Visitors walk past Volkswagen SUVs outside a mall in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Sept 6. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

To the surprise of many, German carmaker Volkswagen is expected to have a new role as a tree planter in China.

Stephan Woellenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China, said the first tree will be planted in spring.

He said Volkswagen's total area of forestation in the coming decade will reach 40 million square meters, more than double the combined floor area of its 33 plants in the country.

Trees will be planted in 10 ecologically fragile locations in northern China.

Tree planting is part of Volkswagen's comprehensive efforts to tackle climate change as a corporate citizen.

Volkswagen's goal is to become carbon neutral by 2050. In 2018, it became the first carmaker to commit to the Paris Agreement on climate.

"You need a holistic approach, from raw materials, through production, till end-of-life," said Woellenstein. He said decarbonization is a long, complicated and painful task.

You need a holistic approach, from raw materials, through production, till end-of-life.

Stephan Woellenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China

Volkswagen has spent billions of euros to drive the transition. In China, its largest market, it will invest 15 billion euros (US$18.19 billion) between 2020-24 in electrification and digitalization.

In China, the first model based on its electric car-dedicated MEB platform will be shipped to dealers after the Spring Festival holiday.

Woellenstein said another three models based on the platform will join it later this year.

It has built two MEB plants in the country at its joint ventures, FAW-Volkswagen and SAIC Volkswagen. Another that belongs to the third joint venture, Volkswagen Anhui, is to join in 2023.

By 2025, it will have 15 locally produced MEB vehicles in China. It will bring the portion of NEVs in the group's national portfolio to more than one-third.

Audi, a premium wing of Volkswagen, is planning to introduce the PPE platform it developed with Porsche into China.

The first model is expected to roll off the assembly line in 2024 at its joint venture with China's FAW.

"Based on these efforts, we are going to sell 1.5 million NEVs a year in China in 2025," said Woellenstein.

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For Volkswagen, decarbonization means more than just gearing up its e-portfolio.

Frank Engel-the executive vice-president of Volkswagen Group China who is responsible for components, logistics and QA-said the carmaker has been trying its best to cut emissions in production processes.

By the end of 2019, Volkswagen's vehicle production in China required 15 percent less carbon compared with 2015.

He said that energy saving infrastructure helped. At SAIC Volkswagen's MEB plant in Anting, Shanghai, energy consumption fell 20 percent. FAW-Volkswagen's MEB plant in Foshan, Guangdong province, has been an outstanding example as well.

The carmaker's photovoltaic power system across its Chinese plants generated 150 megawatts in 2020. The figure is expected to reach 200 MW in 2022.

"That means around 10 percent of energy used in our plants is solar power," said Engel. He said the group also purchased renewable energy to make sure that power supplies are 100 percent from green sources.

Michael Baecker, Volkswagen Group China's executive vice-president responsible for purchasing, said the company has been working with suppliers on decarbonization.

Volkswagen has a goal that its whole chain of suppliers switch to using renewable energy.

The carmaker is working closely with its partners in China to provide customers with easy and climate-friendly ways to charge their e-vehicles.

Thomas Mueller, the executive vice-president of Volkswagen Group China responsible for research and development, said the carmaker has invested heavily in the segment.

Volkswagen has installed more than 8,000 charging piles at more than 2,000 dealerships across the country.

CAMS-the group's joint venture with Star Charge, JAC and FAW-is offering private charging boxes, as well as a competitive network of public charging stations, to Chinese customers.

The first CAMS superchargers have been installed at prime locations in Beijing, Chengdu in Sichuan province and Shenzhen in Guangdong province. There are a total of 40 supercharging stations.

By the end of 2021, a total of 500 charging stations will be built in 19 major cities across the country. They will offer 3,000 dual-connector charging piles.

Mueller said CAMS is also developing such functions as valet charging, automatic charging as well as fast charging.

Mueller said the carmaker is working to cut emissions of gasoline vehicles as well.

Volkswagen is the most popular car group in China. Last year, it delivered 3.85 million vehicles bearing marques from Volkswagen, Jetta, Audi to Porsche in the country.

It accounted for 19.3 percent of China's total passenger vehicle sales in 2020.

Of them, Audi, Porsche and Bentley saw their sales grow 5.4 percent, 2.6 percent and 48.5 percent respectively from 2019.

Volkswagen expects the group's sales to rebound in 2021 and to grow at a rate faster than the market average.

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