Tesla’s rivals from legacy auto are facing a day of reckoning due to the pandemic

(Credit: Tesla)

In Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant in Germany, a storm seems to be brewing. The veteran automaker has put a lot of its cards on the ID.3, its upcoming all-electric hatchback. But with the pandemic still maintaining its hold on the global automotive market, things are starting to look a lot more challenging. 

Volkswagen initially planned to produce the ID.3 en masse at the expansive facility. The Zwickau plant is expected to be one of the largest electric car factories in the globe, and it is poised to be a key factor in the German automaker’s attempt at closing the gap between itself and electric vehicle pioneer Tesla. Unfortunately for Volkswagen, the pandemic has thrown a proverbial wrench at its plans. 

The effects of the COVID-19 virus will be felt for years to come, and the automotive sector will be among those that will likely take a massive hit. With the economic pressures of the pandemic, car buyers are expected to be more conservative about big ticket purchases. This could prove challenging for veteran automakers and their respective EV programs, as their electric lineup will likely hold a premium price over their more affordable gas-powered cars.

The Volkswagen ID.3. (Credit: John Foulkes/Twitter)

A premium price for electric vehicles will likely be a weight that legacy automakers would have to bear. With dropping oil prices, internal combustion cars could become more attractive to budget-conscious buyers. Tesla is pretty much immune to this, since the company only produces all-electric vehicles, and its cars are only getting more affordable. This was highlighted by the company’s recent decision to drop the price of its Model S, Model 3, and Model X, as well as its release of the Model Y. 

In a recent statement to Bloomberg, Volkswagen has stated that when it comes to its shift to electric vehicles, the company has simply reached a point where there is no turning back. The pandemic has pretty much crushed demand for vehicles, and all-electric cars like the ID.3 are poised to enter uncharted territory. This was addressed by Thomas Ulbrich, who runs Volkswagen’s EV business. In a statement, he noted that ultimately, “we all have a historic task to accomplish to protect the health of our employees—and at the same time get business back on track responsibly.”

For VW, this means that the company has to push through with the ID.3 regardless of the existing challenges in the market. CEO Herbert Diess, an avid supporter of the electric car movement who has earned the respect of Tesla’s Elon Musk, hinted at this in previous comments. In a post last month on LinkedIn, Diess stated that he and his colleagues are still hard at work with the ID.3. “My new working week starts together with Thomas Ulbrich at the wheel of a Volkswagen ID.3 – our most important project to meet the European CO2-targets in 2020 and 2021. We are fighting hard to keep our timeline for the launches to come,” the CEO wrote. 

The Tesla Model Y (Credit: MotorTrend)

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus, Volkswagen was poised to push the ID.3 as the first of its flagship electric vehicle line. But with the pandemic, things are poised for some big changes. The German automaker has already started adapting to these coming changes, and some seem to be partly inspired by younger carmakers such as Tesla. The company, for example, has decided to offer its ID.3 line online. Volkswagen has also started rolling out touchless test drives, just like Tesla in the United States and China. 

But things will not be easy. The global automotive market will take a hit this year because of the pandemic, and some companies may end up in dire straits. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has stated that Renault SA, the maker of the popular Zoe electric car, can “disappear” without state aid. Even Toyota, a company that is largely considered as an immovable pillar in the automotive segment, has warned that its profits will likely tumble to the lowest level in almost a decade. 

For now, the best bet for automakers planning on releasing electric cars would be to release vehicles that provide what car buyers in the post pandemic would prefer: value and practicality. Tesla’s bet for this lies in the Model Y and the Model 3, as both cars are reasonably priced and offer the best that the EV industry has to offer. Hopefully, automakers like Volkswagen would be able to accomplish the same. 

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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