Volkswagen Shifts Gears, Vows To Focus More Attention On Electric Cars

October 14, 2015

When you think of eco-friendly car companies, you may not immediately think of Volkswagen. But that could change if policies proposed by the new Volkswagen Brand Board of Management come to fruition.

QUESTIONABLE HISTORY

Volkswagen's less-than-green image isn't  just because of the ongoing "Dieselgate" scandal that's caused jaws around the world to drop. It's also because Volkswagen and its family of auto brands -- many of which are fuel-chugging performance and luxury marques -- have never shown much interest in moving away from fossil fuels.

For example, the company's former U.S. Audi chief, Johann De Nysschen, famously called the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle a "car for idiots". (FWIW, De Nysschen now heads Cadillac.) Audi itself has an electric car program, but it's always seemed a bit like the red-headed stepchild.

ALSO SEE: Volkswagen's Dieselgate vs. General Motors' Switchgate: Which Is Worse?

And of course, Volkswagen famously decried the Environmental Protection Agency's new fuel economy and emissions benchmarks for 2025, insisting that "there is no consideration in the current proposal for the positive impact clean diesels can have on fuel consumption here in the US." Oh, the irony.

CHANGE: BLOWING IN THE WIND

Yesterday, the Volkswagen Brand Board of Management attempted to change course, issuing a statement about new initiatives at Volkswagen's mainstream marque (which, to avoid confusion, we'll refer to as VW). According to CEO Dr. Herbert Diess,

"The [VW] 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."

How will VW do that? We're glad you asked.

  • One of VW's smartest strategic decisions in recent years was to create cars using the adaptable MQB platform. While the details and flourishes of cars built on that platform change from model to model, core elements like the placement of the engine and transmission stay the same. The MQB debuted in 2012, and it's become a major part of the company's expansion plans. According to Diess et. al, there will be an increased focus on building plug-in hybrids and electric cars on the MQB platform. The Board would like to see the latter achieve ranges of 300 kilometers (186 miles).
  • VW will also work in collaboration with other Volkswagen brands to develop its new MEB platform for compact vehicles. A special "electric toolkit" for MEB vehicles will be created to allow those cars to be electrified more easily, with ranges of up to 500 kilometers (310 miles).
  • The next generation of the loved/loathed VW Phaeton will be completely electric, "with long-distance capability, connectivity and next-generation assistance systems as well as an emotional design". Maybe that will help sales.
  • But don't let all the electric-car talk fool you: VW isn't giving up on diesel, gas, or CNG vehicles. It just plans to make them more efficient.
  • On the diesel front, VW will ditch its existing diesel emissions systems in favor of those used on larger diesel vehicles. Though full details of the switch aren't available yet, it appears that VW intends to 86 the catalytic converters it's been using in conjunction with 2.0-liter diesel engines and instead employ urea-based converters like the SCR.

Will that be enough to change VW's image? Will it be enough to lure customers back? And can VW keep its head above water until these plans are implemented -- which in some cases could take years? Stay tuned.

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