Going electric

The Volkswagen Group has aligned its company strategy to fully commit to electric mobility. Over the next nine years up to 75 new pure electric models will be introduced together with around 60 hybrid vehicles. All in all Volkswagen plans to sell 26 million electric vehicles by 2029. To achieve this target, the company management in Wolfsburg has earmarked roughly 33 billion euros for an enormous investment program to catapult the world's largest car producer, and, at the same time Germany's largest industrial group, into a leading position in the electric mobility market.

In order to ensure competitiveness in the future global market for electric vehicles, however, the prices of key components should not be dictated by automotive suppliers. In future, the battery – which up to now has only been a small purchased component – will play an important role in the electric car because it defines the driving range. This is exactly why the VW strategists have opted to design and manufacture their own electric vehicle batteries. A pilot line for small series production is already in operation in Salzgitter and in the near future a larger plant will be constructed on the same company site. This is where a gigafactory will be created to produce 220,000 to 250,000 electric vehicle batteries every year. That corresponds to a total annual capacity of 18 to 24 GWh of electrical energy. Production at the facility is already set to start in three and a half years.

Volkswagen has teamed up with the Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt as a joint venture partner and also with the Leinemann Partner law firm. From its Berlin office a team of legal experts specialised in construction and architecture law has provided support right from the start for the planning and construction of the plant. At the beginning of the project, the planning contracts had to be elaborated and negotiated to enable the drawing up of the application documents for the approval planning for the new plant according to the German Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG). Northvolt's first factory under construction in Sweden is close to completion and in a number of respects shall serve as a model for the German project. But, as is often the case, the devil is in the detail. In Germany, it is not possible to fully implement everything which is built and approved in Sweden. Some things have to be planned differently and new contracts are also required.

The Leinemann team will provide legal support for all further contracts in the construction phase. Volkswagen is managing the construction of the plant at its Salzgitter site. The operator of the battery plant will then be the joint venture named Northvolt 2, in which both partners will have a 50 percent interest. The joint venture at Salzgitter will create 1,600 new jobs in the battery plant and a recycling facility. But this is not enough for Volkswagen's ambitious plans for electric mobility. In Europe alone from 2025 there will be an annual requirement for 150 GWh, and the same is true for Asia. Therefore, all of the car producers will have to consider further battery production locations.

But a conventional battery plant would not be ambitious enough for the world's largest car producer. Ultimately, electric mobility is only beneficial for the environment when the production of the required power and batteries is climate-neutral and this is exactly the area of expertise of VW's Swedish partner Northvolt, which produces the batteries in a process completely free of COemissions, i.e. using green technology. This gives the company an advantage over other manufacturers.

The team at the Leinemann Partner law firm still has a great deal of work to do until the first battery plant starts production as a joint venture of the Volkswagen Group. Ralf Leinemann and Armin Preussler, the two main contact persons for the VW legal department for this project, are confident that due to the considerable experience of the law firm in working with industrial projects it will be possible to also provide tailor-made legal support for the production of the battery cells to ensure fast implementation of the start of production. Up to now everything is going according to plan.