Volkswagen recently announced that their future will be powered by electricity. Volkswagen has been branding EV concepts with a common name, I.D. and the first of many, will be available in just a few years. The I.D. Concept is designed around the shape of the current Golf. Shortly thereafter will be the I.D. BUZZ (a throwback to the microbus) and the I.D. CROZZ (crossover).
VW is the master of platform sharing. The current MQB platform (Modularer Querbaukasten, or Modular Transversal Toolkit) has the flexibility to support products ranging from the subcompact VW Polo to the three-row, seven-seat, full-size Atlas crossover. To date more than 8 million VW, Audi, Škoda, and SEAT vehicles have been manufactured using the MQB component set in 32 plants around the world.
These new VWs will be built on the same principles. The fully electric shared platform will be called MEB (Modularer Elektrobaukasten, or Modular Electric Drive). The MEB development leader described the I.D. concept car living atop VW’s emerging electric platform as “a tablet on wheels.” He has explained that this means using a Linux operating system connecting powertrain, chassis, safety, autonomy, and cockpit domains via a gigabit ethernet. Open-source software and hardware will facilitate adding third-party e-mobility applications as they emerge. Key goals are smart sustainability, automated driving, intuitive interaction, and personalized connectivity. Imagine a smartphone on wheels. By solving range anxiety and purchase-cost issues with better batteries, these electric VWs will emerge as a very serious contender in the EV market.
MEB consists of three key elements: a substantial battery pack integrated within the floor structure, forward-mounted power-control electronics, and, in the case of the original I.D., a single electric motor unit with the final-drive mechanism positioned between the rear wheels. The I.D. Buzz is powered by an electric drive unit at each axle. This blueprint is clever but hardly original. It also describes the Tesla Model S (and X) to a T. The lack of combustion systems—cooling, exhaust, transmission, fuel tank—greatly improves packaging. The I.D., for example, provides a Passat’s passenger and cargo space inside a Golf-sized wrapper.
VW is aiming for a single-charge range of 373 miles (on the not-so-stringent European driving cycle), but less expensive models surely will use smaller battery packs with less kWh capacity and therefore shorter range. Rear-wheel drive may seem like an odd move for this maker, hence the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive alternative for upscale models such as the Buzz. Inductive charging is also part of the game plan to ease the “refueling” task.
VW’s goal is to sell at least a million electric cars per year by 2025, with the first of a promised 30 models slated for sale in the 2020 model year, followed shortly thereafter by something like the Buzz in 2022, assuming customers love the concept as much as the VW brand’s design head does. Warming up for that onslaught, production has just begun for a new version of the e-Golf with significantly increased driving range. While it’s too soon to trust price speculation, the first VW electrics likely will be aimed at the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, which cost between $30,000 and $40,000 after federal tax credits are applied.
With styling like that of the Beetle, using a mix of modern and retro, the BUZZ has enough style to harken back to the T1-generation Microbus. It seats up to eight in a box that touches all of VW’s current design values: It’s likable, sensual, innovative, logical, and a pure reflection of the company’s brand equity. Thanks to an overall height towering over that of the I.D. concept and fully autonomous operational capability, the Buzz can be a party on wheels with totally flexible seating arrangements, a center console that can be relocated, and a full skylight roof. The squared-off steering wheel recedes into the dash when it’s not needed, and practically all secondary controls live in a large touchscreen. At last, the designers have achieved their goal of totally eliminating small switches and knobs.
Volkswagen has also announced a new electric crossover SUV concept called the I.D. Crozz. This concept demonstrates the use of augmented reality to feed the driver information, as well as gesture control to navigate that interface. For instance, the gesture control can be used to open the sunroof. And it has autonomous tech, too — tap the VW logo on the steering wheel, and the Crozz will whisk you away in self-driving mode. The company says the SUV will have a top speed of about 180 kilometers per hour (112 mph) and a range of 500 kilometers, or about 311 miles. Drivers will be able to recharge the Crozz’s battery to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes on a 150 kW charger.
Volkswagen Group recently received approval to build a nationwide network full of 150 kW charging stations. If and when VW can make all this come together, that sounds like awfully good competition for the Model X and Tesla’s network of Superchargers.