Salzgitter (dpa) – If you’re looking for a place where automotive shocks are particularly severe, Salzgitter is surely a favorite.
Volkswagen chose a steel and industrial town in the south-east of Lower Saxony to install a European battery cell manufacturing center here – right next to an existing engine factory, from which many of the Group’s brands have been supplying petrol and diesel engines for decades. On Thursday, a stage that is of great importance for the second largest car group begins. And that can go far beyond VW and Europe.
Diess: “A milestone for Germany as a business location”
They quickly have some of the usual superlatives ready to lay the foundation stone. CEO Herbert Diess speaks of “milestones for Germany as a location”, the kick-off event of the trendy “Mission SalzGig”, once again the industry whispers about the “lighthouse project”. But in fact, this day – along with all kinds of technical pathos and marketing joy – marks a decisive step.
Because Volkswagen’s first German ‘Gigafactory’, as the plant was named after its arch-rival Tesla, marks both the start of mass electric production and a relatively late awakening of car makers to counter the dominant battery powers, especially in Asia. . So far, the relationship is high. Unstable global supply chains for chips and raw materials such as lithium and cobalt are also why Europe’s economy wants to focus more on domestic resources. This has recently been pointed out by German industry and the federal BGR office.
E-mobility and traffic change
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Lower Saxony Prime Minister Stephan Weil (both SPD) are likely to address the strategic role played by e-mobility and the turnaround in traffic in Salzgitter. Diess, technical director Thomas Schmall and the chairman of the works council, Daniel Cavallo, have also announced their participation. There will be less smell of metal and machine oil in the cell complex. Instead, there are cleanrooms and automated systems that are more like a mix of a chip factory and a chemical lab.
As many employees as possible should receive additional training in the classic design of engines for the production of cells and battery modules. But it’s also not easy to attract enough additional outside experts. For some time now, VW has been running a pilot line in which home cells for test series are already produced.
The research center is docked and in the future, much of the battery business is to be controlled from the main region. Based on a total electricity of 20 gigawatt hours (GWh) from 2025, an annual amount of 40 GWh is targeted in Salzgitter in several stages. It is about a “unit cell” – a type that is not intended for higher-end models, but for cheaper ones, and which, thanks to large volumes, should be produced cheaper.
Six factories by 2030
By 2030, Volkswagen will build six such plants in Europe, each of which should be able to equip around half a million electric cars per year. Construction is already underway in Skellefteå in northern Sweden, where Northvolt has started operations. The Swedes are also setting up their own cell factory in Schleswig-Holstein. In addition to Salzgitter, VW itself named Valencia in Spain. The other three venues are still open with applicants from Germany and Eastern Europe.
The entire cellular network is expected to create five-digit jobs across the continent. Diess almost seems to enjoy the political staging before deciding on more factories. You could “almost save yourself from applications”. He explained to the employees: “We want to have everything under control, from the supply of raw materials to the recycling of batteries.” External customers, such as the American car manufacturer Ford and Mahindra in India, are also to be supplied with an electric platform. There may be an IPO of VW’s Battery Division.
In addition, the group creates a subcontractor who is responsible, inter alia, for research, purchase of raw materials and development of installation concepts. Together with Bosch, VW wants to equip the complete standard factories. Further plans for the US are also being postponed.
However, some question whether the current estimates are sufficient if e-mobility is to achieve a breakthrough. “In addition to the urgent expansion of the charging infrastructure, a much wider range of products is needed in the entry-level segment,” says Marcus Hoffmann of the consulting firm PwC Strategy &. Diess views cells as a potential scarcity factor rather than charging points.
E-small cars from 2025
Much remains to be done here and there. The 20,000 euro small e-cars missing in climate protection should be from 2025, so far VW brands have offered purely electric cars, preferably in the upper, medium or at best in the upper compact segment. ID.2 in Polo format is discussed.
Stefan Reindl, director of the Geislingen Automotive Institute (IfA), like some VW voices, points out that the pace of increasing production capacity should not slow down now. Mercedes, BMW and Opel are also investing in high-performance car batteries in Germany. However, the degree of personal initiative and the models for participation and funding differ.
Reindl estimates that if around 600,000 cars are produced in Germany alone in 2025. cars in the country and around 3 million e-cars, a proportional amount of energy of just over 220 GWh may be enough. After that, much will have to happen: “In the long term, according to available data, more than 600 GWh would be possible.” So the investments are huge. However, he believes that providers should take the risk.
After all, hunger for battery cells is growing worldwide, says the IfA CEO: “Overall, additional production facilities are needed to meet demand, which is growing relatively dynamically.” .