The Prolonged Wait for Volkswagen Electric Vehicles

By · July 03, 2018

Volkswagen I.D. concept

The Volkswagen I.D. concept is equipped with a 168-horsepower electric motor and provides a range of about 250 miles.

The UK’s Autocar website reported this week that Volkswagen could introduce an all-electric four-door version of its iconic Beetle. The model, if given the green light, would use Volkswagen’s MEB electric-vehicle architecture, the underpinning of an entire line of VW EVs going into production as soon as next year. VW design boss Klaus Bischoff said the company will focus first on electric cars with the highest potential for sales in the next year or two—before deciding on an electric Beetle.

Volkswagen continues to garner headlines for concept and one-off electric vehicles while remaining a marginal player in the current EV market.

In a recent example of marketing hype with limited real-world consequence, a Volkswagen I.D. R electric car in late June traveled to the top of Pikes Peak in 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds—becoming the first car to complete the historic hillclimb race in less than eight minutes. Graham Kozak, the features editor at Autoweek, commented in Automotive News that the I.D. R’s record-setting race at Pikes Peak was “the moment you should have started to take electric vehicles seriously.”

Kozak is coming late to this realization, as nearly 1 million American consumers are now driving plug-in electric vehicles; Chinese drivers could buy more than 1 million electric cars this year alone; and nearly every major automaker is preparing to produce multiple long-range EVs. Kozak has good reason to be skeptical about a mass shift to electrification—based on Volkswagen’s track record of EV hype.

Here We Go Again

It’s been seven years since we reported that Martin Winterkorn, then Volkswagen’s chairman, said, “In the future, the heart of Volkswagen will also beat with electricity.” In that speech from 2011, Winterkorn made an opaque reference to the original Beetle, proclaiming that “Volkswagen is working on the electric car for everyone.” (On May 3, 2018, Winterkorn was criminally indicted on charges of fraud and conspiracy in the emissions cheating scandal.)

Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen Group chief officer for electric traction, said this in January 2013: “We want to become the leader in electrification.” We were among a group of five journalists that met with Krebs at VW’s Electronics Research Laboratory in Belmont, Calif. where he outlined a plan to produce about a half-dozen plug-in hybrids, each with a range of 35 to 40 miles on a single charge.

Five years later, VW offers the all-electric E-Golf—providing 125 miles of driving range—as well as the Audi A3 e-tron and Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, plug-in hybrids with an all-electric range of 16 and 14 miles respectively. These two vehicles, the only three plug-in models available from VW in the United States, sell in low quantities of a few hundred units per month.

Despite the mismatch between bold proclamations and meager real output, VW continues to assert that multiple long-range electric cars are coming soon.

Volkswagen unveiled its all-electric I.D. Concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show and its I.D. Crozz crossover concept in Shanghai in April 2017. The four-door I.D. Crozz, displayed in Shanghai, is expected to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. It is slated for production in 2020.

A year ago, a leaked slide presentation revealed that two more new models would be heading to the US as soon as 2020. The two models, the I.D. Lounge and I.D. AEROe, appeared to be a full-sized SUV and a small hatchback respectively. That would bring the tally of upcoming long-range VW electric vehicles to five. “For us, the three prototypes of this new generation of zero-emission vehicles—I.D., I.D. Buzz and I.D. Crozz—mark the start of a design and technology revolution that is going to change individual mobility and the Volkswagen brand forever,” said Klaus Bischoff, Volkswagen’s design chief, in 2017.

With each new announcement about an innovative future EV from VW—this week about a Beetle-based electric car—plug-in fans and other observers are asked to forget about past announcements that failed to materialize and to believe that Volkswagen will finally deliver on its electric promises.

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