Volkswagen invests in extending MEB lifespan

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Volkswagen makes significant battery upgrades for existing EV architecture as new SSP platform is pushed back to 2028.

Volkswagen Group CEO Oliver Blume has given the go-ahead for a substantial investment in the MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs Baukasten) electric car platform, setting up a fundamental revision of the German car maker’s electric car strategy up to and beyond 2030.

The reported €1.5 billion (AUD$2.35bn) investment, which encompasses the development of more advanced battery cell, power electronics and inverter technology among other changes, comes as the Volkswagen Group begins to roll back on plans originally initiated by former CEO Herbert Diess, following an internal review of future electric car expenditure and processes, much of which has now been placed on hold for further consideration by its board members.

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The internal review identified the four-year-old MEB platform, which supports both single-motor rear- and dual-motor four-wheel drive, as a central pillar in instilling greater competitiveness, economies of scale, production efficiency and profitability into the company’s planned electric models.

The investment in the structure, first reported by German newspaper FAZ, is aimed at extending its production life well beyond that of earlier strategy planning, which called for the MEB platform to be phased out during the latter half of this decade in favour of the SSP (Scaleable Systems Platform) structure.

Blume is claimed to have already initiated steps to integrate the battery cell technology originally envisaged for the SSP structure into an updated MEB platform, known internally as MEB-EVO. It centres around a so-called ‘unified cell’ to be used across the Volkswagen Group as part of cost amortisation efforts for the company, which sold 366,000 electric cars during the first nine months of 2022.

Other changes planned for the MEB platform include an increase in charging capacity. Nothing is official yet, although an internal document cited by FAZ is claimed to reveal the upgraded MEB structure will support charging at speeds of between 175kW and 200kW. This represents a significant increase on the peak 135kW of existing MEB-based models.

Despite the investment, though, the updated MEB platform is expected to retain a 400V electric architecture in the interests of cost competitiveness.

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VW ID Space Vizzion

The decision to invest in the MEB platform will mean the introduction of the SSP structure – which has been conceived around a more advanced 800V electric architecture, allowing a charging capacity of up to 350kW – is delayed until 2028 at the very earliest.

Confirmation of this was first aired by Volkswagen brand CEO Thomas Schäfer at the recent 2022 Los Angeles motor show, where he told Automotive Daily network partner Autocar: “We’re not 100 per cent sure what comes when. But what we know is that everything slides back a bit by, say, two years.”

Plans for the construction of a new manufacturing site in Warmenau, close to Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters in Germany, specifically for SSP platform models have also been abandoned, in a move that is claimed to provide savings of up to €2bn (AUD$3.13bn).

First used by the Volkswagen ID 3 hatchback at its European market launch in September 2019, the MEB platform currently underpins six electric Volkswagen models, including the Volkswagen ID 4, Volkswagen ID 5 and Chinese-market ID 6 SUVs as well as the recently introduced ID Buzz and ID Buzz Cargo.

It is also used for the Audi Q4 E-tron SUV, Q4 E-tron Sportback and Chinese-market Q5 E-tron, as well as the Skoda Enyaq and Enyaq Coupé, and the Cupra Born.

In addition, the MEB platform is also set to be used by Volkswagen’s first dedicated electric-powered sedan – a production version of the Volkswagen ID Aero concept, to be revealed in prototype guise at next month’s 2023 CES show prior to going on sale in Europe during the second half of next year under the likely name ID 7.

Further models to be based on the MEB platform include two new crossover-style offerings and a new hatchback from Ford – all set to be produced in Cologne, Germany.

Additionally, Skoda has announced plans for three new MEB-based models by 2026, while Cupra says it will add a new MEB model in the form of a production version of its Tavascan SUV concept to its line-up in 2024.

A modified version of the existing MEB platform with a shortened wheelbase and smaller battery module known to insiders as the MEB-Small is also confirmed to form the basis of the upcoming ID 2 and ID 2 X, an entry-level hatchback and crossover pairing that are being developed in a three-way engineering programme between Volkswagen, Cupra and Skoda and, on current planning, set to make production in 2025.

Under the previous electric car platform strategy orchestrated by Diess, the MEB structure was envisaged to be phased out in 2025.

However, Blume’s decision to give the green light to additional investment in the existing structure will enable it to continue to play a pivotal role in the development of future electric models, including Volkswagen’s Project Trinity autonomous-capable saloon.

Originally conceived on the SSP structure, the new Tesla Model 3 rival – which, sources suggest, is being lined up to be named the ID 5 when it goes on sale in 2026 – will now be based on MEB-EVO.

The new sedan, which is planned to spawn an Audi sibling model, is seen as a lynchpin in the Volkswagen Group’s ambitious electric car plans.

MEB platform models are currently produced in six Volkswagen Group manufacturing plants, including the company’s Zwickau, Dresden and Hanover sites in Germany and Skoda’s Mlada Boleslav plant in the Czech Republic as well as at its Chinese joint venture operations with FAW in Changchun and SAIC in Shanghai.

Two additional German MEB manufacturing sites will be added in 2023. Volkswagen’s traditional Wolfsburg plant is already being geared up to produce the facelifted ID 3 hatchback and its Emden factory is currently in a pilot production phase for the upcoming ID 7 sedan.

At this stage, Volkswagen is looking to build the production version of Project Trinity, the ID 5, alongside the facelifted ID 3 at its recently upgraded Wolfsburg plant.

To accommodate the ID 7 at its heavily restructured Emden site, Volkswagen has already announced plans to shift production of the upcoming ninth-generation Volkswagen Passat to Skoda’s Kvasiny plant, where it will be produced alongside the fourth-generation Skoda Superb.

Plans have also been announced to produce MEB-based models at a third Chinese joint venture run between Volkswagen and JAC in Anhui, China.

A recent visit by Blume to Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant in Tennessee has also led to speculation that MEB-based models could also be produced in the US.

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