Thanks to its admitted corner-cutting and clandestine attempts to circumvent various emissions test standards around the world, German automaker Volkswagen is facing some pretty big financial commitments in the near future.
There are billions of dollars of fines to be paid for selling vehicles whose tailpipe emissions did not meet international standards. Then it has to fund the necessary work needed to bring those millions of emissions non-compliant cars up to standard. And of course, the inevitable compensation claims and class action lawsuits which need to be paid.
To protect itself from financial ruin, VW has been forced to undertake some massive restructuring, changing its future product focus and promising cleaner, greener vehicles. It has even shelved or pushed back production plans for some new models, channeling money into clearing up the dieselgate mess once and for all as well as accelerating its electrified vehicle development program.
Given its promise to shift focus towards electrified vehicles then, you’d be forgiven for thinking the next-generation Volkswagen Phaeton luxury sedan — a car VW has already confirmed will be offered as an all-electric, long-range model — would be rushed to market as quickly as possible. Yet as Autocar confirmed last week, even a zero-emission electric car with the potential to cross-shop against the Tesla Model S is suffering the dreaded cutbacks.
Talking with VW CEo Matthias Müller, the British magazine explained that VW is currently cancelling or temporarily halting any project not deemed essential to the future of the brand. With financial firefighting in full force however, even projects which are essential are finding themselves slowed.
While the full-size luxury sedan has been labeled as essential to VW’s future, financial constraints mean that it is unlikely we’ll see the next-generation all-electric Phaeton reach dealer lots until 2020.
Referred to by VW as “the flagship of the brand’s profile over the next decade,” it is promised to have next-generation connectivity and driver assistance systems, as well as an all-electric drivetrain capable of long-distance travel.
But with money so tight, VW risks losing out to other automakers with more capital, bringing a car to market with long-distance and autonomous-drive capabilities after its major competitors.
Insiders tell Autocar that the future model will share its drivetrain, platform and battery technology with the as-yet unnamed all-electric Audi SUV debuted as the Audi e-tron Quattro at the Frankfurt Motor Show this fall.
That vehicle was recently confirmed by Audi as entering production for 2018, and should — if specifications remain the same between show concept and production model — offer an all-wheel drivetrain powered by three electric motors producing a total of around 320 kilowatts. Range meanwhile should be in excess of 300 miles on the overly-optimistic NEDC test cycle, while 150 kilowatt CCS quick charging will come as standard.
Both the Audi’s e-tron quattro and next-generation VW Phaeton are expected to include the latest iteration of Volkswagen Group’s Piloted Driving software. With Tesla already offering its autopilot beta features to owners of its Model S and Model X luxury electric cars and other brands all clamoring to bring autonomous, long-range cars to market by 2020 however, VW could lose out.
Another ‘essential’ project for VW, but one which could find itself the victim of the same financial constraints, is development of a next-generation modular electric toolkit. Called the MEB, it would allow VW Group companies to develop a range of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles capable of real-world ranges of between 100 and 250 miles per charge without requiring significant reengineering for each new model.
Yet as VW’s fines race upwards and the true impact of the dieselgate scandal begins to make itself known, VW’s new push for electrified vehicles may be hindered by the very thing most electric automakers don’t have to think about: tailpipe emissions.
Is there a solution? You bet — and it’s VW’s existing plug-in vehicle lineup.
While the Volkswagen e-Up isn’t a car many outside Europe would buy, the all-electric e-Golf and plug-in hybrid Golf GTE — not to mention its VW Passat GTE — could give the brand some significant environmental kudos if backed by a substantial marketing program.
At the moment, only the e-Golf is available outside of Europe, but making all three models available around the world — and aggressively pricing them to encourage buyers to snap them up — could put Volkswagen in a much healthier position.
Even a battery upgrade similar to Nissan’s recent 30 kWh upgrade to the 2016 Nissan LEAF is conceivable.
But with the e-Golf given lacklustre attention at most dealerships and no concerted marketing campaign from VW, waiting for the Phaeton EV to save the brand may be too little too late.
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