‘Car for the new era’: VW unveils ‘zero emission’ vehicle

With a new car and range sporting a spruced-up logo, German car giant Volkswagen enters the Frankfurt IAA car show hoping bets worth tens of billions of euros will pay off.

'Car for the new era': VW unveils 'zero emission' vehicle
The 'ID.3' was unveiled on Monday in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

The new model, known as ID.3, is the highest-profile response from Germany
to strict new European carbon emission limits and to battery-powered competition from the US and China.

The ID.3 was unveiled to the media on Monday, with VW chief executive Herbert Diess saying “the car for the new era is here”.

With ID.3 and its attendant range, “they can catch up the shortfall in electric mobility,” said industry expert Stefan Bratzel of the Center of Automotive Management.

“It has to be a success.”

READ ALSO: German automakers are biggest spenders on electric cars: study

Ralf Brandstätter, head of the Volkswagen brand, says the sprawling group
is investing hugely into polishing its image to be “younger, more dynamic and
more modern”.

First across Europe, then around the world, tens of thousands of logos at VW dealerships will be switched for the first time since 2012 — in time for the next top model's arrival.

“We want to earn back the recognition of society,” Brandstätter added as the group works to put its scandal-ridden past behind it.

Four years ago, public respectability appeared out of reach for VW, as it admitted to installing software to cheat regulatory emissions tests in 11 million vehicles worldwide.

It was the biggest industrial debacle in post-war German history.

'Key product'

But while “dieselgate” has so far cost VW more than 30 billion, it has also become a “catalyst for electric mobility” at the firm, Bratzel said.

The first model in a broader “ID” range, priced below 30,000, is a “key product” for a “key moment” in VW's development, he added.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany's Dieselgate scandal

A slew of future cars will be based on the battery-powered platform known as “MEB” that underpins the ID.3.

VW is introducing the technology just as tougher new European emissions regulations enter into force.

From 2020, manufacturers' fleets must produce on average less than 95 grammes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre.

Breaching the limit means fines of 95 per excess gramme, multiplied by the number of cars sold in the European Union.

VW hopes to sell one million so-called “zero emission” vehicles per year by

More than 30,000 people have already pre-ordered a one-off special edition
of the ID.3, which costs more than the base model. But the broader German market is less encouraging.

Battery-powered vehicles make up just two percent of sales, while only 16 percent of Germans planning a car purchase would choose an electric car, according to a poll for energy firm EON.

“They have to find a way of selling them, otherwise they're not going to survive,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer of the Center Automotive Research (CAR).

SUVs cover costs

For now, electric cars are more expensive to build, as numbers aren't yet large enough to achieve economies of scale.

“In the medium term, there isn't any money to be made in electric cars,” Dudenhöffer judged.

“By 2023-24, battery production capacity will be available in Europe and prices will fall,” he predicted.

VW aims to scale up as quickly as possible by agreeing to license its MEB technology to Ford, one element of a partnership that also includes a focus on
autonomous driving.

READ ALSO: German carmakers to build European e-charging network

Meanwhile many manufacturers are going through belt-tightening programmes
including job cuts to lift profitability.

And car sales are running out of steam, especially in the vital Chinese market.

Those factors combined rule out stopping production and sales of large, popular SUV models — highly profitable but also high on the hit list of environmentalists and city planners looking to slash space accorded to cars.

VW has launched an “SUV offensive” that will bring its offer in the class to 30 models by 2025, from 11 at present — some of them battery-powered.

“The money we'll earn from SUVs will allow us to face up to the future,”
VW's Brandstätter forecast.

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From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla’s giant Berlin car factory

In the green forest outside Berlin, a David and Goliath-style battle is playing out between electric carmaker Tesla and environmental campaigners who want to stop its planned "gigafactory".

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla's giant Berlin car factory
Tesla's gigafactory outside the doors of Berlin. dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Steffen Schorch, driving his trusty German-made car.

The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July.

“Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water,” said the environmental activist, a local representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group.

Announced in November 2019, Tesla’s gigafactory project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark – but was immediately met with opposition from local residents.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters – residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful
environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

Tesla was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber.

READ MORE: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

And now they have focused their attention on water consumption – which could reach up to 3.6 million cubic metres a year, or around 30 percent of the region’s available supply, according to the ZDF public broadcaster.

The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

Local residents and environmentalists are also concerned about the impact on the wetlands, an important source of biodiversity in the region.

Tesla Street

“The water situation is bad, and will get worse,” Heiko Baschin, a spokesman for the neighbourhood association IG Freienbrink, told AFP.

Brandenburg’s environment minister Axel Vogel sought to play down the issue, saying in March that “capacity has not been exceeded for now”.

But the authorities admit that “the impact of droughts is significant” and have set up a working group to examine the issue in the long term.

The gigafactory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares – equivalent to approximately 560 football fields – southwest of the German capital.

Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to “the largest battery factory in the world”,
according to group boss Elon Musk.

In a little over a year and a half, swathes of coniferous forest have already been cleared to make way for vast concrete rectangles on a red earth base, accessed via the already iconic Tesla Strasse (Tesla Street).

German bureaucracy

The new site still has only provisional construction permits, but Tesla has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk.

Final approval depends on an assessment of the project’s environmental impact – including the issue of water.

In theory, if approval is not granted, Tesla will have to dismantle the entire complex at its own expense.

But “pressure is being exerted (on the regulatory authorities), linked to Tesla’s significant investment”, Gruene Liga’s Michael Greschow told AFP.

In early April, Tesla said it was “irritated” by the slow pace of German bureaucracy, calling for exceptions to the rules for projects that help the environment.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier agreed in April that his government “had not done enough” to reduce bureaucracy, lauding the gigafactory as a “very important project”.

Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often held up by bureaucracy criticised as excessive by the business community.

Among the most embarrassing examples are Berlin’s new airport which opened last October after an eight-year delay and Stuttgart’s new train station, which has been under construction since 2010.

Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, raised the possibility in February that the Tesla factory could be delayed beyond its July planned opening for the same reason.

SEE ALSO: Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin