BEIJING/FRANKFURT -- Volkswagen Group's world-leading development budget is shifting into overdrive, bolstered by spending at its Chinese joint ventures as the German automaker seeks an edge in producing electric and self-driving vehicles.
Technology investments in the next five years by the JVs will total 15 billion euros ($18 billion), Jochem Heizmann, head of Volkswagen's business in China, said Tuesday at a new-model presentation in Beijing. That amounts to an extra 44 percent on top of the German manufacturer's own spending to create battery-powered, autonomous systems and related wireless services.
"We need to speed up," CEO Herbert Diess said at the event. "Change is getting faster, more dynamic and more ambitious, especially here in China."
Diess replaced Matthias Mueller as CEO two weeks ago to accelerate Volkswagen's revamp for the electric-auto era. The automaker outlined a 34 billion-euro investment plan in November to develop new technology by 2022. Projects include coming out with electric versions of all 300 cars, trucks and buses in its lineup plus adding an all-new set of battery-powered vehicles.
The challenges include developing models that attract buyers, as well as dealing with consumers' changing attitudes toward owning cars. Diess said in a Bloomberg interview with Tom Mackenzie that the industry needs to come up with new skills in areas such as software.
China's government signaled last week that it'll eventually allow foreign automakers to take full ownership of their local ventures, marking the end of a decades-long setup. Eliminating the current 50 percent stake cap will benefit EV producers like Tesla first, with the restriction on such businesses lifting as soon as this year. The limit generally for passenger-car producers will end in 2022.
Volkswagen is "well set up" with its Chinese partnerships and doesn't plan any change in the ventures' ownership, Diess said.