started in the summer of 2018 with modernization of the production lines. The first of two assembly lines will be set up on a step-by-step basis until the scheduled launch of ID. production in November 2019. That includes comprehensive modernization and renewal of the body shop, paint shop, assembly facilities and infrastructure. Among other things, the entire conveyor systems need to be readied for electric cars, which are heavier than their conventional counterparts.
The site’s second assembly line will be converted following the same pattern by the end of 2020, and start operations that same year. “Conversion work at the plant is proceeding rapidly and is right on schedule,” says de Vries.
“It’s like changing your clothes in your closet,” he comments and then explains: “While we are expanding and optimizing our plant here in Zwickau, we are also working in parallel to automate and digitalize our entire production facilities.” Some 9,000 tons of new steel are being used in the building work, around 50,000 square meters of hall space are being constructed, and 1,625 robots are being set up. Fifty partner companies are supporting the conversion project. Thirty percent of the existing systems are being reused.
And if that weren’t enough restructuring, all 8,000 employees are also being qualified for their new tasks in a major further training campaign. All of them are attending informational events on e-mobility. Around 3,000 are completing a program at the e-mobility training center that gives them detailed preparation for the new production requirements. Around 1,500 employees are earning what is called a high-voltage license. “By the end of 2019 the Zwickau team will have spent a total of 13,000 days in training,” says Holger Naduschewski, Managing Director of the Group’s Training Institute responsible for these measures.
Zwickau Is the Leading Plant Worldwide for MEB Production
The core of the new e-campaign that is starting off in Zwickau is the MEB, or modular electric drive matrix. Volkswagen is currently planning to make more than ten million MEB-based cars in the first wave alone to start Group-wide by 2022. The platform will also be made available to third parties. After Zwickau, further plants will gradually be converted to MEB. Zwickau will remain the leading plant worldwide for MEB production.
“The launch of ID. production marks the start of a new era for Volkswagen,” says Thomas Ulbrich, Board Member for E-Mobility for the Volkswagen brand. “We want to take e-mobility out of its niche and make e-cars affordable for millions of people. Large numbers of cars and efficient production are the foundation for doing so, which is why we are consolidating e-car production in Zwickau and turning the site into the core of our major e-campaign. The Volkswagen brand has always stood for making progress and innovations available to many people. That was what we did with the Beetle, and is now the case with the Golf – and will also apply in the future to the fully connected electric cars of the new ID. family.” Zwickau is charged up.
* ID. - Study