Electric cars

Giga-casting and robots: How Volkswagen’s Trinity aims to catch up with Tesla

Giga-casting and robots: How Volkswagen's Trinity aims to catch up with Tesla

  • Volkswagen finalizes production plans for its new electric vehicle factory
  • Large die-casting and more automation on the boards
  • Aims to match Tesla with a 10-hour car production time

BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) – As Tesla starts production at its new German plant this month, Volkswagen is weeks away from finalizing plans for a 2 billion euro electric vehicle (EV) factory ($2.2 billion) which he hopes will set it up. to accelerate with its American rival.

You’re here (TSLA.O) says it can already produce a Model Y in 10 hours at its new Giga Berlin-Brandenburg factory in Gruenheide near the German capital, while it can take Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) three times as long to manufacture his ID.3 electric car.

The German auto giant is now aiming to cut production times with its “Trinity” electric vehicle factory, which is expected to be operational in 2026, using techniques such as large-scale die-casting and cutting several hundreds the number of components of its cars.

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“Our goal is clear: we want to set the standard with our production,” Christian Vollmer, head of production for the Volkswagen brand, told Reuters in an interview. “If we can get there at 10 a.m., we’ve achieved something big.”

The automaker has improved productivity at a rate of around 5% per year, but needs to take bigger steps to stay ahead of the European market, Vollmer said, without providing a new percentage target.

Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest automaker behind Japan’s Toyota with a stable of brands ranging from Skoda, Seat and VW to Audi, Porsche and Bentley, has 25% of the European electric vehicle market, ahead of Tesla with 13%.

But pressure on German automakers to rein in and speed up production of electric vehicles has been intensified by Tesla’s presence in the country, and Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess has warned Germans must speed up to avoid be beaten on their own ground.

‘TURN ON THE DRIVE’

Volkswagen’s goals align with a broader industry trend to simplify product lines and streamline production as automakers scramble to find the cash to fund the electric transition – and keep up with rivals like Tesla who don’t have to juggle making electric vehicles as well as cars with combustion engines.

“Tesla really sparked the desire to reduce the number of parts and make products simpler,” said Evan Horetsky, a McKinsey partner who was previously engineering manager at Tesla’s new Brandenburg plant. “Traditional manufacturers have a harder time because they have to keep orders going.”

A Tesla spokesperson said one of the reasons it can produce its Model Y vehicles in Germany within 10 hours is that it uses two giant casting presses, or giga-presses, applying 6,000 tons of pressure to do the back of the car.

Its Gruenheide press shop can produce 17 components in less than six minutes. With six more giga-presses on the way, Tesla will soon manufacture the front of the car with the giga-press as well.

“That’s why we’re so fast,” the spokesperson said.

The giga-casting technique that VW plans to adopt was popularized by Tesla as an alternative to the labor-intensive method of joining multiple stamped metal panels with crumple zones to absorb energy during of an accident.

German luxury car manufacturer BMW (BMWG.DE) has rejected large castings in the past on the grounds that the higher repair costs outweigh the lower manufacturing costs.

But proponents say automated driving technology will reduce crash frequency: “Tesla is designing a vehicle that’s unlikely to have a serious crash,” said Cory Steuben, president of manufacturing consultancy Munro & Associates. .

‘HUMAN-ROBOT COOPERATION’

While VW can produce some models like the Tiguan or the Polo in 18 and 14 hours respectively in Germany and Spain, its electric ID.3 – made in a factory juggling six models from three Volkswagen brands – still takes 30 hours. to assemble.

At the Trinity plant, several work steps will be condensed into one through automation, reducing the size of the body shop and reducing the number of jobs requiring uncomfortable physical labor, Vollmer said, calling it expansion of “human-robot cooperation”.

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

US investment bank JPMorgan expects Tesla’s Gruenheide factory to produce around 54,000 cars in 2022, 280,000 in 2023 and 500,000 by 2025.

Volkswagen, which delivered some 452,000 battery-electric vehicles globally last year, has yet to set a production target for Trinity, which will use its scalable systems platform.

It aims to build 40 million vehicles worldwide on the new platform – which combines multiple internal combustion engines and electric platforms into one – with half of its global production fully electric by 2030.

Tesla, which produced 936,000 cars last year, announced its goal of putting 20 million on the road a year by the end of the decade, roughly double Toyota’s current annual production, the largest automaker in the world.

Still, Tesla can expect plenty of challenges as it expands in Germany, from securing water supplies to environmental groups unhappy with light pollution and congestion near the factory to worried unions. of a works council with a strong management load and the reduction of wages by workers coming from elsewhere.

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

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Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Jan Schwartz, Nadine Schimroszik and Hyun Joo Jin; Editing by David Clarke

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