Volkswagen EV Chief: We Want to Lead in Electrification

By · January 08, 2013

VW electric Golfs

A small fleet of all-electric e-Golfs at the VW's Electronics Research Laboratory in Silicon Valley. The e-Golf will be introduced as VW's first EV in the United States in 2014.

In a presentation to a small group of journalists, Volkswagen executives on Monday revealed the company’s roadmap for electric vehicles. The meeting took place in Belmont, Calif., at VW’s Electronics Research Laboratory. “We want to become the leader in electrification,” said Dr. Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen Group chief officer for electric traction.

Dr. Krebs said that Volkswagen’s internal combustion vehicles have become more efficient in recent years, but will not be enough to achieve the auto industry’s environmental goals. “There will be a gap and it can only be closed with electrification,” he said.

Dr. Krebs also revealed that, two years ago, the VW Group set an internal target of having plug-in electric cars—a mix of pure battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids—represent 3 percent of sales by 2018. He confirmed that the Volkswagen e-up! would go into production in mid-2013, and go on sale in Europe in fall 2013.

The e-up!, a small all-electric commuter car, will not be sold in the United States, according to Dr. Krebs. An all-electric version of the VW Golf will go into production in early 2014—and will be sold in 2014 in the United States. The e-Golf and other future plug-in models will be sold in multiple U.S. markets, not just California. Further details about these two all-electric models were not provided.

Dr. Krebs pointed to limited driving range as “the basic problem” with pure EVs. He said that VW will put a lot of emphasis on plug-in hybrids in a range of vehicle segments. When asked if plug-in hybrids would be offered in large vehicles as well as small cars, he replied, “Why not?”

A Roadmap Full of Plug-in Hybrids

A PowerPoint slide displayed to the five journalists in attendance showed a plug-in hybrid version of the Porsche 918 Spyder going into production in 2013—followed by no fewer than six plug-in hybrids beginning in 2014. That list included plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi A3, Audi A6, Audi A8, Audi Q7, as well as PHEV variants of the VW Golf and Passat. This lineup would be added to—rather than replacing—the VW e-up! and e-Golf that will be introduced in Europe in later this year. He did not specify how many of the future PHEVs would be sold in the United States—but gave the impression that VW was seeking a leadership role in plug-in cars in all global markets, in order to achieve the 3-percent target in five years.

VW electrification roadmap

VW's slide outlining the company's electrification roadmap.

Volkswagen plug-in hybrids will have about 35 or 40 miles of all-electric range. Dr. Krebs said that according to VW’s analysis, a battery electric vehicle carries five times the cost of a conventional internal combustion model. He called plug-in hybrids an “interim solution” that by reducing the size of the battery would allow VW to produce full-range plug-in hybrid vehicles at the same cost as battery electric cars.

Dr. Krebs ruled out the possibility of VW bringing battery manufacturing in-house—explaining that relying on suppliers would allow the flexibility to choose the right battery chemistry and packaging, and to switch suppliers if necessary, as the technology evolves. He ruled out the use of commodity cells, which Volkswagen had been exploring (and which Tesla Motors utilizes for its vehicles). Dr. Krebs said that the use of commodity 18650 cells required additional housing, connections and parts that made them less cost-effective on a kilowatt-hour basis than automotive grade lithium ion cells.

VW will also rely on strategic partnerships for a range of charging solutions and other connected and smart-grid services required by EVs, as well as solar solutions that work well with electric vehicles. “We have to think beyond the car,” he said.

Although the eUp! will be offered in the Europe, but not the United States, Dr. Krebs did not see a fundamental difference between how European and American consumers view EVs—except that he believes U.S. consumers are more cost sensitive.

Executives reiterated the company’s goal of becoming the world’s number one seller of automobiles by 2018, explaining that electric mobility was a “game-changer” for the industry.

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