When I read “Volkswagen Confirms Summer Launch For ID.3, Says It Will Cost Less Than Gas/Diesel Models,” I only thought: “Wow, price parity sooner than I expected.” An hour later, I thought: “Wait a second, better product, lower price” — that causes what is known as the “Osborne effect.”
Volkswagen has been saying for at least three years that the ID.3 is the successor for the Golf line, but my expectation was a gradual replacement. Reason: the cost of batteries, the public needing time to get used to the idea of electric driving, the factories needed to be converted, battery production ramping, building the charging infrastructure, and all the other sound reasons to transition in a controlled way.
In the history of Volkswagen, this is only the third main model. The VW Beetle reigned until the mid ’60s, when the decline began. The sales plummeted entering the ’70s. For years, VW tried to launch other models, but none could take over the role of the Beetle. Volkswagen was essentially a one-model carmaker. With the Beetle reaching end of life without a successor, VW needed a bailout from the government.
In the early ’70s, VW decided to use a completely new architecture — from air-cooled rear-engine, rear-wheel drive to water-cooled front-wheel-drive with an engine in front. In high succession, VW launched the Passat (1973), the Scirocco (1974), the Golf (1974), and the Polo (1975). The main complaint from the automotive press was that VW launched the cars too fast after each other. With three models competing for the Car of the Year trophy in the same year, the points for Volkswagen were distributed over those models and the trophy went to the Citroen CX.
The Passat, Golf, and Polo have defined Volkswagen for the last 46 years. Now that generation has a successor in the ID.# family of models. Just like in the early ’70s, this is a radical new concept, a transition forced by the change in the market. Fifty years ago, the technology of the Beetle was outdated. Now, again, the technology of the Passat, Golf, and Polo family is past its prime. Only, this time, Volkswagen is in time with the new architecture, not needing a bailout to develop and launch it.
The Passat and Polo successors are still in the concept phase. The Passat successor will share the platform with the Golf successor ID.3. The Polo successor will use the platform for the A- and B-segment that is now being developed by Seat.
Not all the Golf models will disappear overnight. The price comparison is for compatible models. Those are the sporty models with high torque and an automatic transmission. Those are the top-of-the-line Golf models. Those are also the high-margin models.
It will be an interesting time for the VW dealers. Lots of customers interested in the new car. Many will buy it, even more will ask for more range, faster charging, and a lower price. The sales of the models that made VW the biggest carmaker in the world will get a hit.
Asking a lower price for a better product, VW opened Pandora’s box. Half a century ago, the company replaced a single model with a family of three mass-market models. Now it has only a single model to replace that family. Volkswagen Group has to launch the other ID.# models again in high succession.
Will VW have again too many models in the Car of the Year finale to win the trophy?