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A lesson in innovation: VW’s Herbert Diess invites Tesla’s Elon Musk to an internal conference

A few weeks ago, Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess called 120 top-level executives to company HQ for a crisis meeting, at which he announced a series of measures to help his company catch up with Tesla. More recently, Diess went a step further, inviting Tesla CEO Elon Musk to address 200 Volkswagen executives via a video call.

Diess said he brought in Musk as a surprise guest to the managers’ meeting in Alpbach, Austria in order to emphasize the point that VW needs to move faster to make the transition to e-mobility, which Diess called the biggest transformation in VW’s history. He wants VW to have “faster decisions, less bureaucracy, more responsibility.”

The productivity gap between the upstart and the elder statesman is stark. When Tesla’s Giga Berlin cranks up the line, which is expected to happen by the end of this year, it will set new standards for vehicle production. According to a recent report in Business Insider (German), Tesla can build a Model 3 in ten hours, more than three times as quickly as VW builds an ID.3 at its Zwickau EV plant.

Diess himself said that Tesla has handled the current global chip shortage better than legacy automakers because its software team was able to rewrite Tesla’s software in only two to three weeks in order to enable a switch to another, more readily available type of microchip.

Handelsblatt reports (via Reuters) that Musk praised VW in his speech, and called it Tesla’s greatest challenger. When Diess asked why Tesla is so much nimbler than its rivals, Musk responded, “It’s the management style. I’m primarily an engineer and, besides the car, I’m fascinated by supply chains, logistics and production processes.” (Of course, Tesla’s overriding Silicon Valley ethos, and many other brilliant team members, have a lot to do with the company’s innovative excellence.)

Diess said on Twitter that VW would continue its dialogue with Tesla. “We will visit you soon in Grünheide.”

Diess’s decision to invite Musk drew a few flames on Twitter, from croakers who dislike Elon Musk, or who believe that the move showed weakness that will damage VW’s brand. However, the vast majority of reactions to the unprecedented reach-out appear to be positive.

As Electrek’s Jameson Dow put it, we’re all on “team electric.” The real competition is not among different EVs, but between the electric future and the smoke-belching past. EV producers (and EV journalists) may compete, but we also need to cooperate to accelerate the end of the Oil Age.

Source: Reuters, Electrek

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