Growing Pains At Volkswagen: Faster Charging, Better Tech, But Were The Early Cars Inadequate?

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Herbert Diess, who last we heard is still CEO of Volkswagen Group, took to LinkedIn this week to enthuse about how good the next major software update coming next spring will be. Here’s what he had to say:

I had the privilege to test drive next year’s software update of our ID. models. Very exciting experience! As a car engineer, it is so new and motivating that you are able to improve a product that is already in the hands of the customer.

We will offer the version 3.0 starting next spring! It will use cloud swarm data collected by almost 500,000 VW cars over 1.2 billion kilometers to improve the travel assist. This is the basis for the future of automated driving. The customer experience is just so much better: The update increases the charging performance — for the 77 kWh battery — from 125 to 135 kW and cuts the charging time by up to 9 minutes when charging from 5 to 80%.

A touch of the turning light lets you automatically change lanes on highways. The multi-stop route planning optimizes charging further on your daily ways. The augmented reality head-up display as well as the ID. Light have been improved with additional features. The new presentation of driving lanes on the display is outstanding. The park assist automates the parking process even further. And as a direct reaction to our customers’ feedback, the performance of the voice control has been improved significantly.

Looking further ahead into the year 2022, we will offer features such as bi-directional charging and plug & charge!  Continuous updates for our cars on the road are the new normal for Volkswagen Passenger Cars & CARIAD! Very proud of the teams!

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Autocar reports the ID.5 GTX will be able to charge even faster — up to 150 kW — because the batteries it uses are sourced from a different supplier. It also has some further tidbits about the coming updates, which it says will include a new battery care mode that will limit charging to 80% of battery capacity. If this new “feature” prevents people from charging to 100% or nearly so on road trips, that is not happy news and may create a ruckus when people find out about it.

The bi-directional charging feature is welcome news. Assuming the owner has a wall charger that supports bi-directional charging, the car’s battery can be connected to the grid to help stabilize it during peak demand periods, which could actually generate some revenue. In addition, it will allow the car to act like a residential storage battery at times and to charge from a rooftop solar array if one is available. This is exciting stuff that hopefully presages a new world of electricity in which microgrids begin to replace traditional grid distribution paradigms.

Elke Temme, the charging and energy boss of Volkswagen Group Components, tells Autocar, “Bi-directional charging is a major boost to sustainability, because it turns cars into mobile power banks. Customers will be able to contribute to sustainability, but it will also be good for their wallet. If you do it right, you will effectively be able to charge your car for free at times.”

Finally, the upcoming software package will introduce a “plug and charge” authentication option, which means ID. models plugged into compatible networks will begin to charge directly with no need for a credit card. Tesla has been doing this for years with its Supercharger network and it simplifies the charging experience tremendously. It’s good to see Volkswagen adding it as an option for its ID. customers.

Something Rotten In Denmark?

Not all the news this week in VW Land is happy, however. Danish news source DR is reporting that Volkswagen may have rushed its early ID.3 cars to market before they were fully sorted out in order to avoid billions in fines. “We have never ever launched a product where we have been so plagued by errors on the first shipment,” Mads Nør Lauvring, the former director of Volkswagen Denmark, tells DR. It reports that when the first ID.3s hit the road in Denmark in September, 2020, there were massive problems with them. Some would not start or could not be put into gear. Electronic keys were not recognized by the cars. Screens froze, were completely obscured, or displayed a variety of error messages.

Ferdinand Dudenhöffer is a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen and director of the Center for Automotive Research. He tells DR, “Volkswagen went way too fast. The development of the car came too late again. Too many cars had to be sold, and that led to these big problems.” He suggests that Volkswagen rushed a lot of cars out the door and into the hands of customers in order to avoid potential fines from the EU for missing exhaust emission standards.

“In 2020, there was a significant tightening of the rules. It forced car manufacturers to sell electric cars. At the same time, they made it extra attractive to sell an electric car by letting them count twice in the climate accounts,” says Jeppe Juul, who is a senior adviser at the Council for Green Conversion.

According to PA Consulting, Volkswagen saved more than $20,000 in fines for every electric car sold in 2020. Multiplying by the number of EVs sold by Volkswagen in Europe that year, it avoided more than $5 billion in fines. “Volkswagen fines would have been huge. We are talking about billions if they did not reach these limits. And having to pay billions in fines would mean that Volkswagen’s profits would be very small, and that public criticism would be very great. They would be exposed as environmental sinners,” Dudenhöffer says.

DR asked Juul if it is possible Volkswagen sold unfinished electric cars to save on climate fines from the EU. “I do not know specifically whether it has been on the drawing board at Volkswagen, but it is clear that there is a significant risk that this is what happened,” he replied.

Volkswagen Denmark acknowledges there were massive problems with early ID.3 cars, especially the ID.3 1st. “We have never launched a product where we have been so bothered by errors on the first shipment, and I’m really sorry,” said Mads Nør Lauvring. “We were not ready to deal with these things. We would not have thought in our wildest imagination we could see such technical challenges with the first cars we got a year ago.”

Asked if the company pushed cars out the door and into the hands of consumers in order to avoid fines, he said, “I can understand if anyone thinks so. But it was not the intention on our part nor on the part of the factory. Of course, there has been a focus on getting as many cars as possible from the Volkswagen Group, and I have of course done everything I could to sell these cars.” Lauvring is the former head of Volkswagen Denmark. You can probably figure out why.

DR contacted Volkswagen for an explanation and got this press office happy-talk in response, “The ID.3s were and are fully functional and safe to drive, and they met all the requirements that Volkswagen has set for their vehicle safety. With the first update, we improved the provision of convenience features and display systems, as well as added new, additional features to the vehicle.”

CleanTechnica readers may remember reports of ID.3s sitting in lots throughout Germany for months in 2020 while the company struggled to make the software in the cars function correctly. We don’t know what was in the hearts of Volkswagen managers in 2020, but there is something that smells rotten here. If nothing else, it shows that manufacturing electric cars takes far more than ripping out the infernal combustion engine and shoving a battery pack under the floor.

Volkswagen is doing a good job of selling competitive electric cars, but may have left some unhappy customers behind on its way to becoming an EV company. We may never know how close Volkswagen came to failing in its bid to become a global EV manufacturer.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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