With its executives around the world still under investigation into the Dieselgate scandal and both the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unsatisfied with its official proposals on how to bring hundreds of thousands of noncompliant diesel-engined cars in line with NOx emissions requirements, things aren’t exactly easy for German automaker Volkswagen right now.
Eager to recast itself as a responsible, forward-thinking company, Volkswagen has issued profuse apologies for Dieselgate and a promise that things will be different from now on. These statements have become a standard trope of any official (and unofficial) Volkswagen conversation. So far, as Volkswagen’s participation in CES 2016 showed earlier this month, the company does appear sincere about that promise — committing to a future where it makes and sells more electrified vehicles than ever before.
On Monday, new Volkswagen CEO Mattias Müller went one step further, promising that the automaker would bring a total of twenty different models to market in the next four years that have either an all-electric, or plug-in hybrid, drivetrain.
The announcement, made at Volkswagen’s annual New Year’s reception in Brussels, was accompanied by a plea from Müller to European legislators to help lay the foundation needed to advance the development of autonomous vehicles, advanced vehicle connectivity, and electric vehicles. Without the correct framework in place, he argued, Silicon Valley — where many automakers already have their own research and development centers — would be the only place where advanced vehicle development takes place.
“The efforts of our industry alone won’t be enough,” he told the assembled guests. “We need to work together to make sure that Europe remains innovative and competitive as an industrial location in a rapidly changing world.”
“We must not leave this playing field to Silicon Valley,” he continued. “A true breakthrough for electric mobility will only be achieved if politics, society and authorities work together more closely.”
Referring to the Dieselgate scandal Müller said that Volkswagen was committed to using “the current crisis to fundamentally realign the [Volkswagen] Group.” In addition to Volkswagen-brand cars, the Volkswagen Group includes other automotive brands like Audi, Porsche, Seat, Škoda, Lamborghini and Bentley, as well as motorcycle brand Ducati and truck brands MAN and Scania. While it’s unlikely that the Volkswagen group plans to do much in the way of electric or plug-in vehicles to Lamborghini, Bentley, Ducati or either of its truck brands, Monday’s announcement does indicate the rest should be getting new plug-in models very soon.
As to what we can expect of the twenty new promised models? If we assume that they will all use Volkswagen’s recently-announced MEB toolkit — a new modular technical package designed to bring electric and plug-in hybrid drivetrains to Volkswagen compact cars — we could see new plug-in cars capable of the same kind of performance and range as the Volkswagen BUDD-e concept we saw in Las Vegas earlier this month.
That vehicle, while a concept car, included a 230-mile claimed range using the same test cycle used in EPA testing, a sub 7-second 0-60 mph time, and all-wheel drive capabilities, as well as a recharge time of 30 minutes from empty to 80 percent full using a new, more powerful CCS quick charger.
It isn’t the only car we’ve seen from the Volkswagen group with those kind of specifications, either. Indeed, in the past few months two other cars from Volkswagen group — the Audi Q6 e-tron quattro and the Porsche Mission-E — seem to have a similar set of specifications to the BUDD-e. Both models are expected to launch before 2020.
But while Volkswagen does seem to be serious about its commitment to plug-in vehicles, we should at least caution readers about exactly what is meant by the promise of 20 new plug-in vehicles by 2020, because we’re guessing some of those 20 vehicles will actually be duplications of several core models, redistributed across different brands.
For example, the Volkswagen Up city car — sold in Europe as both a gasoline-powered vehicle and an electric car — is produced by Volkswagen as the Seat Mii and the Škoda Citigo. While only Volkswagen offers the all-electric variant (sold as the e-Up) it’s concievable that the Volkswagen group is looking to produce multiple plug-in models in the future for different brands based on the same core vehicle.
And while that would technically mean 20 new plug-in models will launch, spread over multiple different brands, the core number of vehicles being developed may be less than the 20 promised.
Why is this important? In Europe, where Volkswagen sells Škoda, Seat, Volkswagen and Audi models, the same physical vehicle could be available with four different badges and four different identities. In markets like North America, where only Audi and Volkswagen brands are known, consumer choice could be less.
We should note here that our theory is just that — a theory. But based on what we know of the Volkswagen group and the way its vehicles are sold under different badges, we’d be very surprised if the cash-strapped German automaker is planning to launch twenty distinct and separate models with plug-in drivetrains in just four years.
As always, we’ll be keen to find out if we’re right — or wrong.
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