If the Tesla Battery Day was about the 4680 form factor and the technical advantages it might present, Volkswagen’s equivalent is all about scale. Ironically, it did not forget about a form factor. Although the company did not disclose exactly what it will be, we are ahead of a sort of platform for cells. Regardless of the chemistry, all cells will present the same format. To make a long story short, Volkswagen will have what it calls the unified cell.
Think about it as an MEB for batteries. Instead of changing the modules to get a longer or shorter electric car, Volkswagen’s cell platform will just choose different chemistries for each application. That will allow the company to have a unique format for all its electric vehicles, which will help Volkswagen achieve very high production volumes.
Reuters suggested Volkswagen would adopt prismatic cells, which could imply all cars would have LFP batteries. That’s not the case: although the images for the unified cell remind us of a prismatic cell, it is actually a modular battery. These cells will be integrated into CTP (cell-to-pack) battery packs, which will be Volkswagen’s standard from 2023 on. This information is what helps us connect the dots.
If the cells will have a structural role, they have to follow a standard. That makes it easier to conceive a CTP battery pack regardless of the chemistry. If all cells will have the same structure, any change will be restricted to their contents. The image below suggests the unified cell is already being produced at the Salzgitter plant.
Volkswagen said 2023 is the year in which the first vehicle with the unified cell will go on sale. Markus Duesmann, Audi's CEO, said the first car with the unified cell in the brand will be the first product of the Artemis project. That suggests another this new battery platform will emerge in another brand. We'd bet on a vehicle from Porsche or Volkswagen.
By 2030, Volkswagen expects that 80 percent of all its vehicles will have the unified cell with a variety of chemistries: LFP, high-nickel, manganese, and solid-state cells. According to Herbert Diess, the unified cell will help Volkswagen cut the cell price by 50 percent in the entry segment.
Thomas Schmall, Volkswagen's board member for technology, talked a little more about that. The unified cell should also help volume vehicles to achieve a 30 percent cost reduction. Gains for specific solutions with the unified cell were not disclosed. The high-end chemistries for high-performance vehicles will probably be cheaper than without the unified cell, but the final numbers will depend on the kind of chemistry they will adopt. Some of them are probably still under research.
For entry-level vehicles and their 50 percent lower cost, cell design alone will help decrease costs by 15 percent. Another 10 percent in gains will come from more streamlined production processes.
The other 25 percent will come from the battery system concept (5 percent) and mainly from cathode and anode improvements (20 percent). Frank Blome, head of the battery cell and system department at Volkswagen, explained that as well, but this deserves a separate article.
With these improvements and its push for electric mobility, Volkswagen alone will need 240 GWh in batteries by 2030. That will demand six gigafactories in Europe, each of them with a capacity of 40 GWh per year.
These gigafactories will be built either with partners such as Northvolt, LG, SK Innovation, CATL, and others or by Volkswagen alone. The only of these suppliers to be mentioned in the presentation so far was Northvolt. Its Skellefteå plant will produce the unified cell for premium vehicles and it will be the first Volkswagen gigafactory.
The second one will be Salzgitter, which will manufacture the unified cell for volume vehicles. Having what seems to be the unified cell appear there first is certainly no coincidence. Now that we know what it looks like, we need to know how exactly it will help Volkswagen achieve its goals.
The unified cell is the stepping stone for what Volkswagen defines as a closed-loop approach. The company will create it, place it in battery systems (packs), use them in cars, give them a second use when they are no longer suitable for vehicles and recycle them when the time comes to start the cycle all over again. We'll tell you more about that in other articles about the Volkswagen Power Day.