VW ups EV push to 22m cars as Porsche, Audi slip

FRANKFURT • Volkswagen AG (VW) aims to produce almost 50% more electric cars than it targeted previously, boosting a bet that has already strained profit margins.

The world’s largest automaker now plans to build 22 million battery-powered vehicles over the next 10 years, compared to an earlier goal of 15 million.

Return on sales fell last year at the company’s three core brands VW, Porsche and Audi as trade wars, a Chinese slowdown and new emissions testing in Europe added to costs.

VW CEO Herbert Diess is pushing forward with the industry’s most ambitious electrification plan, using VW’s heft to overtake e-car pioneer Tesla Inc and as regulators pick up the pace on emissions regulation. The risk is that buyers stay on the fence, delaying the payoff years down the road.

By comparison, General Motors Co expects to sell one million electric cars annually by 2026. The German carmaker is also in advanced talks with Ford Motor Co to work together on autonomous driving and other areas.

“The supertanker is picking up speed,” Diess said yesterday in speech notes during the company’s full-year earnings. “We are aligning VW with e-mobility like no other company in our industry.”

Diess, like other automaker CEOs, is under pressure to find savings while he funnels more cash toward the company’s biggest transformation in decades. VW is spending €44 billion (RM200.17 billion) through 2023 on electric and connected cars. Keeping profitability level this year from 2018 will be an achievement given the US-China trade spat and falling demand in China, VW’s biggest market, Diess said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

VW fell 1.5% to €144.40 at 12:20pm yesterday in Frankfurt. The stock has declined 6.8% in the past year, compared to a 21% drop in the Stoxx Europe 600 Automobiles & Parts Index.

VW is also making progress on a plan for a partial share sale in trucks unit Traton SE.

A date will be agreed “in the foreseeable future” with VW weighing up market conditions “in the next days”, Diess said in speech notes. The division is valued at as much as €30 billion.

To help gain scale and save costs, VW is opening up its dedicated electric-car platform to others. The company is also in talks to deepen a cooperation with Ford beyond working together on vans, adding yesterday that discussions about further possible collaborations in e-mobility and autonomous driving are at an advanced stage. VW may take a stake in the self-driving car project with Ford, Diess said.

It’s also considering acquisitions of software suppliers.

Separately, the company has started a review of its joint venture in China that’ll conclude early next year. As part of the project, VW will weigh to the potential to change the shareholding structure, Diess said.

VW last month already presented preliminary earnings that met expectations.

VW yesterday confirmed a forecast for revenue to rise by as much as 5% for this year, despite weakening markets globally, as well as maintaining profitability between 6.5% and 7.5% of sales this year. The predictions assume markets improving during the second half of the year, Diess said. — Bloomberg