Volkswagen has told BBB it will build a pilot manufacturing plant for battery cells in Germany as part of a new corporate “centre of excellence”.
The pilot facility, on which work is expected to start by 2019, will be incorporated with an existing VW plant in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony, a VW spokesperson confirmed.
The facility will fabricate battery cells and cell modules “to gain an understanding of the process”.
The car giant’s spokesperson added: “We need something over 150GWh of battery capacity annually by 2025, just to meet the needs of our own fleet as regards li-ion batteries. To put that into perspective, it is equivalent to at least four gigafactories’ annual capacity for battery cells.”
“We have a very clear-cut medium to long-term battery strategy,” BBB was told. “This is an issue where we intend to remain very firmly at the wheel.”
Confirmation of the pilot facility ends months of speculation about whether VW would consider battery production and eventually follow the lead of German peer Daimler. Daimler’s second battery plant is scheduled to start up in the country this year and which is also building a battery plant in Alabama.
Meanwhile, industry observers have speculated that VW’s decision could be part of a carefully-choreographed bid for Germany to play a dominant role in future EU battery industry plans.
German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche quoted newly-appointed VW CEO Herbert Diess as saying: “I think we need battery production in Germany. This is the core technology of electro mobility.”
Unconfirmed reports suggest VW could be indicating a willingness to invest in full-scale battery cell production in Germany if the government would cut a deal on reducing energy costs for industry.
Lower Saxony’s economic affairs minister Bernd Althusmann told WirtschaftsWoche: “Access to battery cells is an essential prerequisite for a competitive industry in Germany. Lower Saxony should not only become a research location but also a manufacturing location.”
Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel has signalled the government’s backing for helping the country’s auto industry get back on its feet in the wake of the VW emissions scandal.
Merkel told German lawmakers this month: “It cannot be in our interest to weaken the automotive industry… We currently have to import the cells. But it would be desirable to be involved in new cell types.”
“Batteries account for around 40% of the value added of a car of the future,” Merkel added. “Let’s assume that electro mobility is the driving technology of the future, which is not certain— and there is just 20-30% value added. The battery (currently) definitely comes from Asia. What is the added value of that for Europe?”