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From the Trabi to the ID.3

From the Trabi to the ID.3

Bernd Perfölz knows them all. And does so intimately: the Trabant, the Polo, the Golf, the Golf Estate, the Passat – and now the ID.3. The reason is that the now 64-year-old technical expert at the Volkswagen plant Zwickau started his apprenticeship as a communications technician at VEB Sachsenring Zwickau in 1972 when he was 17. A journey through time

Then it really comes full circle. Bernd Perfölz takes us on a tour of the ID.3 production hall in Volkswagen Sachsen’s vehicle production plant. It took only a short time for the site to become the first factory in Europe to be completely converted to pure e-production. Perfölz stops at the brake filling station and points to the axles: “Here the ID.3 is given drum brakes again. The Trabant had them, too,” the plant technician says with a mischievous grin. Of course, he knows that there were quite a few steps in innovation necessary between the East German cult car and the first all-electric car from the Volkswagen Group. Nevertheless he is pleased as punch to discover a familiar component.

Even as an adolescent, Bernd Perfölz was in love with technology: “I built a lot of model boats from scratch during GDR times already – and also the remote controls to go with them! Nowadays there are complete kits – it’s all just a matter of money.”

His father worked in the metal laboratory at Horch. Naturally, he also liked seeing his son Bernd “who always needed something to do with his hands,” as he says himself, go to work at the “Sachsenring,” which was how the locals referred to the VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau. VEB stands for Volkeigener Betrieb, i.e. Publicly Owned Enterprise, the main legal form of industrial companies in Communist East Germany.

1972 apprenticeship as a communications technician

Starting in 1972, Bernd Perfölz began learning the profession of communications technician as an apprentice; he got his qualifications in 1974. Now he is a skilled worker at Sachsenring Zwickau. “At that time there were 10,000 employees at three factories: one for the Trabant 601 body shell, one for paint work, one for final assembly. 700 Trabants rolled off the assembly line daily in two shifts. That was never enough.” It is a well-known fact that the waiting period for a new car in the GDR was more than 10 years.

In 1980, Perfölz applied for the job as head of the electronics workshop; Citroen was in the process of investing in Zwickau and was building a new plant for drive shafts. “That was my golden opportunity,” says Perfölz. From then onward he was responsible for the machine and plant control systems at the factory, maintaining and repairing them with his colleagues – frequently also at night.

In 1988, the Trabant began being produced with a four-stroke engine. “We were building it together with the Polo on a mixed production line as early as 1990,” says Perfölz, recollecting the time just before reunification. Background: Volkswagen CEO Carl Hahn had been ordering parts from East Germany since the 1980s. Consequently, the engines for the Polo were already being built in Chemnitz. Then Polo chassis construction came to Zwickau.

“Everyone really put their backs into it”

“Then the Iron Curtain fell,” Perfölz recounts. “There was a huge surge in motivation for every single employee at the plant – without exception. We could finally build cars that were in demand around the whole world. Everyone put their backs into the new processes, new solutions were sought and found in a short time, a lot was improvised. Those were our major strengths back then, anyway,” says Perfölz, referring to the transition period from a divided to a united Germany.

In 1991, the Volkswagen Group began building an entirely new factory in Mosel (Zwickau). On a greenfield. This is where the production of the Golf 3 began in 1993. “That was quite a different category from the Polo,” Perfölz still recognizes today. “Everything was bigger – and there were many more parts to be fitted.”

Perfölz himself then switched to “the greenfield,” to Sächsische Automobil GmbH, where he became the “Control Technology Coordinator.” The plant construction in Mosel was completed in 1995, and production of the Passat began. Later, Golf production returned to Mosel, with the manufacture of the model series Golf V, Golf VI, Golf VII and Golf Estate.

Bernd Perfölz at the Golf assembly line in Zwickau

When the economy weakened again in 2010, the Golf and Passat started being produced together on the same assembly line in Mosel. “That enabled us to breathe, according to whichever model was more in demand at a given time,” Perfölz remembers. “Our plant was always a little bit of a test laboratory for the Group, anyway,” says the current head of plant control systems. “After all, our factory had been built from scratch on a greenfield with lean management structures. That was and is the advantage of the new facility in Mosel. We have always tested a lot here – for the entire Group.

And that’s how it is again now. The first ID.3 models have been leaving the assembly line in Zwickau for the past couple of weeks on a test basis. The official production start is scheduled for November. Bernd Perfölz is experiencing yet another premiere, and again bears responsibility for a crucial part of it. Today he is a technical specialist, and he and his team are in charge of the conveyor and automation systems technology for the entire ID.3 production hall.

Everything is being filled up: brake, air-conditioning, cooler and windshield-washing fluids

With respect to the production of the ID.3, Perfölz’s main responsibility is for the filling technology with 25 installations. Perfölz negotiates maintenance contracts, orders spare parts, sees to it that reserve stock is on hand and ensures responsiveness and preparedness for handling technical disruptions around the clock. Throughout three shifts and on every workday.

Today the Zwickau plant has 8,000 employees and the goal of producing 1,500 ID.3s per day. “The e-drive is really inspiring,” says Perfölz. He thinks that his plant being the first all-electric one in Europe is “cool.” Yet Perfölz is enough of a pragmatist to also know: “The ID. has to succeed. There is practically no fallback option for us.”

Disk brake for the Golf. The ID.3 will have drum brakes again

And what about that drum brake? Perfölz explains: “An e-car brakes less often because the vehicle decelerates automatically as soon as the driver takes their foot off the gas pedal. A disc brake then ‘vitrifies,’ which is the technical term. That means that is not 100 percent ready for use when utilized suddenly after a longer period of non-usage. The drum brake is better at that.”

Bernd Perfölz is proud of the Volkswagen Group, proud of the Zwickau plant, proud of the many premieres that he has been able to experience in his 47 years here. “Volkswagen is a good employer and very committed to being a good corporate citizen. If the Group hadn’t invested here in such a major way, I don’t know what would have happened to the region,” he says.

These days Perfölz is especially proud of the ID.3. “I could have already gone into early retirement two years ago, but I absolutely still wanted to experience the coming of the ID.,” says the 64-year-old. He is now planning to go into retirement in 2021. “Then I’ll also buy myself an ID.”

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