By on March 15, 2021

As much as we’ve criticized American luxury brands for emulating the Germans, we’ve failed to do the same for Volkswagen Group’s pathetic attempts at copying Tesla. That changes with Monday’s announcement that VW will assemble six “gigafactories” in Europe by 2030. Shared on “Power Day” — the company’s bastardized version of Tesla’s Battery Day — the plan is supposed to result in a production capacity of 240 GWh annually when completed and help VW reduce battery costs while also securing access.

It’s not a half-bad plan for a company entirely devoted to electrification, which is probably why Tesla follows a similar model using nearly identical terminology. Though, considering the absolute mess Volkswagen seems to have made of its EV transmission thus far, some might find it difficult to blame the automaker for looking at the competition and breaking out the notepad.

Others will be less sympathetic while acknowledging this is probably VW’s best play if it’s serious about EVs. 

Volkswagen is only in this mess for getting caught circumventing emissions by illegal means, specifically software that flubbed the test results of diesel models. While we’re happy to suggest the brand was placed in a difficult situation by being the first automaker to get majorly busted for skirting the nearly impossible to adhere to rules regarding modern diesel emissions, it was still being exposed to the same scrutiny as other manufacturers. But it went the coverup route before confessing and has responded by transmogrifying itself into a beacon of greenness as penance for its eco-crimes. Volkswagen became a “mobility company” overnight in 2016 — born again, so to speak — despite its product lineup showing its status as a relatively traditional automaker, often forcing us to take it at its word.

VW has endeavored to keep up appearances while sprinting full tilt toward widespread electrification. But the fruit of its labor haven’t always panned out. The company has had a terrible time with battery suppliers and most of the EVs delivered thus far aren’t offering the kind of ranges that would make them compelling choices. Digitizing its products has also resulted in software issues that helped stymie the launches of numerous vehicles. In some cases, it even resulted in incomplete vehicles coming to market.

These are issues most automakers are confronting as they collectively attempt to redefine the purpose of the automotive industry, and we’re now way past the point where the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” would be useful. By now, most manufacturers are totally committed to a future where vehicles are electric, connected, and monetizing your data as often as possible. Volkswagen just seems to have dove in the quickest, suffered the worst for it, and is now in a situation where it absolutely has to make things work.

Hence the new “gigafactories” — which don’t seem a bad solution, if you can ignore the Tesla comparisons.

From Volkswagen:

The Group is pushing ahead at full speed with the development of production capacities in Europe in order to meet the increasing demand for battery cells. “Together with partners, we want to have a total of six cell factories up and running in Europe by 2030 thus guaranteeing security of supply”, explains [Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Group Technology] Thomas Schmall. The new factories are expected to produce cells with a total energy value of 240 GWh per year by the time they are finally completed. Volkswagen is therefore actively contributing to meet the targets of the European Union’s Green Deal. The first two factories will operate in the Swedish city of Skellefteå and in Salzgitter. In response to increased demand, Volkswagen has decided to refocus the previous plan in relation to cell production and concentrate production of its premium cells in the Swedish gigafactory “Northvolt Ett” in Skellefteå in collaboration with Northvolt. The production of these cells is set to commence in 2023 and will be expanded gradually to an annual capacity of up to 40 GWh.

Those capacities are annual and are supposed to cut battery costs by up to 50 percent once all synergies are accounted for. But we think the big get here is VW having a direct line on an essential component it’s had serious problems procuring in even modest quantities. These also help bring the automaker closer to its goal of making energy management a viable source of revenue. This again harkens back to Tesla. In 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed that energy storage would gradually become a larger aspect of the business. The following year, he said that Tesla Energy would likely grow to be at least as big as its automotive aspirations.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen has repeatedly announced its role in the planned expansion of the public fast-charging network. Its latest release also said cooperation has been agreed to in Europe with some of the regions the energy companies, including BP, Iberdrola, and Enel. VW is plotting a course of staggered investments. As we’re not fortune tellers, we cannot predict how successful this strategy will be. But it does show that the company isn’t interested in taking half measures. And emulating the parts of Tesla that appear to be working makes it derivate and cringe-inducing, not stupid.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

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30 Comments on “Teutonic Tesla: Volkswagen Now Building ‘Gigafactories’...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    ZEE GERMANS: Ve are building six of the biggest gigafactories in zee vorld and soon you foolish Amerikans will no longer be able to challenge us vith zee EVs!

    ELON MUSK: *eats popcorn, smiling*

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      ELON MUSK: *Eats popcorn, smiling*

      ELON MUSK: *Spits out popcorn upon realization that serious competition is coming from one of the world’s top two automakers*

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Spits out popcorn upon realization that serious competition is coming from one of the world’s top two automakers”

        ELON MUSK: No prob, brah. Enters: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Ok, the guy on the far right just confirms what I’ve always said: If you’re a beefy dude, don’t wear a “slim fit” suit. It just ain’t right. It’s no sin being a stocky guy…just wear what fits and looks good on you, fer Chrissakes.

    As for “Power Day,” well, it was never a secret that VW was all in on EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Yep. 5’10” 205 here, and square fits work just fine for my square body shape.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      >Ok, the guy on the far right just confirms what I’ve always said

      News bulletin: Anything not far left is considered far right these days. That includes center-left, centrists, center-right, libertarian, etc. And progressives may find themselves in the far left’s crosshairs soon enough.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        You do realize he is talking about the dude literally standing at the far right in the picture, right? I don’t think he was critiquing anyone’s politics, but it’s 2021, so let’s make sure to get it in!

        • 0 avatar
          RHD

          The strange thing is that adopting the manipulative nonsense coming out of Fox and AM talk radio is considered “politics”.
          And the “left” is not attacking, the mouthpieces of the “right” are.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The bar for political triggering is apparently set at about half a millimeter for some folks.

  • avatar

    There is something wrong with suits they are wearing. Or Germans lack good taste when it comes to executives or even in general but not Wehrmacht officers and generals. Where is Hugo Boss? Who is the Boss in VW?

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Frumpy Euro business casual. The politicians wear it too. They think it makes them look like “one of the guys”. It doesn’t work. Hence the push to outlaw AFD. :-/

  • avatar
    mcs

    They need to do more than just build factories. They need to secure contracts on the raw materials and Tesla has been out signing contracts for a while. Tesla has even been sourcing materials in their factory’s home countries. For example, for the Texas Terafactory, they signed a contract with Piedmont Lithium in North Carolina.

    https://www.mining.com/piedmont-lithium-soars-after-confirming-tesla-deal/

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      They don’t have to do squat. Which is why this is what they are reduced to “doing” in the first place.

      BEVs are every incompetent has-been’s (or never were’s) wet dream. Specifically because everyone, even the incompetents who can’t compete at anything even remotely hard, gets to collect first place, in childish games concocted by run-amuck states and their central banks to hand ever more loot to connected morons in exchange for nothing of value whatsoever.

      Empty promises of scifi nonsense, which even in the best of scenarios will never result in genuine functional improvements to transportation per dollar spent, requires nothing whatsoever other than uncritical gullibility. Which is exactly why abject nothings, and abject nothings only, are falling all over themselves “believing” in this drivel.

      Competent car makers build vehicles competitively specced and priced, absent all manners of helfwitted rigging. It’s only the pathologically incompetent, who are reduced to “we are planning to blah, blah PC nonsense” by “blah blah, some, like time in, like, the ooooooh! fuuuuture, and like, what?, huh?”

      If any of these clowns had a real business, instead of simply rackets made profitable by the machinations of totalitarian states, they would be selling their battery toys profitably, in droves, to people 1) economically constrained enough to need to be careful with what they buy, and 2)genuinely free to choose betwen competing alternatives, without being “encouraged” by the guys with guns to pick either way.

      They don’t.

      Doesn’t strictly mean it will “never” happen. even batteries containing cold fusion chemist may, at some point, be economically viable, after all. The problem isn’t BEVs per se in any fundamental sense. But rather that the current BEV craze is not about building anything particularly viable. But instead solely about “building” empty promises to sell to half literates on central bank welfare. IOW, BEVs is not an engineering discipline at all. But rather just another financial racket. Championed by the same morons dumb enough to believe mold in the walls of a decaying “home”, somehow creates value as the illiterate owner sits there on the couch producing nothing.

      Emphasis nothing.

  • avatar

    Okay, what happens if Elon comes up with new idea that there is no need for batteries to power EVs and energy can be taken from vacuum? What VW is going to do with all those assets? And who is going to work in VW Gigafactories? The Germans are expensive and how about environment? Environmentalists?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Speaking of vacuum, how difficult would it be for VW to leave an empty space under the hood of an EV – perhaps it could be called a “front trunk”?

      – How much would this empty space weigh?
      – What materials would be used to comprise this empty space?
      – How many person-hours would be required to install this empty space?

      (Nevermind, too challenging.)

  • avatar

    Okay, what happens if Elon comes up with new idea that there is no need for batteries to power EVs and energy can be taken from vacuum? What VW is going to do with all those assets? And who is going to work in VW Gigafactories? The Germans are expensive and how about environment? Environmentalists?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Musk may not come up with a replacement for batteries, but, technology could make them last 2 million miles at some point. There’s no way the rest of the car is going to last that long. So, you may see cells spending their lives in a couple of cars. That would lower the demand for new cells.

      The other bigger risk with a battery factory is changing technology. Sodium-Ion technology is making rapid progress and you could at some point see a big shift to it at some point. Then, you have to rework all of your factories. Solid-state technology can force big changes as well. For example, the manufacturing process for Toyota’s solid state battery requires a super-dry environment for manufacturing. That can require huge changes to a factory.

      In fact, changing technology is a big risk for anyone in the battery supply chain. Look what happened with Cobalt. Investing in a Cobalt mine seemed like a good idea at one point, but then the manufacturers eliminated Cobalt. Right now, sodium-ion batteries are about half the energy density of lithium-ion. But, technology could change that and they would start taking over from lithium-ion. If that happens, that would impact the lithium supply chain and manufacturing.

      https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/batteries-storage/sodium-ion-batteries-poised-to-pick-off-large-scale-lithium-applications

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        @mcs Sir, I see your ploy and call you out! Presenting cited articles from world respected engineering journals and presenting facts have no known place on TTAC! Sir, I couldn’t straight up tell you that face to face, I’d be laughing too hard. Please keep those tasty tidbits of facts coming our way.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “There’s no way the rest of the car is going to last that long.”

        The late Irv Gordon did over three million miles on an MY66 Volvo P1800S. It can be done, the money needs to be spent on the body and chassis to do so.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        But, technology could also make cold fusion viable by noon tomorrow…

        Of course, until it does, it’s all a 100% moot point. Until then, those competent enough to do something useful, will continue to do that. Leaving blind faith in children’s fairytales, to the children who are not.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    What is the mess with VW EV transmission? Is VW building EV transmission or obtaining from supplier like Eaton?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “By now, most manufacturers are totally committed to a future where vehicles are electric”

    So they say. Only Tesla and VW are really doing what it takes to get there.

    For the first time, I’d say this is Tesla’s first serious competition – both from a commitment and capacity perspective.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I still think Toyota is the one to watch as far as a Tesla challenger. They’ve been really, really quiet about it. They’re going for the long pass down the field and I’m not sure if the receiver is going to catch the ball. As far as I know, they are definitely working on manufacturing their own cells, but… while their battery tech is the best, there are difficulties getting it into mass production. Right now, because it requires such a dry environment, they have to make in these small booths with the workers reaching in with the isolation gloves or whatever they’re called to hand assemble it. They think they get a process that works in mass production. I believe them, but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, we’ll get an update tomorrow at the X-Prologue unveil. The X-Prologue won’t have new battery, but will be conventional lithium-ion at first.

      Sometimes I wonder if the hydrogen thing wasn’t a tactic to throw their competitors off the track. While they were pitching hydrogen, their solid-state battery patents were dominating my battery patent feed. They knew it was going to take a while to develop it, so why not make the competition think that Toyota didn’t think BEVs were viable to discourage them from taking it seriously. Meanwhile, Toyota was quietly working hard to develop them under the radar.

      Material science and access to raw materials are going to determine the winners in the automotive world toward the end of the decade. There’s a huge opportunity to totally blow away competitors with the new technology. With ICE cars, there really wasn’t a big difference between competitors. With BEVs, there’s a huge potential for one set of companies the have drastic differences in range, durability, and price. We could see companies fold almost overnight. The companies devoting the most energy into material science research with the best labs are the ones that will win. US Patent office filings are the best way to predict the winners.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        “With ICE cars, there really wasn’t a big difference between competitors. With BEVs, there’s a huge potential for one set of companies the have drastic differences in range, durability, and price.”

        Are there people out there who actually believe that? For real?

        Reality could not be more 100% diametrically opposite. Which is why the entire battery car field consists of nothing but charlatans and other incompetents who fail/failed to compete at something real.

        “Materials science”, “battery science” and the rest of the hooplah, has been, is, and will continue to be, driven by mobile devices, and ever cheaper/more prevalent sensors embedded in everything etc. Always has been, and that won’t change. Batteries are simply much more efficient than ICEs, fuel cells etc., at cellphone scale. Diesel powered Apple watches just aren’t particularly cost effective.

        Once you go beyond that scale, things _rather_quickly_ starts getting murky. Batteries, even at lower densities than state of the art cell phone ones, still come out ahead for Birds and other kick scooters. As well as for electric-assist bicycles in the +-1hp, commuter distance and below, range.

        Above that, the guys who matter, meaning those with little choice but to seek real efficiency over mere look-at-me fashion, still stick to ICEs. For powered rickshavs, toktoks, chainsaws beyond the most limited arborists usages, snow blowers, lawn mowers, tractors, mopeds, scooters etc., etc….. And cars. The more energy intensive the application, the further behind batteries are.

        Also, batteries are very mature tech. The era of rapid energy density increases, happened _BEFORE_ dopes on Fed welfare to dumb to understand something so fundamental as diminishing returns, started falling for the trivially nonsensical drivel that batteries were now, or “soon” would be, competitive for long range, high sustained power, usages. The steep part of return on investment in battery science, were what enabled the Iphone. Then the intermediate part, what enabled the Apple watch. After that, we have been, and are more so every day, on the low returns side of the diminishing returns curve. Just as we are, wrt efficiency increases in other mature technologies. Like internal combustion, hydropower turbines, ship propellers, led lights, photovoltaics and all the rest.

        The battery-jetliner-just-around-the-corner-because-like-some-like-Fed-welfare-billionaire-inveeested-in-it set, could, I suppose, feed their childish superstitions for a bit longer, on account of the automotive sector moving from lead acids, to something a bit closer to cell phones (literally wiring cell phone cells together…). But if even the most cutting edge of batteries could viably power the lion’s share of automotive use, Samsung and the like would have been building competitive cars for a decade already. They weren’t and aren’t, because they cant. And, like anyone else competent enough to be at the cutting edge of anything, they are very much aware of that.

        Which doesn’t mean there’s a hard zero use for BEVs. For short range, slower speed, urban travel and delivery, they make all kinds of sense. An ICE driveline stout enough to deliver a truck’s worth of beer kegs in San Francisco, weighs a lot. An electric one, one heck of a lot less. Hence why locomotive drive, tends to be electric. So in the San Francisco example, you start out with the first 2000+lbs of battery weight and space, hence range, for virtually free. It’s only if you need range beyond what that can provide, that batteries are forced to compete against the 20+fold greater energy density of diesel vs batteries.

        But once you do have requirements beyond that range, a 20 fold deficiency stacks the deck against you rather quickly. Which is exactly analogous to why pedelecs are a thing while pedICEs never were. Yet touring motorcycles aren’t battery powered.

        Another great use for BEVs, are urban race tracks. Cart and Supermoto, or even slightly longer. No fuel smoke, and much less noise would, at least in a sane world, negate the most obvious and justifiable issues many (sub)urbanites have with such places of automotive joy and enlightenment.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    It looks like VW also copied Tesla’s interior quality. The new ID whatever looks pretty cheap.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Electric vehicle leases will be interesting to watch. Since range and charge times will improve as time goes on, it would be wise to lease now and buy something else later. The dealers will get stuck with yesterday’s technology and a significant depreciation hit.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      That has already been happening you just don’t hear much about it because the BEV is such a small percentage of the market, and most of it is Tesla which don’t have the same resale issues.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “six ‘gigafactories’ in Europe by 2030”

    That’s a full hexagig!

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