Giga-Casting and Robots: How Volkswagen’s Trinity wants to catch up with Tesla

FILE PHOTO: Media tour of the Volkswagen ID.3 production line in Dresden
FILE PHOTO: A view of the depot tower of German car manufacturer Volkswagen in Dresden, Germany June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel/

March 31, 2022

By Victoria Waldersee, Jan Schwartz and Nadine Schimroszik

BERLIN (Reuters) – As Tesla begins production at its new German plant this month, Volkswagen is weeks away from finalizing plans for a 2 billion euro ($2.2 billion) electric vehicle (EV) factory , which it is hoped will update its US rival.

Tesla says it can already produce a Model Y in 10 hours at its new Giga Berlin-Brandenburg plant in Grünheide, near the German capital, while it can take Volkswagen three times that long to produce its ID.3 electric car.

The German auto giant is now aiming to slash production times with its Trinity EV plant, which is set to open in 2026, by using techniques like large die-casting and reducing the number of components in its cars by several hundred.

“Our goal is clear: we want to set standards with our production,” said Volkswagen brand production manager Christian Vollmer in an interview with Reuters. “If we get to 10 hours, we’ve achieved something big.”

The automaker has improved productivity by about 5% a year but needs to make bigger leaps to stay ahead of the European market, Vollmer said, without setting a new percentage target.

Volkswagen, the world’s second largest automaker behind Japan’s Toyota with a range of brands from Skoda, Seat and VW to Audi, Porsche and Bentley, has a 25% share of the European electric vehicle market, ahead of Tesla at 13%.

But pressure on German automakers to both master and ramp up electric vehicle production has been compounded by Tesla’s presence in the country, and Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess has warned Germans they must hurry to avoid hitting their road to be beaten on one’s own turf.


Volkswagen’s goals align with a broader industry trend to simplify product ranges and streamline production as automakers scramble to find the money to fund the electric transition — and keep up with rivals like Tesla who are not so good at juggling the production of electric vehicles and cars with internal combustion engines.

“Tesla has really sparked the drive to reduce part count and make simpler products,” said Evan Horetsky, a partner at McKinsey who was formerly responsible for engineering at Tesla’s new Brandenburg facility. “Legacy manufacturers have a harder time because they have to keep ongoing orders.”

A Tesla spokesman said one of the reasons it can produce its Model Y vehicles in Germany within 10 hours is that it uses two giant cast presses, or giga presses, that apply 6,000 tons of pressure to mold the rear of the model finished car.

The press shop in Grünheide produces 17 components in less than six minutes. With six more Giga-Presses on the way, Tesla will soon be using the Giga-Press to style the front of the car as well.

“That’s why we’re so fast,” said the spokesman.

The Giga-Casting technique planned by VW was popularized by Tesla as an alternative to the more labor-intensive method of assembling multiple stamped metal plates with crumple zones to absorb energy in a crash.

German luxury carmaker BMW has historically rejected large castings on the grounds that the higher repair costs outweigh the lower manufacturing costs.

But proponents say that automated driving technology will reduce the frequency of accidents: “Tesla is developing a vehicle that has a high probability of not having a serious accident,” said Cory Steuben, president of manufacturing consulting firm Munro & Associates.


While VW can produce certain models like the Tiguan or the Polo in 18 or 14 hours in Germany or Spain, assembling its electric ID.3 – made in a factory where six models from three Volkswagen brands juggle – always takes time 30 more hours.

At the Trinity plant, multiple work steps are condensed into one through automation, shrinking the size of the body shop and reducing the number of jobs that require inconvenient physical labor, Vollmer said, calling it an extension of “human-robot collaboration.”

Volkswagen is not planning any giga presses in the new plant in Wolfsburg, but instead uses the systems in the Kassel plant, around 160 km away, and transports the products by rail.

US investment bank JPMorgan forecasts that Tesla’s Grünheide factory will produce about 54,000 cars in 2022, 280,000 in 2023 and then 500,000 by 2025.

Volkswagen, which shipped around 452,000 battery-electric vehicles worldwide last year, has not yet set a production target for Trinity, which will use its scalable system platform.

The aim is to build 40 million vehicles worldwide on the new platform – which combines multiple internal combustion engine and electric platforms into one – by 2030, with half of global production being fully electric.

Tesla, which produced 936,000 cars last year, has said it will be putting 20 million cars on the road a year by the end of the decade, or about doubling the current annual output of Toyota, currently the world’s largest automaker.

Still, Tesla faces numerous challenges as it expands in Germany, from securing a larger water supply, to environmental groups worried about light pollution and congestion near the plant, to unions concerned about a management-heavy works council and wage cuts upcoming workers do elsewhere.

“Starting production is nice, but mass production is the hard part,” Musk told a cheering audience at a festival at the plant’s site in October 2021. “It will take longer to reach mass production than it will to build the factory.”

($1 = 0.8985 euros)

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Jan Schwartz, Nadine Schimroszik and Hyun Joo Jin; Editing by David Clarke) Giga-Casting and Robots: How Volkswagen’s Trinity wants to catch up with Tesla


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