“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” according to an old adage. Something else that’s hard is managing the supply chain needed to build an automobile, and that applies to an electric car just as much as it does a conventional one. Tesla is the latest to find that out, as it struggles to get production of its midsize Model 3 into high gear.
Volkswagen is committed to beginning production of its new I.D. sub-brand of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in late 2019, but in order for that process to go smoothly it needs to begin managing the supply chain for those vehicles now, 100 weeks before the assembly line for its new cars begins operations.
The electrified offerings from the world’s largest car maker will all be built on a new chassis architecture designated the MEB toolkit. Manufacturers go to great lengths to spread the costs of production across as many units as possible in order to increase their return on investment. The cars may look quite different on the outside, but underneath they share the same attachment points for suspension pieces and battery packs. Even such things as the size and location of ventilation ducts needs to be standardized.
According to a December 1 press release from Volkswagen, “The toolkit includes electric motors with different power ratings, flat batteries in the floorpan with innovative technologies and software features such as smart lighting and head-up displays with augmented reality which were previously only available on premium segment vehicles.”
Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen brand, said, “Our preparations for entry to the new era of affordable e-mobility are well underway. In this unique industrial project, we intend to work together to ensure that Europe is ahead in the global race to the lead in e-mobility. Zwickau will therefore be developing into the largest European e-mobility center. This will enable us to write a new chapter in the history of the automobile.”
Diess adds, “We are determined to take the lead. The Volkswagen brand alone will be offering more than 20 all-electric models by 2022 and will be investing about €6 billion in e-mobility over the next five years.”
Ralf Brandstätter is head of procurement for Volkswagen. He tells the press his company is creating a new relationship with its suppliers, one which involves them from the very beginning of the design process and encourages them to actively participate in it. “To date, more than 100 suppliers have already been nominated within the framework of our electric offensive. What I find important is the fact that a new type of cooperation for our partners and Volkswagen begins today – we are involving top suppliers in development work on the I.D. project considerably more intensively and at a significantly earlier stage.”
Volkswagen expects to manufacture more than 100,000 new cars using the MEB platform by 2020. Christian Senger, who is in charge of e-mobility at Volkswagen, is optimistic that the goal will be met. “The new vehicle architecture, autonomous driving and the topics of networking and services will call for a working model involving close networking with all partners and suppliers. The plan for the product has been set out and we will now devote all our energy to implementing it together.”