As Dieselgate Investigations Continue, Volkswagen Shifts Attention to Electric, Plug-in Hybrid Cars

Ever since it admitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it had built certain model-year diesel-engined cars with devices in them designed to cheat tough emissions testing but then emit up to 40 times the legal NOx limit when driven on the public highway, German automaker Volkswagen has been in something of a free fall.

Volkswagen says it's going to focus on more electrified vehicles in the aftermath of dieselgate.

Volkswagen says it’s going to focus on more electrified vehicles in the aftermath of dieselgate.

Indeed, with shares in Volkswagen AG now worth less than half the value they held this past spring, Volkswagen is keen to not only cut costs and fix the 11 million non-compliant diesel cars on the roads but also repair its previous public image as an environmentally-conscious company.

Today, we learned of Volkswagen’s prime strategy to do that: a major switch from diesel engine technology to an major development push in the area of plug-in and all-electric vehicles. At the same time, it confirmed its next-generation Volkswagen Phaeton full-size luxury sedan would be redefined as a long-range, 100-percent electric car.

The announcement, made this morning by new Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess, details a move away from much of Volkswagen’s prior diesel engine technology, alongside an investment cut of one billion euro per year in favor of focusing on modular electric drivetrains that can be fitted to a variety of Volkswagen vehicles.

“The Volkswagen brand is repositioning itself for the future. We are becoming more efficient, we are giving our product range and our core technologies a new focus, and we are creating room for forward-looking technologies by speeding up the efficiency program,” Diess said in an official statement.

VW says only diesel models with SCR and AdBlue will be sold from now on in Europe and the U.S.

VW says only diesel models with SCR and AdBlue will be sold from now on in Europe and the U.S.

Of the diesel engines which lay at the heart of the dieselgate scandal, Diess confirmed that from this point forward, the only diesel-powered Volkswagen models on sale in the U.S. and Europe will be fitted with both selective catalytic reduction and AdBlue urea injection systems in their exhausts to reduce overall NOx tailpipe emissions. Interestingly however, no mention was made to other market areas. Given vehicular emissions is a global issue — not one that is governed by or respects national boundaries — we’d like to point out that Volkswagen’s commitment to end sales of its non SCR AdBlue vehicles will only be truly worthwhile if all VW follows suit in all markets.

Leaving this troubling differentiation behind, the rest of Volkswagen’s Board Meeting today will be of interest to plug-in fans who have long hoped VW would expand its electrified offerings, as it outlined a major expansion to the Volkswagen MQB modular platform electric drivetrain options.

Launched back in 2012, the Volkswagen MQB platform is Volkswagen’s internal name for a modular construction process used for all of its transverse, front-engined, front-wheel drive vehicles. At the heart of the MQB platform is a common set of drivetrain and powerplant mounting points, allowing Volkswagen to rapidly respond to changes in market trends for different fuel technologies without requiring it to completely redesign each and every car it sells.

Existing models, such as the Volkswagen e-Golf will likely get a range increase thanks to the new MEB kit.

Existing models, such as the Volkswagen e-Golf will likely get a range increase thanks to the new MEB kit.

Indeed, the MQB platform underlies the current Generation Volkswagen Golf, which is offered in a variety of different drivetrain options ranging from the standard gasoline and diesel engines through to all-electric and plug-in hybrid variants. MQB also underpins the European-market Volkswagen Passat, Tiguan and Touran, as well as the Audi A3, Audi TT, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Skoda Superb.

Focusing primarily on plug-in hybrids with range in excess of the 30 or so miles offered by its current plug-in hybrids as well as high-volume all-electric cars with ranges of up to 300 kilometers per charge (186 miles), Volkswagen said its MQB development push will also involve designing new mild hybrid drivetrain systems as well as new gasoline, diesel and CNG engines which it says will be cleaner than before. Missing in that list is any hint of hydrogen fuel cell technology, hinting that perhaps Volkswagen doesn’t believe hydrogen fuel cell technology is ready for the mainstream market yet.

Perhaps the more promising news however is the announcement that Volkswagen has committed to developing a new electric vehicle toolkit called the ‘MEB’ electric toolkit, which it says will be a ‘multi-brand toolkit suitable for both passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.’

At the heart of this kit will be a new drivetrain and standardized mounting system designed which will make it possible for Volkswagen to offer electric versions of any of its current or future vehicles.

Cars like the Cross Blue Concept will also feature prominently.

Cars like the Cross Blue Concept will also feature prominently.

The first vehicle to make use of this new kit? The upcoming refresh of Volkswagen’s full-size luxury car, the Volkswagen Phaeton.

“The Volkswagen Phaeton has embodied the brand’s technological competence and brand ambition from the first generation onward. The future generation of the Phaeton will once again be the flagship for the brand’s profile over the next decade,” Volkswagen’s press release reads. “In light of this, the Board of Management redefined the current project. The specification features a pure electric drive with long-distance capability, connectivity and next- generation assistance systems as well as an emotional design.”

But as we’ve said before, talk is easy. The real measure of Volkswagen’s success in casing off the negative image of dieselgate and a more positive one for the future lies in its ability to rapidly reinvent its brand and its vehicles. That means the launch of new plug-in models in short order.

We’ll be watching to see if that indeed happens or not.



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