Volkswagen Australia is likely to offer electric and plug-in hybrid models here within the next few years, according to managing director Michael Bartsch.
The German brand is pushing ever more heavily into the development of EV and PHEV models globally, but as yet offers nothing along those lines in our market.
Speaking with CarAdvice this week, though, Bartsch said the rollout of green technologies was beneficial as a brand-builder, though the company is realistic about the low volumes it is likely to achieve with such cars.
“You have to start some somewhere,” Bartsch said, adding that it was “important for Volkswagen and other brands to show real leadership”.
We asked if we could expect Volkswagen EV and PHEV models in Australian showrooms by 2020, and were told it was “a fair assessment”. Expect the two drivetrain types to launch almost simultaneously.
Bartsch acknowledged that the lack of infrastructure and high prices would scare off buyers without the money and desire to make a “major statement”, and said low fuel prices may also play a role in deterring those more motivated by potential savings.
“It’s a long line to mainstream,” he said.
Vehicle electrification is hardly abundant in Australia, but brands present in that space are seeing other forms of success. Tesla has the cachet most brands would kill for, and BMW is seeing strong success from its low-volume, high-yield i3 and i8 models.
Volkswagen globally has huge electrification plans, though the day where electrified cars become the mainstream choice is a long way away. Critical mass leading to scale is the key. But brand image depends on being seen as green.
Former Volkswagen Group chief Martin Winterkorn late last year reaffirmed the group’s pledge to make 20 EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2020 (including subsidiary brands Porsche and Audi) and then turn all its cars into veritable “smartphones on wheels” by the end of the decade. He called it the “reinvention of Volkswagen”.
Just like its MQB modular platform that underpins most of its volume models — Golf, Passat and Tiguan — Volkswagen will roll out a suite of cars using the MEB modular electric kit.
Volkswagen already offers electric models such as the e-Up and e-Golf, and will soon expand this with cars spun off the new MEB, as previewed this year with the Budd-E van concept. Its also has plug-in hybrids such as the Golf GTE, Passat GTE and Tiguan GTE.
It's unclear which of these are on the cars for Australia, or if it will be some other future model. Stay tuned.
Of course, speculation has mounted of late that Volkswagen is moving ever-faster into EVs to rebuild its image after the dieselgate cheat software saga, our most recent report on which you can read here.
When asked this week for how the saga was affecting Volkswagen Australia at present, Bartsch said the "issue cannot be avoided" and that people had "quite rightly" reacted strongly, but an open approach would see Australians react "fairly philosophically". The company's local sales are holding up well in the wake.
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