If Volkswagen realizes its ambition of becoming the global leader in electric cars, it will be thanks to a radical and risky bet born out of the biggest calamity in its history. The German giant has staked its future, to the tune of 80 billion euros ($91 billion), on being able to profitably mass-produce electric vehicles – a feat no carmaker has come close to achieving.
So far mainstream automakers’ electric plans have had one main goal: to protect profits gleaned from high-margin conventional cars by adding enough zero-emission vehicles to their fleet to meet clean-air rules. Customers have meanwhile largely shunned electric vehicles because they are too expensive, can be inconvenient to charge and lack range. The biggest strategy shift in Volkswagen’s 80 years has its roots in a weekend crisis meeting at the Rotheh of the guesthouse in Wolfsburg on October 10, 2015, senior executives told Reuters.
At the meeting hosted by then VW brand chief Herbert Diess, nine top managers gathered on a cloudy Saturday afternoon to discuss the way forward after regulators blew the whistle on the company’s emissions cheating, a scandal that cost it more than 27 billion euros in fines and tainted its name. “It was an intense discussion, so was the realization that this could be an opportunity, if we jump far enough,” said Juergen Stackmann, VW brand’s board member for sales.
“It was an initial planning session to do more than just play with the idea of electric cars,” he told Reuters. “We asked ourselves: what is our vision for the future of the brand? Everything that you see today is connected to this.”