WICKAU, GERMANY - Volkswagen started production of its first high-volume electric car, the ID.3 hatchback, this week.

The car is meant to establish electric vehicles as big business for the world's largest carmaker, and form the basis of other electric VW models.

"We are on the brink of a system change to e-mobility," VW chief executive Herbert Diess said.

Issues such as e-mobility, the future of jobs and autonomous driving were be discussed on Monday evening at a "car summit" in Berlin bringing together politicians and representatives from the car industry.

During the ID.3 production launch at VW's Zwickau plant, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that "substantial efforts" would be made by the government to expand the charging infrastructure for electric cars in Germany.

"We believe that we have to politically flank this," she said, while also noting that the car and energy industries need to do their part too.

The "car summit" is meant to deliver a concrete plan on the expansion of charging points for electric cars. A nationwide network is seen as an important prerequisite for electric cars to break through on the mass market. 

With around 21 000 publicly accessible charging points in Germany currently, the government has a long way to go before reaching its 2030 goal of providing 1 million charging points.

VW plans to produce around 100 000 vehicles in Zwickau next year featuring its Modular Electric Drive toolkit - a number that is due to reach up to 330 000 per year in the medium-term.

The ID.3 will be available for purchase in Europe from mid-2020. Around 35 000 cars have already been reserved by international clients, according to VW.

Starting in 2021, the company plans to build only electric cars at its Zwickau plant. Six models for three of the VW Group's brands are foreseen. Its plants in the German cities of Emdem and Hannover are also due to start building electric cars in 2022.

The company is investing billions of euros in the transition from combustion engines to alternative motors.

Thomas Ulbrich, the VW brand board member for e-mobility, spoke of the beginning of a new era "for the plant, for Volkswagen, but also a bit for the German automobile industry."

The Zwickau plant, which has around 8000 employees, is being converted into Germany's first electric car factory as production continues.

Bernd Osterloh, the head of the VW workers' council, expressed optimism that the ID.3 will catch on with customers. VW is offering an electric vehicle at the price of a diesel Golf, he noted.

dpa