Daniel Weissland is the President and CEO of Volkswagen Group Canada Inc.
On the one hand, it’s a fundamental change to everything our brand represents. On the other, it’s entirely consistent with our original vision. Squaring that circle is my challenge, and it has to start with the work force.
Volkswagen’s historical roots lie in the idea of bringing the future to the average person, in the form of affordable motor vehicles. Today, more than 80 years later, we are embarking on a new version of that mission: transforming the way Canadians get around, in a sustainable way that is fully reflective of the challenges facing all of us. The “E-future,” as I call it.
Here in Canada, Navigant Research forecasts that electric vehicle sales will grow at a compounded annual rate of 29 per cent, reaching about 140,000 per year by 2026.
That is a seismic shift for our organization. And all business leaders know that, when trying to manage change of this magnitude, you just can’t get there overnight. We recognize that our efforts in Canada must reflect not only Volkswagen’s new direction, but also the desires of the customers we serve and, most importantly, the engagement of our work force as they are the representatives of our organizations out in the world and we need them on board.
My fundamental approach has been to ensure that my team understands that this is nothing less than us taking a leadership role in the re-imagining of an entire industry. And we must start with ourselves.
Last year, we completed the installation of 20 charging stations in our employee parking lot, in anticipation (and encouragement) of greater electric-vehicle adoption by our staff. To further whet appetites, we conducted an experiential drive program last summer, where all employees were given the opportunity to drive a VW e-Golf home for a night.
Letting the work force feel the change – in their own lives – is an imperative first step before we can take it to our customers and beyond. They need to stand ready and willing to take on the challenge – and, by every indication, they’re up for it.
They’re excited by the change, and the challenge. And I think that flows from a place of true belief in the initiative. They know that more and more Canadians want to make the shift to an electric vehicle. Because many of them want the same thing for themselves and their families.
Like our customers, they too worry about the future of the environment. They want to be empowered to reduce their carbon footprint, and to contribute to a more sustainable world. They worry about the kind of world we’re leaving to the next generation. They want to make a real difference.
Beyond our work force, to facilitate this massive, coming shift on the roads, electric vehicle charging infrastructure will need to keep up – and here is where we have demonstrated that we are putting an actual stake in the ground. If we aren’t prepared to make a real commitment to this vision, how can we expect our employees and customers to commit to us? Volkswagen Group Canada has established Electrify Canada to roll out a comprehensive, consumer-friendly charging network for electric vehicles. This ultra-fast, direct-current charging network across Canada will start operating in the second quarter of this year and will be accessible to vehicles from all manufacturers.
In a matter of months, people will start to see that change in action. Charging stations will take shape. The infrastructure to support a change to the automobile industry will be installed. And the Volkswagen of the future will begin rolling off the assembly lines as we launch the first of our next generation of electric vehicles, with a global goal of selling more than a million of them a year worldwide by 2025. And we are bringing our employees every step of the way, keeping them engaged and excited for what the future has to offer and, in doing so, building authentic ambassadors for what we’re working to accomplish.
It’s that kind of change that’s truly electrifying.
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