Volkswagen powers the grid to compete with Tesla

Volkswagen is betting on fast-charging network expansion, playing catch-up with US EV pioneer Tesla

Volkswagen plans to double the number of employees in its charging and energy division, introduce new payment technology next year, and forge more alliances to take on Tesla in a major electric vehicle (EV) battlefield: power Infrastructure. 

Europe’s biggest carmaker hopes to help drivers concerned about battery range ensure they have enough fast-charging plugs and enough power for electric cars that they can give up their fossil fuel cars for good.

Outlining its electric ambition, Volkswagen has drafted in electric industry veteran Elke Temme, who spent nearly two decades at German energy companies RWE and Innogy, to help the carmaker get in better shape to take on Tesla. 

In the job since January, Temme, 53, has been tasked with the carmaker’s various power activities such as procuring energy, enabling customers to charge their cars at home and on the road, and selling essential electricity.

Accomplishing this will require a larger workforce and Temme plans to double the workforce in Volkswagen’s European charging and energy division, known as Elli, to about 300 in 2022, which has already tripled this year, she told Reuters in an interview.

“We are investing in big growth areas which are not always profitable. We always look at these investments in the overall context of our group strategy,” she said. “That’s why building a comprehensive infrastructure is important.”

Temme declined to specify the budget given to him, but said that Volkswagen, led by Tesla fan Herbert Diess, has approved investment requests for the division, which also sells home battery storage systems similar to Tesla’s Powerwall. 

Volkswagen leads the pack worldwide with its investment plans for EVs and batteries by 2030, and it plans to spend 35 billion euros on battery EVs by 2025, according to the Reuters analysis. 

PLAYING CATCH UP

But when it comes to the network of fast-chargers many analysts believe is the key to bringing EVs into the mainstream, VW has some catching up to do.

Tesla has been rolling out high-performance superchargers for years and has a global network of about 30,000 fast-chargers that it says can accelerate to 200 km (125 miles) in 15 minutes.

The company said in October that its own network had doubled in the past 18 months and would triple in the next two years.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen expects its network of fast chargers to almost quadruple to about 45,000 by 2025, when it aims to pump Tesla as the global EV market leader with 18,000 EV pumps in Europe, 17,000 in China and 10,000 in North America.

In March Volkswagen said it planned to spend 400 million euros on expanding its fast-charging network across the continent by then.

But it is a drop in the sea compared to the 5 billion euros expected by the EU to expand charging infrastructure on the continent by 2040, and is increasing pressure on utilities and governments.

In Europe, Volkswagen Group is a shareholder in the EU fast-charging venture Ionity, as well as rival carmakers BMW, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, Fahr and Hyundai.

It has also tied up with energy firms such as Italy’s Enel, Britain’s BP and Spain’s Iberdrola to bridge geographic gaps and outline how funding for EV infrastructure can be divided across industries.

“Different models can be envisioned, from product partnerships and joint ventures to M&A,” Temme said.

For more info., visit Reuters.com