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VW focuses its restart effort on electric cars, with urgent need to hit CO2 targets

Volkswagen is restarting production at its Zwickau plant on April 20, one week ahead of when most of its global factories will resume. The much-anticipated ID.3 EV, the first of a wave of new VW electric vehicles, is produced in Zwickau. The move comes as the company acknowledges new challenges in meeting EU CO2 targets during the pandemic.

Zwickau is one of two Volkswagen plants slated to restart on Monday. Other global plants are expected to resume operations on April 27. VW said it had prepared a 100-point plan to ensure safe workplaces and maximum health protection for employees.

In an official statement, Volkswagen said the emission targets “have become even more demanding, without question,” but it “continues to work hard” to fulfill them.

Despite VW’s recent dramatic loss in sales and profits, the company plans to launch the ID.3 compact electric car this summer. Volkswagen aims to sell 100,000 ID.3s this year, which will help it achieve CO2 targets. But reported software problems already represented a potential delay. The company extended production of the discontinued E-Golf to make up some of the gap.

There is a movement by European automakers to use the pandemic to call for a relaxation of the targets. Two weeks ago, the primary association of European automakers sent a letter to the European Commission to adjust CO2 targets. But German automakers, including Volkswagen, opposed the request.

The official word from VW Group CEO Herbert Diess was for the EU not to backslide. A few weeks ago, he said:

We have adapted ourselves to meet the 2020 targets, we are committed, and from our perspective, we will not call for an extension of the targets.

However, this week, a prominent VW board member told the DPA news agency that the targets are “likely more difficult to fulfill.” Bernd Althusmann, the VW board member, is also the economic minister of Lower Saxony. A spokesperson for Althusmann said that he was not speaking officially for VW.

The politician argued that the CO2 regulations, and steep fines that might result, would have a devastating impact on the German auto industry.

I hope that the European Union recognizes this. To further exacerbate the already tense situation of the entire German automotive industry and its suppliers would be a fire accelerator for Germany as an industrial location. We need a sense of proportion and responsibility on this issue because millions of jobs are attached to it.

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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.