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Volkswagen eCanter electric van is Poles apart

In 2019, the Volkswagen Group built nearly 12 million vehicles globally across its 12 brands of cars, commercials and bikes.

In other words, a new VW product from one of its nameplates left one of the production lines at its 123 production plants every two seconds, 24/7.

And almost all had an internal combustion engine.

eCrafter is strictly for urban use.
Camera IconeCrafter is strictly for urban use.

In vivid contrast, Tesla produced 365,300 — around 3 per cent of VW’s output — with only three models.

Yet Tesla’s market capitalisation just hit $US285.5 billion, more than three times VW’s current value of $US86.1b.

This discrepancy can no longer be simply explained away as an artificial bubble driven by active share traders.

Automated paint booth guarantees even spread and depth.
Camera IconAutomated paint booth guarantees even spread and depth.

It also underlines how the biggest global commercial vehicle brands are playing catch-up at breakneck speed.

VW has long been a major player in light commercial vehicles. From the original Kombi to today’s range of Caddy, Transporter and Crafter vans, the company has supplied commercial and recreational users with practical and economical solutions to mobility.

But unlike Tesla, which is growing its product lines from zero, VW has a broad range of model lines and power options it is now hell-bent on consolidating and shifting to a green focus.

The e-Crafter is poised to take a growing share of van production at the company’s heavily roboticised Wrzesnia plant in Poland.

Assembly and inspection teams work in clinical environment.
Camera IconAssembly and inspection teams work in clinical environment.

All Crafters are now produced there, and the level of preparation for full production of the electric version is extensive.

EV production calls for employees to be trained in dealing with deadly packages of potent energy rather than the largely inert components of a petrol or diesel driveline.

Specialist skills are needed and, in Poland, it requires special licences for working on electrical systems with a voltage of up to 1 kilovolt.

The qualification process takes in several stages: raising awareness in terms of safety at work and safety rules; and standard and special training sessions for electricians.

Assembly and inspection teams work in clinical environment.
Camera IconAssembly and inspection teams work in clinical environment.

Van production earns big margins for producers. It’s simplistic to say a van is a steel box with a wheel at each corner and a driveline bolted to the front, but it’s also not far from the truth. The detail of design for convenience is there, but there are none of the complex systems and technologies required to pamper multiple passengers.

VW has a range of well-proven front-drive diesel powertrains which are easy to fit under a bonnet many centimetres higher than a car.

Replace it with the simplicity of an electric motor and no transmission, and the cost- effectiveness becomes even more attractive.

Along with its MAN eTGE stablemate, the e-Crafter is aimed at strictly urban work.

New plant is heavily roboticised.
Camera IconNew plant is heavily roboticised.

The 35.8kWh battery is only good for around 110km and will charge to 80 per cent at a 40kW fast charger in 45 minutes.

The e-Crafter is not only simple to build, it can be assembled with far fewer of the toxic materials which are part of a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Comparing the facility with the other factories visited around Europe, the Września plant more resembles computer chip assembly, with a dust-free environment staffed by white clad workers surrounded by automated processes.

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