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VW chief adjusts goal from ‘overtaking’ Tesla to ‘keep as close as possible’

In a profile of VW CEO Herbert Diess, the Financial Times reports today that the German automaker has enough supply of EV batteries for 1 million EVs through 2023. He said profitability will begin with its first electric SUV. Despite headwinds, the Volkswagen chief says it’s prepared to deliver on its EV promises to become a “fast-follower” behind Tesla’s lead.

In a case of David being better equipped than Goliath, VW’s Diess suggested that Tesla has more capital than the world’s biggest car company. FT reports that Tesla can raise more than $2 billion overnight by issuing new shares, but VW would have to sell 2.5 million cars to raise those funds, according to an investor.

Diess explained:

Elon Musk is taking risks we couldn’t. So I think we make a good pair because he is pulling ahead, and we are fast-followers, we try to keep as close as possible.

In January, Diess was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he said:

We are quite optimistic that we can keep the pace with Tesla and probably at some stage overtake.

Another VW disadvantage is the company’s family-ownership structure and the strength of its labor unions. According to FT, that slows down VW’s ability to change its strategy and to reduce labor costs.

The financial publication reports that Toyota and GM are “years, perhaps even a decade, from being able to generate petrol-level profits.” (GM President Mark Reuss told Electrek in January that its next EVs would be profitable from the first sales.)

By all accounts, Diess is on board with a massive shift to EVs. And he supports strict laws for lower CO2 emissions.

We are happy with it because if society decides [to lower emissions laws], we’ll go for electric cars. Actually, that’s good for us.

There is no other alternative to electric cars.

Volkswagen's EV lineup

Volkswagen’s EV lineup

FT reports that VW needs to sell hundreds of thousands of ID 3s, and other electric models, to bring down its fleet-wide CO2 emissions and comply with EU regulations.

The jury is still out, with leading clean-transportation analysts reporting that automakers can meet CO2 targets and other firms claiming that hefty fines are inevitable.

Critically, Diess said that he’s confident that VW has enough supply of EV batteries for 1 million EVs through 2023. That statement is curious considering that Audi, a brand of the VW group, stopped production of the e-tron electric SUV due to battery shortages.

Electrek’s Take

Stories about how Volkswagen (and others) are going to catch up to Tesla on EVs have become common fare. Herbert Diess in late January delivered that same message about “overtaking” Tesla. Today, thankfully, he tempered that message, admitting that VW’s goal is to “keep as close as possible.”

We hope that Volkswagen fulfills its promise as a major player in the EV world. But first things first. Volkswagen needs to start selling all the EVs it has announced. After last month’s news of the ID Ruggdzz, we lost count of all the “ID” concept vehicles – announcements that keep coming prior to the introduction of the ID 3 in Europe and the ID Crozz in the United States.

Reminder: In 2013, the company said it would become the world’s biggest EV maker by 2018.

It’s time to deliver – despite a contracting global auto market and all kinds of obstacles, including impacts on supply chains from coronavirus in China. The good news is that Diess is not making excuses. FT reports:

Mr. Diess is adamant that neither the outbreak nor an economic downturn will curb his commitment to electric vehicles.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.