Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller has taken to the airwaves again to emphasize the company’s refocus on electric cars, as well as “mobility services” like carsharing, ridesharing, etc.
This is not the first time Mueller and other Volkswagen execs have indicated that they would shift toward an ambitious, leading (… potentially) launch into electrification in the wake of its diesel scandal, but the fact that they keep making such strong statements on the matter makes me think they are for real about it.
During the annual new conference last night, Mueller indicated that his aim was to “make electric cars one of Volkswagen’s new hallmarks.” He also reiterated a target announced last year and repeated in January: to electrify 20 models by 2020. How much these models are fully electric cars versus plug-in hybrids (with small batteries) is not yet clear, but let’s hope many of them will be long-range electric cars built electric from the ground up.
As I stated earlier today when discussing Ford’s positive electric car news, there are several things that Volkswagen should be doing if it wants to really be a leader and be taken seriously in this new clean-car arena:
- include super-fast charging (not just “fast” charging) … and assuming it isn’t building out a real, comprehensive network for that (we’ve seen zero sign of anyone other than Tesla doing so), just suck it up and partner with Tesla on this.
- include over-the-air updates that will improve the car for owners over time, and allow quicker/easier service and even recalls.
- get serious about autonomous driving features.
These are all things we learned buyers hugely value, as shown in our Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want report.
Regarding the diesel scandal that has been the Volkswagen story of the century, and Volkswagen’s financials relating to that, the Associated Press summarizes:
The company said last week that it made a net loss of 5.5 billion euros for 2015 after setting aside 16.2 billion euros ($18.3 billion) to cover the costs of the scandal. Analysts say the final cost will be significantly higher.
Of the set-aside for the scandal, 7.8 billion euros ($8.8 billion) was devoted to fixing or buying back diesels with the rigged software. The company is currently working out a settlement with U.S. authorities in federal court in San Francisco, and has said that would include an offer to buy back as many as 500,000 of the just under 600,000 defective vehicles.
The company said its robust cash reserves of 24.5 billion euros at year end left it in a strong financial position. Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter said that the company would not propose any capital increase to shareholders at its annual meeting in June.
I think Volkswagen will squeeze through this, even if it needs to be propped up by the German government a bit to do so, but let’s hope the strong penalties and moral shaming will genuinely turn the giant car company into a genuine electric car leader. Again, though, that means more than just producing long-range electric cars — that means being a leader in the EV ecosystem and in leading tech like autonomous driving.
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