In remarks to the automotive and environmental press last week in Seattle, Volkswagen of America president and CEO Stefan Jacoby said that while the automaker is considering electric vehicles along with other alternatives, he does not see EVs or advanced plug-ins becoming a significant portion of the market within the next decade.
“We cannot expect in the next ten years a major change,” said Jacoby, who said that even if electric vehicles become a significant portion of the market, they “will not be affordable to the American middle class.” And that’s before considering the obstacles related to safety, reliability, and durability of battery packs. “We have to be realistic,” he added.
Jacoby said that simply by focusing on many existing technologies that aren’t yet fully implemented, like start/stop and lighter materials, fuel economy can be increased by 50 percent incrementally in the next ten years.
Even since Jacoby took over the reigns of the automaker’s U.S. arm in late 2007, he has noticed a change in American buying attitudes—perhaps a permanent one, he thinks. Today’s U.S. shoppers are less prone to excess, he’s observed, and “people will consider what kind of cars they really need.”
The automaker hasn’t at all shied away from hybrids and plug-ins; it’s currently working on both. Last year it showed a Golf Twin Drive Concept, a plug-in hybrid with a compact lithium-ion battery pack and a TDI diesel engine, and it’s reportedly planning to test the vehicles in a limited fleet.
TDI sales remain a bright spot for the company in the U.S.; nearly 50 percent of Jetta SportWagens and 30 percent of Jetta sedans have been sold as diesels, and overall diesels now make up eight percent of the automaker’s U.S. sales. The 2012 replacement for the current Passat mid-size sedan, to be built in Tennessee, will also have a TDI option.