Bruised and battered by the #Dieselgate scandal, VW wants to be seen racing away from diesels as fast as it can. The company brought three battery electric vehicle (BEV) concepts to the L.A. Auto Show—a Golf-sized hatchback called I.D., a reincarnation of the iconic Microbus called I.D. Buzz, and a small crossover called I.D. Crozz. All three have been seen before, but VW displayed them together at the L.A. Show so it could talk more about its BEV product strategy.
All three concepts preview production models to be built on a new bespoke BEV vehicle architecture known as MEB. Flexible and scalable, MEB follows what is fast becoming standard practice among BEV designs, with an underfloor battery pack between the wheels, and the ability to package an e-motor at the front and rear of the platform. Intriguingly, a rear mounted e-motor and rear-drive will be the standard format for MEB vehicles. “We are going back what we had with the original Beetle,” says Christian Senger, head of VW’s electric vehicle program. A front mounted e-motor will only be fitted to vehicles requiring all-wheel drive.
VW has already confirmed a production version of the I.D. hatch will go on sale in Europe by 2019. A production version of the I.D. Crozz two-row crossover will appear in the U.S. in 2020, and although execs didn’t mention it, we understand from sources in Wolfsburg that an extended-wheelbase, three-row version is under development, as well. The production version of the I.D Buzz will go on sale Stateside in 2022, and by 2025 these vehicles will be joined by a large, low-slung BEV sedan, the outline of which was tantalizingly flashed on screen during the media presentation.
All will take advantage of MEB’s packaging efficiency to deliver roomy interiors, and Volkswagen will use this feature to justify its BEV pricing strategy. For example, the production version of the two-row I.D. Crozz will have similar exterior dimensions to a regular Tiguan, but its interior room will rival that of a Touareg, so it will be priced as an alternative to VW’s internal combustion engine midsize SUV.
Although Volkswagen has publicly announced it aims to offer a total of 15 BEVs by 2025, execs in L.A. remained tight-lipped on details. Our sources say an all-electric version of the Beetle is under consideration, however, and Reto Brun, head of VW’s California design studio, agrees MEB’s compact e-motor driveline means the car would have proportions much more like those of the original air-cooled car. Other MEB-based cars said to be on the radar in Wolfsburg include a four-seat convertible version of the crossover and a two-door convertible version of the hatchback. Even VW’s performance-oriented R division is said to be eager to get in on the MEB party and is reportedly mulling an all-electric, rear-drive sports car.
MEB is a new platform in more ways than one. It will lead the transformation of Volkswagen’s entire business model, says VW board member responsible for sales and marketing, Jürgen Stackmann. One small example: Options will be simplified so that consumers, once having chosen they vehicle they need and how much power and range they want, will then only have to decide from a limited palette of colors and packages of extra features, including apps and services driven by a high level of web connectivity and data analysis being developed in partnership with companies such as IBM and Adobe.
And all MEB cars will be prepared for autonomous driving. “Autonomy is our industry’s moonshot,” says Stackmann, who believes Volkswagen needs to become a leader in offering affordable, mass-market autonomous vehicles.