How Volkswagen’s Trinity wants to overtake Tesla

BERLIN — With Tesla starting production this month at its new German factory, Volkswagen is weeks away from finalizing plans for a $2 billion electric vehicle (EV) factory, which it hopes will get up to speed with his American rival.

Tesla says it can produce a Model Y in as little as 10 hours at its new Giga Berlin-Brandenburg plant in Gruenheide near the German capital, while it can take Volkswagen three times as long to make its ID.3 electric car.

The German auto giant now aims to cut production time with its “Trinity” EV plant, which should be operational by 2026, by using techniques such as large-scale injection molding and reducing the number of components in its cars by several hundred.

“Our goal is clear: we want to set the standard with our production,” Volkswagen’s production chief Christian Vollmer told Reuters in an interview. “If we can make it to 10 hours, we’ll have accomplished something big.”

The automaker is improving productivity by about 5% a year but needs to make bigger leaps to maintain the upper hand in the European market, Vollmer said, without giving a new percentage.

Volkswagen, the world’s second largest automaker after Japan’s Toyota with a range of brands from Skoda, Seat and VW to Audi, Porsche and Bentley, has a 25% share of the European EV market, ahead of Tesla with 13%.

But pressure on German automakers to both master and ramp up electric vehicle production has been heightened by Tesla’s presence in the country, and Volkswagen Chief Executive Herbert Diess has warned Germans need to move faster to avoid that. they are defeated on their own turf.

‘Light the disc’

Volkswagen’s goals align with a broader industry trend to simplify product ranges and streamline production, as automakers scramble to find the money to fund the electric transition — and keep pace with rivals like Tesla that aren’t. having to juggle making EVs and cars with combustion engines.

“Tesla has really fueled the drive to reduce parts count and make simpler products,” said Evan Horetsky, a partner at McKinsey who was previously responsible for engineering at Tesla’s new factory in Brandenburg. “Older manufacturers are having a harder time as they have to keep pending orders.”

A Tesla spokesperson said one of the reasons it can manufacture its Model Y vehicles in Germany in as little as 10 hours is because it uses two giant casting presses, or giga-presses, which apply 6,000 tons of pressure to push the rear of the car. car.

Gruenheide’s pressing plant can produce 17 components in less than six minutes. With six more giga-presses on the way, Tesla will soon also get the front of the car with the giga-press.

“That’s why we are so fast,” said the spokesman.

The giga-casting technique VW plans to use was popularized by Tesla as an alternative to the more labor-intensive method of mounting multiple stamped metal panels with crumple zones to absorb energy during a crash.

German luxury car maker BMW has rejected large castings in the past because the higher repair costs outweigh the lower production costs.

But proponents say automated driving technology will reduce the frequency of accidents: “Tesla is designing a vehicle that is highly unlikely to cause a serious accident,” said Cory Steuben, president of manufacturing consultancy Munro & Associates.

‘Human-robot collaboration’

While VW can manufacture certain models such as the Tiguan or Polo in Germany and Spain in 18 and 14 hours respectively, it still takes 30 hours to assemble the electric ID.3 – made in a factory with six models from three Volkswagen brands. to put.

At the Trinity plant, multiple work steps will be condensed into one through automation, reducing the size of bodybuilding and reducing the number of jobs that require inconvenient physical labor, Vollmer said, calling it an extension of “human collaboration.” and robots”.

Volkswagen does not plan to install giga-presses at the new Wolfsburg plant and will instead use the equipment at the Kassel plant, about 160 km (100 miles) away, and transport the products by train.

US investment bank JPMorgan predicts that Tesla’s Gruenheide plant will produce about 54,000 cars by 2022, 280,000 by 2023 and then 500,000 by 2025.

Volkswagen, which delivered some 452,000 battery-electric vehicles worldwide last year, has not yet set an output target for Trinity, which will use its Scalable Systems Platform.

It aims to build 40 million vehicles globally by 2030 on the new platform — which combines multiple internal combustion engines and electric platforms into one — with half of its global output all-electric.

Tesla, which produced 936,000 cars last year, has said it aims to have 20 million cars on the road by the end of the decade, or about double the current annual production of Toyota, now the world’s largest automaker.

Still, Tesla can expect plenty of challenges as it expands in Germany, from securing more water supplies to environmental groups angered over light pollution and congestion near the factory to unions worried about a works council being tough on management. and wages cut by workers coming out of the factory. elsewhere.

“Starting production is fun, but volume production is the hardest part,” Musk told a cheering crowd at a festival at the factory site in October 2021. “It will take longer to reach volume production than it took to build the factory. “