Zwickau (dpa) - The future begins in Saxony. For a long time, Volkswagen had to listen to the accusation of slowing down the pace of electromobility rather than speeding it up. Now the world's biggest carmaker wants to paddle instead of smudging - and has launched its first E-series.

Zwickau is the name of the place where the most important change in the recent history of the group starts. Between Leipzig and the Erzgebirge, far away from the otherwise dominant industry arenas, VW has already transferred large parts of its offer from the old to the new era. Two letters stand for the project, which for many observers is overdue, but also not without risk: ID. The first member of the model family, ID.3, has been produced here since Monday.

"For the first time, we are completely converting a large car factory to electric," says CEO Herbert Diess. Thomas Ulbrich, CEO E-Mobility of the brand VW, speaks of a "system change that will take place over the next one to two decades".

Angela Merkel believes that the change can succeed. "Zwickau will be a cornerstone of the German car industry," says the Chancellor in front of the workforce. In Hall 5, where, among other things, headlights and taillights are mounted, she then casts a glance into the assembly, talks to employees. In tow: Diess and Saxony's Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer. Assembly manager Holger Hollmann reports: "We start gently, with currently six ID.3 per day."

System change is a weighty word. In the case of ID.3, however, the term seems appropriate. So far, e-cars of longer range are still an expensive - and impractical because of the incomplete charging network - luxury product for many consumers. The new electric VW aims as a compact car with a starting price of less than 30,000 euros and battery variants for up to 550 kilometers on the mass audience.

The decisive factor is the ID.3 for the Group also for a different reason: the car is based on the modular electrical construction kit (MEB). The technology, which also saves costs through the use of many common parts, will be used over the next three years in a total of 33 model approaches - from compact cars on SUVs to sedans.

All this costs a lot of money, which must be restored. All in all, VW will spend more than 30 billion euros on electrification by 2023, with another 14 billion going into networking and assistance systems. Following Zwickau, Emden and Hanover as well as some sites in China and the USA will be converted to MEB. Battery systems and drives come from our own suppliers in Braunschweig and Kassel. And in Salzgitter VW will build a factory for its own battery cells with its Swedish partner Northvolt from next year.

One thing is clear: the expansion of e-mobility is urgent, Germany lags behind. Plans for charging network expansion are the topic of a "car summit" in the Chancellery on Monday evening. "For Germany to remain the leading automotive nation, politics and industry must work hand in hand to speed up the spread of electric vehicles," it says.

Also with regard to the climate policy, a shift is necessary. In 2021, stricter EU regulations will apply to CO2 emissions. If carmakers then sell enough e-vehicles, billions of dollars are threatened.

Many a critic VW does not take off the "green" image. Especially you are bothered by SUVs. It is not enough to build electric motors in Dick ships, complained BUND Vice-President Ernst-Christoph Stolper. In the case of ID.3, VW promises CO2 neutrality: no additional emissions are to be created in the balance of the supply chain, production and charging. Where this is unavoidable, "compensation" is provided through the support of climate protection projects.

But as ambitious as the launch of the ID series is, there are imponderables. In addition to the unclear volume of demand VW must continue to digest financial burdens from "diesel gate", even if last time a clear profit increase remained. And the shift of more and more jobs from the internal combustion engine to the less labor-intensive electric drives is the future topic of choice for works councils and trade unions. In Zwickau all 8000 employees are trained. Diess emphasizes: "Zwickau will also be one of our most highly automated factories."

Overall, the works council is behind the e-offensive. "Zwickau becomes the icebreaker of the group," says Jens Rothe, head of staff representation in Saxony. But not everyone was initially enthusiastic about the change: "We experience the elimination of simple activities" - but at the same time also an increase of higher qualified tasks.

And the competition does not sleep. BMW, with the i3 once a pioneer in the electric small car segment, reports solid sales, when one adds together electric and hybrid vehicles. CEO Oliver Zipse, however, does not want to commit himself to the decision for the drive of the future. At Daimler, the company relies on the EQ electric series - but so far mainly with the SUV EQC and the EQV minibus.

VW should have a starting advantage in the mass business with the ID.3, estimates the analyst Frank Schwope of NordLB: "Volkswagen sets with an impressive force on the electric card." Whether in Zwickau even catching up to rival Tesla begins? Stefan Bratzel from the Center of Automotive Management recently saw the Americans "by a considerable margin" as the most innovative e-manufacturer. But VW climb into the "circle of high performers". The Chancellor also hopes that this will happen: "It is important that the ramp-up of electromobility into mass production now really takes place here."