Volkswagen is pretty pleased with itself. Its factory in Zwickau is using renewable energy to manufacture fully electric cars, it is lowering emissions in its distribution network, it is building a new EV production line in Tennessee, and it is partnering with Microsoft to create autonomous driving systems. But it is not resting on its laurels. Here are three stories from today’s newswire that all relate to the company and its efforts to push the EV revolution forward.
ID. Buzz Timelines
Germany’s magazine Edison reports the ID. Buzz — the all-electric spiritual successor to the iconic VW Microbus — may use a 100 kWh battery and have a range of up to 500 kilometers (WLTP). The Google translation is especially lumpy for this story, but here’s the gist:
800 ABB robots have been installed at the company’s Hannover factory to assemble the ID. Buzz and its battery pack, with production scheduled to begin in February 2022. The first examples are expected to find their way into the hands of Volkswagen dealers in Germany in July of next year.
The Hannover factory currently builds commercial vehicles, particularly the T6 and T7 vans. The ID. Buzz will be assembled alongside those conventional products (the T7 has a plug-in hybrid powertrain available) so that the production mix can be adjusted as needed to meet demand. It is based on the MEB electric car platform and will be 4.7 meters long. Inside, there will be seating for up to 7 passengers — 2 in front, 2 in the middle, and 3 in the rear. With all the powertrain components mounted beneath the floor, load carrying capacity should be ample.
Visually, the production version is quite faithful to the concept first unveiled in 2017. Reportedly, Volkswagen will stick with the ID. Buzz name rather than ID. Bulli, because if you are in marketing, “buzz” is what it’s all about. The buzz about the ID. Buzz has been growing stronger ever since the concept was first unveiled.
A dual-motor, all-wheel-drive version may be offered but probably won’t appear until two years after the start of production. The least expensive version will come with a 60 kWh battery, a 125kW (170HP/PS) motor, and a range of 300 kilometers (WLTP). A panel van will be offered for delivery customers as well as a long chassis version with greater cargo capacity.
Prices before incentives are expected to start at €40,000 and increase to more than €60,000 for the long-wheel-base, dual-motor version with the largest battery. Americans salivating over the ID. Buzz will have to wait a little longer. The decision has been made to only offer the long-wheel-base version in the US and deliveries are not expected to begin before the 2nd quarter of 2023.
The Trinity Project
Volkswagen has always had a bit of an image problem. The name itself means “people’s car,” and since the very first Beetle, its core business has been producing cars for the masses, yet it yearns to compete with the likes of Mercedes and BMW in the premium segment. It has Audi and Porsche in its corporate stable, but still the desire lingers to make the Volkswagen name synonymous with the best the automotive world has to offer.
In 2002, the company unveiled its Phaeton sedan, a 12 cylinder car intended to stamp Volkswagen’s authority on the luxury car market. In Greek mythology, Phaeton was the son of Helios, the god who drove a chariot bearing the sun across the sky every day. Over time, the name came to stand for any vehicle — either horse drawn or gas powered — that offered sumptuous transportation. The Volkswagen Phaeton was quietly cancelled after several years of low sales and high maintenance costs.
Now the company says it wants to create an all-electric luxury car based on a new Scalable Systems Platform. According to Autoblog, it’s all part of Volkswagen’s new Accelerate program, which has four components — electrification, software defined products, new data-based business models, and autonomous driving. “In the coming years, we will change Volkswagen as never before,” said CEO Ralf Brandstätter in a press release.
The car itself is scheduled to appear in 2025. Few details have been released except for a concept drawing that shows a swoopy roofline. The company claims it will have long range and fast charging capability equal to the time needed to fill the tank of a conventional car. (Might that be a hint that the solid state batteries QuantumScape is working on will be production ready by then?) It will debut with Level 2+ autonomy but with the hardware for Level 4 technology baked in. The company says it will be the first Volkswagen to be part of a “fully networked vehicle fleet over which vehicles will continuously exchange data [on] traffic, obstacles, or accidents.” If that reminds you of a certain California car company that starts with the letter T, you’re not alone.
That last part may be the real news. Autoblog says Trinity is “supposed to lead Volkswagen into the financial promised land, taking the company out of the low margin business of manufacturing and into a new business model that offers the rich returns of software as a service,” as Volkswagen move to “new, data-based business models” that “generates additional revenue in the usage phase.”
Okay, what in the world does that mean? The company says future vehicles may have far fewer hardware configurations. Years ago, Detroit figured out it was cheaper to just add air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, and other features to every vehicle. Volkswagen may contemplate something similar with the Trinity, which could allow drivers to choose all wheel drive or extra power on a “fee for service” basis. Sharp-eyed readers may immediately think of a recent suggestion from Tesla that it may offer its Full Self Driving technology on a subscription basis.
VW says, “The cars will … have virtually everything on board and customers will be able to activate desired functions ‘on demand’ at any time via the digital ecosystem in the car.” Autoblog speculates drivers could select GTI level power, electronic damper tuning, or more sporting steering response simply by touching the appropriate buttons on their car’s touchscreen. Customers who want a less expensive automobile could simply choose a package that excludes certain performance or convenience options.
Ralf Brandstätter says, “In the future, the individual configuration of the vehicle will no longer be determined by the hardware at the time of purchase. Instead, customers will be able to add functions on demand at any time.” To which, Autoblog replies, somewhat tongue in cheek, “Your monthly vehicle usage charges could exceed your car payment. A brave new future indeed.”
EU Support For EV Manufacturing In Spain?
Finally, the government of Spain announced last week it will use funding from then EU to create a public-private partnership between SEAT and Spanish utility company Iberdrola with the goal of building the country’s first factory for EV batteries. SEAT branded cars are currently built in Germany and Slovakia, but Volkswagen said last year it is considering building a small electric car (the ID.1?) in Spain as early at 2025 — provided public support for the idea is forthcoming.
According to Reuters, Volkswagen Group chairman Herbert Diess was in Spain on Friday and told an audience that included King Felipe and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that his company wants a firm commitment from Brussels to support the manufacture of electric cars in Spain. Diess added the potential project would include battery production and receive the EU’s pandemic recovery funds, but stressed more backing was needed.
“We hope for the willingness of the European Commission to let this flagship project of historic importance for Spain and Europe become reality,” Diess said. “The successful transformation of the Spanish auto industry will hinge upon a clear commitment by the European Commission.” SEAT chairman Wayne Griffiths said his company is seeking a broad alliance with Iberdrola, phone operator Telefonica, and Caixabank, as well as other Spanish companies, to meet its electric mobility goal.
Diess’ remarks were somewhat cryptic regarding exactly what Volkswagen expects the EU to do to promote EV production in Spain, but if you guessed it has something to do with a hefty chunk of change, you probably wouldn’t be too far wrong.
No matter how you slice it, Volkswagen is taking the bull by the horns when it comes to producing electric cars and figuring out new ways to monetize them. The only other company that is anywhere near as creative in figuring out what the EV revolution will look like is Tesla. Volkswagen couldn’t have picked a better role model.