On Friday, Volkswagen announced several smaller and larger sensations. The Wolfsburg-based company wants to invest 150 billion euros over the next five years. Around half of the sum should flow into electrification, hybridization and digitalization. VW has also decided to manufacture several series of electric cars in Germany – and to manufacture a China SUV in Wolfsburg. The German locations will be strengthened with 20 billion euros.
CEO Herbert Diess was confident and modest at the same time when the plans were announced. “We set the course for a battery-electric future in the Volkswagen Group at an early stage and are now the world leaders with our e-drive platforms and our e-models,” said Diess on Friday.
“In the next few years it will be important to also take a leading position in vehicle software. Only as a digital mobility company can we meet people’s needs for individual, sustainable and fully networked mobility in the future. To do this, we have now doubled our investments in digitization, ”Diess continued.
Basically: e-mobility is strong and on the right track, the digitization of vehicles is not yet. But is that really the case? Is Volkswagen really a leader in e-mobility, where the group recently launched the first pure e-car series with the ID.3 and not yet on the market with the pure e-SUV, the ID.4 Market is?
Main competitors are clearly ahead of VW when it comes to e-mobility
Auto expert Sahin Albayrak strongly contradicts the VW chairman. He is a professor at the TU Berlin and head of the DAI laboratory. “Herbert Diess says that Volkswagen is the global leader in electric car models. This is wrong. The two main competitors of the Wolfsburg-based company are clearly ahead. Tesla is undoubtedly the pioneer and innovation driver in e-mobility. The US company’s cars are technically years ahead of the E-VWs, ”says Albayrak.
“And then there is Toyota, which, so to speak, brought the hybrid car onto the world market and made it a success. A segment in which VW is now investing billions – and which is far behind the Japanese competition, ”he adds.
The 73 billion euros that Volkswagen plans to spend on electrification, hybridization and digitization over the next five years are a good sign, says Albayrak. This is ambitious. The sum will not be enough for the CEO’s goals, but it is a powerful start.
The Group’s e-platforms and MEB strategy are also cleverly designed, says the car expert. The Wolfsburg-based company now has a coordinated electrical kit for e-cars in which the components are harmonized. This is constantly being developed and used in VW models, Skoda and Seat cars. A step in the right direction that will make the production of electric cars much easier, says Albayrak.
Volkswagen is still trimmed for mechanical hardware, but the future lies in software
However, it is stuck in other places. “VW has deficits in vehicle software, also in the electrical sector. The components in the modular construction kit are digital and controllable with intelligent computers. This requires a higher-level software system that intelligently orchestrates everything and enables further functionalities. And this is exactly where it has been lacking for months, ”says auto expert Albayrak.
“That shows a structural problem at VW: The group is still fully geared towards mechanical hardware. In the future, however, the software in cars will be even more crucial. You can tell from the corporate structures that Volkswagen has not yet internalized this: There is no software board member, no visionary tech expert who dares to take the big steps at the global company, ”says Albayrak.
And advises the Wolfsburg-based car company to appoint a board member for digitization and innovation. The same quality would also be needed on the supervisory board so that this development was sustainable. There, too, there is a lack of appropriate expertise.
Investments in Wolfsburg, Emden and Hanover: strategically intelligent
In the industry, VW’s investments in German plants were seen primarily as the merit of the works council, which is determined to save jobs on site. Above all, the fact that new series of electric cars are being developed in Germany would safeguard jobs for a long time. Albayrak disagrees.
“I think it is very intelligent that VW will manufacture the new e-models in Germany. In Germany there is enormous quality in the field of electric drives and batteries – and especially in the field of software development and AI. The public just doesn’t notice that yet. It is no coincidence that Tesla is building its Gigafactory in the outskirts of Berlin, of all places. Elon Musk openly addressed the quality in these areas in Germany. In addition, we have the best auto engineers in our country. They will remain a mainstay in the future ”.
Volkswagen must also ensure that the group establishes its production platforms for e-mobility in Germany well, says Albayrak. Both platform 1 for VW, Skoda and Seat, as well as the platform for the premium brands. The carmaker must first build this foundation – and can later expand abroad with these platforms like Tesla with its gigafactory.