The head of Volkswagen’s e-mobility division talks about the future of cars
For Volkswagen, electric cars are nothing new. Their latest e-Golf production is already sold out. The idea behind the success is pricing it close to combustion cars. Now the VW Group are convinced that this new platform has an advantage in functionality, range, space, and flexibility.
VW started the e-revolution in Paris with the I.D. compact car, followed by the I.D. Crozz, the I.D. Buzz and, now, the Vizzion ― all built on the same platform. The company believes that it’s not enough to develop cars without tailpipes and, hence, is preparing a new business model: a digital ecosystem for future cars ― the concept of MEB, or Modularen Elektrifizierungsbaumkasten (Modular Electric Toolkit). Competitive pricing, a new digital ecosystem and a renewed sales model complete the triangle of the future of mobility. This is the mission of
Christian Senger, who heads the e-mobility division at Volkswagen AG. We had a conversation with him.
CarIndia(CI): You said that the new MEB platform will be more cost-effective as well as more functional and more flexible. How will it be more cost-effective? Christian Senger (CS): Compared to the electric cars, I’m sure this is a very cost-efficient approach. The simplification of the battery system is definitely outstanding. The number of variants we are building in production has been reduced by 80 per cent but the availability of variants for customers has not been reduced by 80 per cent. Thus, greater engineering discipline, less logistic efforts, and less hours needed to build the car. This is also the reason why we are able to produce the cars in highcost Germany. This is what I mean by a very efficient model.
(CI): You have talked about bringing the cost down, close to the combustion engine, and how that’s going to continue to be a challenge. At what point did you see, as a manufacturer, that there was no necessity to rely on incentives or government schemes? (CS): I would say those in the industry who are able to cross €100 per kWh in the battery have a chance. Everybody above this figure is at risk and this is a huge challenge, where you just take the cost of raw material. For the next few years, I think electric cars will be significantly higher in terms of material cost, like combustion cars. Usually, we focus on optimising the material cost; in the MEB approach we are optimising the whole value chain. One of the key things we are working on is good process.
(CI): Normally, there are more moving and working parts in a combustion engine car compared to an electric one. Why then is the cost still higher? (CS): In the electric car arena, the proportion of
raw material cost versus industrialised cost is dramatically different. Therefore, being more effective in drilling, moulding, and welding doesn’t save you. Raw material cost management is the differentiator. It will take many years until the combustion car becomes more expensive in production and the electric one less so.
(CI): What, in your opinion, is the future: hydrogen fuelcell or electric? (CS): I would go for electric for simple reasons. You will find out that the cost per mile in hydrogen is higher than that in electric. Hydrogen makes sense when you have so much surplus in your sustainable energy supply that you take the wind turbine’s energy and there is no consumption to produce hydrogen. Thus, in the end, hydrogen will be part of the market, but only in those huge cases where superfast recharging is a value and you need super-long distance drives. In the case of passenger cars, where most of the mileage is clocked just by commuting, I don’t see any need. And, finally, a hydrogen car is nothing else but an electric car with a hydrogen range extender. So, at Volkswagen, we decided to take the pure electric path. We have other brands within the Volkswagen Group where hydrogen should start.
(CI): What is the electric future like for developing markets like India where there is a challenge in getting electricity for developing infrastructure? (CS): I have a clear opinion about many things, but not about this one. As long as the cost of electric cars is higher than that of combustion cars and the average income in India isn’t growing that much, I have a hard time thinking that this is the focus market.
(CI): So, the Indian government believes that the car manufacturers will put the infrastructure for the electric cars to work. Do Volkswagen see themselves doing something like that? Do you have it in your plans to work on the other side to have e-mobility in countries like India? (CS): The answer is “yes”. We are working heavily to do our part in installing the infrastructure. You see, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier — none of them has ever built
airports. It is impossible that car manufacturers do the infrastructure operations by themselves. There are two main areas. One is giving people solutions for home charging. The other is more or less what Tesla demonstrated: having a fast-charging infrastructure alongside highways. Infrastructure is something each country should take care of.
(CI): There’s a lot of talk about an expected innovation as regards the battery. There’s a big breakthrough that’s just round the corner. When it comes down to your R&D outlay, would you rather focus on improving the current technology or look for that bridge? (CS): Well, the biggest investment in cell technology in term of R&D is definitely done by the cell manufacturers. When you take this figure of annual R&D expenditure for pre-development and development of new cells by the top 10 cell suppliers, you see how hard it is for car-makers like us to go into own production. The socalled “breakthrough technology” is, maybe, solid state. We are working on this. We have invested and we are watching this. When you see the MEB, we have this huge space in the bottom of the car, especially created to contain all kind of cells of all generations and not to be dependant.
(CI): How do you recycle batteries? Is it possible to recycle them? How much power is required to recharge a battery as compared to what you use at home? How much power would you need to charge a car overnight? (CS): The mileage driven per day doesn’t increase with electric cars, so on average people do 60 km a day, which is the Europe figure. How much energy do you need when you take the e-Golf? My average consumption is 18 kWh per 100 km. I would say 20 for ease of calculation. So, you need 12 kWh a day for the electric car. The average household requirement is, I think, 10 kWh a day. So, they are equivalent.
As for recycling of batteries, we see that a battery is used in a car for eight years. It can do, maybe, 10 years. We estimate that secondlife batteries after 10 years in a car can be brought to market below €50 per kWh. We believe we will have a long time ahead of us before battery recycling becomes relevant.
( Right) The I.D. lineup take centre stage at Geneva
( Above) Christian Senger with the I.D. BUZZ showcar