New Skoda plant shows traditional automaker’s dilemma in EV revolution


It’s easy for a disruptive EV manufacturer like Tesla. Because there is no legacy market to service, you can focus on electric vehicle production and not have to worry about replacing your existing vehicle sales with electric vehicles. But for manufacturers that still have significant internal combustion engine vehicle sales, the story is different. That’s why many people are taking the picturesque path. Skoda’s newly renovated factory in Mladá Boleslav, Czech Republic. They don’t have a choice.

EV evangelists tend to criticize internal combustion engine versions of electric vehicles built on shared platforms (despite Kia and Hyundai vehicles excel in this category). There may be some compromises in the design, but that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. It is possible to produce designs suitable for both drivetrain types. The battery version should have space at the bottom of the chassis for batteries that do not require an internal combustion engine. But one of the reasons Kia/Hyundai feels less compromising is that with front-wheel drive, the electric motor and internal combustion engine are in the same place.

Having a purely electrical design doesn’t mean these cars have to be built in a completely different factory than conventional cars. Battery packs, engine control systems and wiring looms will be different and often have electric motors in alternate locations (VWs usually have motors in the back). However, EVs are still automobiles, so many of the same technologies can be used in manufacturing.

What Skoda does at Mladá Boleslav is to completely integrate vehicle type manufacturing into one line. The big news announced last week is that it will be the first plant outside Germany to manufacture battery systems for the MEB platform used in Volkswagen Group pure electric vehicles such as the ID.3, ID.4 and Audi Q4 e-tron. is. and recently released cupra bone. Cells and packs are made and imported elsewhere and are currently in the process of building a system with capacities of 55kWh, 62kWh, and 82kWh. They are then used primarily to make Skoda’s Enyaq iV and Coupe in nearby buildings.

However, this is not the only vehicle produced in the factory. Mladá Boleslav’s car production line is the same whether it’s a Skoda Octavias, Superbs or a purely electric Enyaq iV. I saw the same employee (usually female and nice looking) moving from working on a conventional car to the electric-only Enyaq iV and Coupe variants. The fact that employees can dynamically switch between the two allows Skoda to change production according to demand (and supply of parts).

It’s a mockery of traditional manufacturers who continue to produce internal combustion engine cars. However, they face the challenge of balancing one growing market with another. Although EV sales are exploding, especially in Europe, it will be difficult to fully dominate developed markets at least in 10 years. In developing countries and the United States, the period can be much longer. In the transition phase, incumbent manufacturers must continue to build non-electric products based on demand.

The question is how to manage the transition, which is why it is essential to have a flexible production line that can instantly switch between different car types. Mladá Boleslav’s Skoda strategy would be a general strategy. BMW already has similar plans. i4 Built with 3 Series and 4 Series cars, iX With the 5 and 7 series. Volkswagen has enough plants to dedicate some plants, such as Zwickau, to EVs only. This is where ID.3, ID.4, ID.5, Audi Q4 e-tron and Cupra Born are made. However, smaller and smaller brands will need to hedge their bets more, even if they belong to a larger group like Skoda.

The shift to EVs will certainly leave some casualties in the aftermath. Tesla is moving forward and Volkswagen appears to be successfully implementing its EV strategy under the leadership of Herbert Diess. BMW held the lead with the i3 and lost, but is now back with the i4 and iX. Like the Volvo/Polstar, Hyundai and Kia have launched several promising designs. However, other manufacturers are far behind. They will have to figure out how to make the transition to EV production as smooth as possible, as Skoda is making clear, so they can continue to earn income from combustion powertrains as they ramp up EV production. Otherwise, their future may not be very bright.

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