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VW cell research in Salzgitter

Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance / dpa

The VW Group wants to bring a new production process for e-car batteries into large-scale production – and hopes that this will give it significant competitive advantages over rivals such as Tesla. A so-called dry coating is said to reduce energy consumption in cell production by 30 percent. As a result, the cost of electric cars is expected to fall by several hundred euros per vehicle. Sebastian Wolf, CEO of VW's battery subsidiary PowerCo, told SPIEGEL. He speaks of a "game changer", a groundbreaking innovation, for the global battery industry.

In internal tests, the method has been proven to be viable, says Wolf. PowerCo has therefore decided, under Group Chief Technology Officer Thomas Schmall, to continue investing in the process and initially to install a pilot line in a laboratory near Salzgitter. VW is currently building its world's first battery factory in the Lower Saxony city.

VW explains that it has been researching the new process together with partners since 2020. By the beginning of 2027, it is now to be applied to millions of battery cells: In contrast to the wet coating of the battery electrodes, which has been common up to now, the energy-intensive drying process will no longer be necessary in the future. The project costs to date amount to around 40 million euros, but are likely to be considerably higher in the future.

International race for new production technology

Since other companies are also researching production technology, an international race has arisen. Tesla boss Elon Musk had announced at Battery Day 2020 that he was working on a comparable process – but at the same time pointed out major problems: The mass application of the process is very complicated. According to media reports, Tesla is struggling with difficulties that have not yet been resolved.

In the industry, the battery cell is considered the heart of the electric car – and a key differentiator in global competition. Up to 40 percent of the added value is attributable to the cell. Musk hopes that his own cell production will result in a total cost advantage of several thousand dollars per vehicle.

VW also has considerable hopes for battery production. In addition to the so-called gigafactory in Salzgitter, which is scheduled to start in 2025, comparable plants are planned in Sagunto, Spain, and St. Thomas, Canada.