VW set for electric future

Volkswagen will focus on an electric future while investment in other projects will be cut by one billion euros a year, the company has announced after an extraordinary management board meeting.

In one of its most important meetings in the history of the company, the Board of Management at Volkswagen has now outlined the brand's future focuses, with electric vehicles (EVs) the number one priority. Announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show, just before the VW emissions scandal broke, VW said that it aims to have more than 20 electric and plug-in hybrid models on sale by 2020. This latest announcement, in the wake of the company's emissions problems, seems to both confirm that and accelerate the plans.

Dr Herbert Diess, Volkswagen CEO, said: "The Volkswagen brand is repositioning itself for the future. We are becoming more efficient, we are giving our product range and our core technologies a new focus, and we are creating room for forward-looking technologies by speeding up the efficiency program."

This repositioning will see a shift of focus away from diesel engines unsurprisingly, while a standardised electric architecture will be developed. This last point is one of the quietest but most important pieces of information to come out of the management board's statement, since it is the VW Group's ability to design modular systems that has made it the largest car maker in the world.

The likes of the Audi A3, VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon - along with a number of off-shoot models - are all built on one platform to dramatically reduce development costs. With a standardised electric architecture, a similar situation can happen easily with a huge range of plug-in models all based on the same basic platform. This can only be good news for customers as the plug-in car market will quickly move further into mainstream sales.

In the meantime, the current Modular Transverse Toolkit (MQB) - which is the architecture for the models mentioned above - will be quickly and significantly developed to improve the installation of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. While the MQB currently features the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and VW Golf GTE as part of its model line-up, many more will soon join the mix. The most obvious additions would be the Leon and Octavia mentioned above since under the skin they are essentially the same machine and it shouldn't take too much work to create PHEV versions.

After a "major development thrust" for the MQB platform, VW will then concentrate on developing EVs with a range of around 300km (186 miles), a mild hybrid system, and increasingly efficient diesel and petrol engines. Part of this EV focus will, like the MQB electrification, see an MEB electric toolkit for compact segment vehicles. VW has said that this will be a multi-brand toolkit for both passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, drawing on and creating links from other EVs in the group. The system will be designed for all types of vehicle, with a range of 250 to 500 kilometres (155 to 310 miles) depending on the development and size of batteries fitted.

The first specific model to be mentioned with this electric future in mind is the next generation Phaeton. Volkswagen's flagship model will now feature a pure electric drivetrain with a long range, taking on the Tesla Model S in the premium EV market.

However, Diess said: "We are very aware that we can only implement these innovations for the future of the Volkswagen brand effectively if we succeed with our efficiency program and in giving our product range a new focus. Together with my Board of Management colleagues and the entire team we are working at top speed on these issues. Time and again, the Volkswagen team has proved it stands united and is fully focused on shaping the future, particularly when times are tough. We have now laid the further foundations for that."

This efficiency program will see cuts made to all non-essential projects with an aim to save £740 million (One billion Euros) a year in the short term, compared with previously projected spending. This will free up the group's resources to focus on electrification of its model range and also shore up any potential fines or law suits against the company as a result of the emissions scandal.

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Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:14th Oct 2015

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