Volkswagen’s 250,000th electrified vehicle came in the form of a white e-Golf which was sold to Sandra Fleisher from Herne, Germany. She took delivery of the car at the brand’s Autostadt in Wolfsburg back in December, one of over 70,000 electrified VWs sold in 2019 – a near 20,000 increase on 2018’s figures.
Impressive as the quarter million mark is for VW, it’s important to note that the brand counts its PHEV range in this number and admits that the split between EVs and PHEVs is around 50:50. The e-Golf, however, is the most popular of VW’s electrified cars by a long chalk with 104,000 units being shifted to date. We can understand why it has been a strong seller, too – check out our road test.
Volkswagen’s EV sales to date have been extremely modest compared to its ambitions and, more to the point, its predictions. The launch of the ID. range at the Frankfurt Motor Show was a seminal moment in the brand’s history and one which it has staked a considerable proportion of its future success upon. In short, VW can’t afford for ID. to flop.
Luckily, we reckon Wolfsburg’s timing has been impeccable, as has its strategy of launching cars like the e-Golf and e-UP! to market in advance of a wave of new EVs that have been designed purely as such. It has tested the water and filled a gap with what are effectively EV conversions, but now it’s looking to open the floodgates.
“2020 will be a key year for the transformation of Volkswagen. With the market launch of the ID.3 and other attractive models in the ID. family, our electric offensive will also become visible on the roads,” says Thomas Ulbrich, Member of the Volkswagen brand Board of Management responsible for E-Mobility. “Our new overall plan for 1.5 (million) electric cars in 2025 shows that people want climate-friendly individual mobility – and we are making it affordable for millions of people.”
Production of the ID.3 started back in November at the brand’s Zwickau plant – itself a sign of VW’s brand ambitions thanks to its carbon-neutral operation. Around 37,000 people have reserved their right to order an ID.3, which is a lot, but Zwickau has the capacity to build 330,000 ID. cars per year. More widely, pre-production of ID. cars is underway in China and the USA will be coming online shortly afterwards – all funded by a €33bn VW Group-wide investment in e-mobility of which €11bn is being funnelled into Volkswagen itself.
The wider story of e-mobility and creating a so-called ecosystem sits alongside the launch of ID. as the second half of the story for VW. Whilst producing and flogging loads of EVs is undoubtedly a good thing, Wolfsburg has been thinking ahead and working out how else it can leverage its expertise and brand clout.
Electric Life – or Elli – is a power supplier created by VW with the aim of satisfying the needs and requirements of EV owners. Currently available in Germany, it already has over 10,000 customers and is the sole supplier of VW dealerships and the brand’s expanding network of charging stations. By 2025, VW is aiming for 36,000 charging stations across Europe located at dealerships and other VW-owned locations.
Another pie that VW has stuck its sizeable finger into is in effectively white labelling its MEB platform for use by other manufacturers. Ford has already put its signature on the dotted line and will start producing cars based on the MEB platform in 2023, with 600,000 Ford-badged cars to be built in the six years after that.
Another string Volkswagen is adding to its e-mobility bow is the development of a battery cell plant in Salzgitter, starting this year, which when it comes online in 2023/24 will have a 16-gigawatt hour capacity.
It might look like R2-D2 has lost his job and fallen on hard times, but don’t be put off; VW is developing autonomous chargers that will roam car parks and hook up to cars when required to without human intervention. The rationale behind this is that by using autonomous, movable chargers, car parks won’t need designated bays and drivers will simply be able to park up, walk off and let a roving electricity dispensary do the hard work.
The research is already in the offing in California, where Electrify America and VW have partnered on the project. The robots themselves use V2X (vehicle to device) communication or a mobile phone app to be hailed and navigate via cameras, ultrasonic scanners and lasers. When they reach the car, the V2X tech allows the robot to open the charge port cover and hook up.
Each has a capacity of 25kWh and can charge at up to 50kW DC – a useful amount of charge in half an hour. When they’ve discharged their stored power, the robots simply go back and recharge their own storage ready for the next customer.
Of course, this project is both futuristic and fanciful and quite possibly answers a question nobody was asking. However, with autonomy and connectivity being such a massive area of development in the automotive world, jumping ahead of the game and taking a fresh approach to charging may turn out to be a game-changing piece of foresight by VW.