It isn’t easy going green. Volkswagen Group began producing electric cars based on its modular e-chassis, named MEB, in 2019. That platform is flexible enough to be the basis for small city cars, SUVs like the ID.4, and vans like the ID. Buzz. But despite its flexibility, the company was busy developing other platforms custom designed for the sporting needs of brands like Porsche and Audi or for larger vehicles like the rumored Aero sedan.
That was then, when Herbert Diess had his hand on the tiller at Volkswagen Group. This is now. Oliver Blume has replaced Diess as head of Volkswagen Group and Thomas Schāfer has replaced Ralf Brandstätter as the head of Volkswagen Brand. The changes have led to new ideas about how to move forward into the future.
In a press release this week, the company announced it is prioritizing improvements to the MEB platform to give it more range and enable faster charging while creating increase space for passengers and the stuff they tend to bring with them when they drive somewhere. The new chassis is known as MEB+ and it promises a range of up to 700 km (435 miles) WLTP and charging speeds of from 175 to 200 kW.
At present, the company says, a dozen vehicle models built on the MEB platform are on sale, including all models in the VW ID. family, several electric cars from Audi, CUPRA, and ŠKODA, and the ID. Buzz from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. So far, the VW brand alone has delivered more than 500,000 cars of the ID. family on the e-platform, and more than 670,000 electric vehicles have been delivered across the Group.
A big plus of the MEB is the modular battery concept, which allows the capacity of the battery to be optimally adapted for the intended use. For example, if you mainly drive your ID.3 in the city and only drive short distances, the battery with 58 kWh is sufficient. This makes the car cheaper to buy. Those who frequently drive longer distances can choose a larger battery with 77 kWh when configuring the car, which extends the range more than 400 to over 550 km.
On top of that, the design of the MEB platform allows for a significantly larger amount of space in the interior than a combustion car with the same vehicle dimensions. For instance, passengers can enjoy the same amount of room in an ID.3, which has the external dimension of a Golf, as they would have in a Passat.
Say Hello To The Volkswagen MEB+ Platform
In the coming years, Volkswagen will invest substantially in the further development of its MEB platform. With MEB+, significant leaps will be possible in automated driving functions, for example. The MEB+ will use Volkswagen’s new generation of batteries — the so-called unit cell — which enable ranges of up to 700 km. And the MEB+ will also significantly improve charging times, with charging speeds of 175–200 kW possible in the future.
In addition, the MEB-based model range will be significantly expanded — ten new Volkswagen e-models will be launched by 2026, including an entry level model for around €25,000. New cars are also being planned in the performance and premium segments. All in all, this means another significant increase in individual choice and comfort, as well as in quality and reliability — familiar values that customers can expect from Volkswagen again in the future.
What’s Not Said
Often, what a company doesn’t say publicly is as important at what it does say. When Herbert Diess was running the show, Volkswagen was working to develop its next generation platform, known as SSP. It was supposed to be the basis for the Trinity project — a series of larger vehicles beginning with the Aero sedan. There was also going to be a brand new factory near the main assembly plant in Wolfsburg which Diess claimed was needed in order to match the production efficiency of the new Tesla Gigafactory in Grünheide.
But there is no mention of SSP in this latest press release, and a report by Manager Magazin (paywall) reported recently that Blume is intent on dismantling the Diess-inspired plan for a new factory, which will now come online in 2030 — if ever. The Trinity program is effectively dead, although some of its attributes will find their way into the new MEB+ platform. Inside EVs adds that with the announced charging speed of 200 kW, the company is planning to continue on with 400 volt architecture for the foreseeable future, while much of the industry is transitioning to 800 volts in order to decrease charging times.
The result of all this that Volkswagen Group under Blume appears to be taking a step back from the hyper-aggressive initiatives proposed by Diess and looking to wring more profitability out of the existing platform by spending far less on development and new factories than Diess wanted.
Oliver Blume is a car guy. He spearheaded the Porsche Mission E program that led to the Taycan, so he knows a thing or two about electric cars. He also helped build Porsche into a global powerhouse, so he is also superbly qualified to lead the entire Volkswagen Group.
The question remains whether slowing down the headlong rush into the future of electric transportation started by Herbert Diess is the wisest course for Volkswagen to follow. Arch rival BMW is touting advances in range and power using a variety of cylindrical battery cells, yet Volkswagen seems to have cast its lot with pouch type cells. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Perhaps BMW, with its greater emphasis on performance, is doing the right thing to keep its customers happy while Volkswagen is making cars for more mainstream buyers who value range more than ultimate performance. The upshot of all this is that Volkswagen board has decided to put someone in charge who is less dramatic and dynamic than Herbert Diess. That may be comforting for the workers and the labor organizations who represent them but whether it will be the best thing for Volkswagen is open to question.
This hardly seems to be the time to adopt a conservative approach when a bevy of Chinese companies are preparing to start selling electric cars in Europe and many other countries as well. Slow and steady wins the race, according to conventional wisdom. But that doesn’t mean conventional wisdom is always right.