Volkswagen is embarking on a massive global push into electrification, but the company’s Australian subsidiary is still weighing up what its EV range will look like here by 2020.
What we do know is that the production versions of the Golf-sized I.D hatch and I.D. Buzz retro people-mover concept cars are as good as locked-in for Australia within a few years time, shortly after their worldwide launches.
Globally, Europe’s biggest auto maker is spending billions of Euros on an all-electric architecture called the MEB, to be top-hatted with a range of different body styles with 500-600km ranges.
The MEB gives good cabin space and flexibility, on account of its flat floor containing battery cells, and the small electric motors on the axles. It will underpin the majority of the 30 fully electric vehicles the Volkswagen Group plans to launch within a decade.
The huge electric push comes as Volkswagen repositions its brand in the wake of the diesel scandal, and sets itself on a course to be a strong electric car player by 2025, by which time it wants to sell about one million EVs per year.
Naturally this far out, the German brand’s Australian arm is a little cagier about jumping straight into the EV market, which puts it broadly in line with most rivals, who often cite our comparative lack of incentives and charging infrastructure.
However, we did seek — and receive — some clarity from Volkswagen Australia this week on its mid-term electrification plans, after speaking to its product planning boss Jeff Shafer, building on what we'd already reported.
First, a number of MEB-based electric cars (all of which have ranges at or around 500km between recharges) will certainly come to Australia, and shortly after they enter production in Europe around 2020 as well.
Secondly, the company also sees a potential to offer plug-in hybrids (long seen as a sort of ‘bridging’ technology) simultaneously with its MEB EVs, on account of our vast road network and poor charging infrastructure.
For example, the Golf GTE we reviewed last year, and which has long been under consideration for our market, is unlikely to come until 2018 at the earliest (or perhaps in next-generation guise later still), which is a delay over what we expected.
“It’s something we’re really wrestling with,” Shafer admitted. “The history of hybrids in Australia hasn’t been strong.”
This point is clear from a sales perspective, with the Holden Volt, Audi A3 e-tron and BMW i3 REx not exactly selling by the thousands, though they’re all image-builders. Only the fleet-focused Toyota Camry (a conventional non plug-in hybrid) has sold in big volumes here.
“On the other hand the hybrid [meaning PHEV] makes sense where you’re driving long distances, and Australia is that type of market, and people who don’t have off-street parking or access to a charging point [are also affected].
“There’s probably going to be a place for both in the future,” he speculated.
Schafer reiterated the company’s very favourable position on the MEB range of pure electric cars, saying multiple models would come here shortly after their respective global launches. Companies, he said, will have to jump in or risk falling behind.
“We’re really keen on that product, it's very very flexible. Effectively you can start with that skateboard (platform) and add the body,” he said, then we could only speculate together on how VW Australia’s dealer network handles the sales side.
Either way, you’ll see numerous cars with electric motors, battery packs and charging inputs in your nearest major metro VW Australia dealers within five years — likely sooner.