Volkswagen is determined to lead the electric revolution
German carmakers’ vision for the future
The Frankfurt motor show opened this week with the German car industry facing a crisis of confidence despite years of booming sales.
Two years after “dieselgate”, when Volkswagen was exposed as an emissions cheat, the industry is spending billions to develop electric vehicles in an effort to stave off regulators and reclaim the moral high ground.
An electric car was the star on virtually every stand at the show and by the middle of next decade Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW expect to be selling them in the millions.
Volkswagen upped the ante on its electric plans with “Roadmap E”, which more than doubles its previous commitment with a pledge to offer 80 EVs by 2025 across its portfolio of brands, which include Audi, Skoda, Porsche and Bentley.
It has earmarked more than 20bn for development and, in one of the largest procurement tenders on record, has budgeted 50bn to source batteries.
The goal is to offer an electric version of each of its 300 group models by 2030 and be selling about three million a year.
Chief executive Matthias Mueller said it was vital Volkswagen led the way to an electric future.
“This is not some vague declaration of intent. It is a strong self-commitment which, from today, becomes the yardstick by which we measure our performance,” he said.
“The transformation in our industry is unstoppable. And we will lead that transformation.”
Volkswagen’s show centrepiece was a compact batterypowered SUV called ID Crozz, one of a family of models built on a newly developed platform with zero-emission ranges up to 600km.
It will reach showrooms in 2020 along with a Golf-sized car simply called ID, followed two years later a modern recreation of the Kombi badged ID Buzz.
Eventually, 23 EVs will be offered under Volkswagen’s own badge.
Despite being rocked by the emissions scandal and being forced to pay billions in compensation, Volkswagen group achieved record sales of 10.3 million last year, up 4 per cent, putting it ahead of Toyota and General Motors.
However, there has been a backlash against diesel engines in Europe with many cities con- sidering moves to restrict them including Stuttgart, the home of Mercedes and Porsche.
In Europe, the home of “clean diesel”, sales have dived and diesel engines are now fitted to fewer than half of new passenger cars, down from 56 per cent five years ago.
Against that, demand for alternatives including hybrids and EV is up almost 60 per cent over the first half of this year, albeit from a low base.
Britain and France have declared a ban on cars that rely purely on combustion engines by 2040 and the world’s biggest vehicle market, China, is considering similar action.
Mercedes-Benz chief Dieter Zetsche said moves to ban particular drivelines were missing the point and diesel remained vital for the future.
“It’s worthwhile to improve modern diesel engines rather than ban them,” he said. “We need diesel if we are to achieve our climate targets through less CO2 in road traffic.”
But he said there had been “a loss of trust in the German car industry’s power of innovation and sustainability. And I regret that very much.”
Fortunately, Daimler, maker of Mercedes, was in a strong position to invest “massively into our future” thanks to the strength of its core business.
Mercedes reclaimed top spot in the global premium market last year with sales up 12 per cent to 2.2 million, and has committed 10bn to develop battery cars with the goal of more than 50 electrified vehicles by 2022.
They will include all versions of its Smart city runabout, which will be the first brand to go solely electric and will also spearhead the company’s move into autonomous car-sharing.
Under its own badge, Mercedes launched an electric subbrand called EQ at the Paris motor show 12 months ago and centre-stage at Frankfurt was the second car in that family, EQA.
A streamlined compact, EQA has 60kW/h lithium ion batteries, two electric motors with up to 200kW of power and allwheel drive. Real world range is 400km and it can be recharged inductively, by a wall-mounted box or via a rapid recharging station.
It will be one of 10 pure EVs within five years. First on sale will be the larger EQC, a compact SUV, which arrives in Australia in 2019 with a starting price above $75,000.
BMW also celebrated record sales in 2016, its sixth year in a row, and development chief Klaus Froehlich said it was accelerating its EV rollout in response to the industry’s “compromised” credibility, which was leading to tighter regulation.
It has set a renewed target of 25 electrified cars by 2025, half of those pure EVs. It will also build flexibility into future models so that any driveline — combustion engine, plug-in hybrid or battery — can be fitted according to demand.
Its show centrepiece was a study for a mid-size luxury fourdoor with pure electric power, a 600km range and acceleration to 100km/h in just 4 seconds.
Called i Vision Dynamics, it will be the third model in BMW’s efficiency sub-brand i and is expected to be badged i5 when it reaches showrooms in 2021.
“With the BMW i Vision Dynamics we are ... electrifying the heart of the BMW brand,” said chairman Harald Krüger.
BMW launched i four years ago with the i3 city runabout and i8 plug-in hybrid sportscar. It expects to sell 100,000 electrified vehicles this year.
‘We are electrifying the heart of the BMW brand’ HARALD KRÜGER BMW CHAIRMAN
Listen. Can we all take a cold shower? Seriously.
Autonomous cars, driverless cars, self-driving cars, robotic cars, cars where you sit there having a tinny and a smoke while the metal navigates the freeway, busy city roads and parks are of the same magnitude of delusion as Y2K, killer bees, the moon landing and tax cuts from politicians.
Think about it this way. Aviation is a trillion-dollar industry and that doesn’t include defence and space exploration. It has the highest standards of engineering in the world outside medical research. Yet after 234 years and trillions of dollars the aviation industry hasn’t developed an autopilot that you can leave alone. In October 2008, QF72 Captain Kevin Sullivan was cruising along at 37,000 feet on a trip from Singapore to Perth when the Airbus A330-300’s autopilot decided to disconnect and the plane dropped nearly 213 metres and 119 people on board were injured. Ask any commercial pilot, autopilot problems are a weekly event.
Some commentators blame pilot inattention and sometimes that’s right. But in many cases, including the QF72 episode, the pilot was right on top of things; the problem was the technology. The bottom line is every now and then the autopilot doesn’t work.
Now if the aviation industry can’t make an autonomous plane, would you trust our friends in the auto industry to make an autonomous car you’d feel safe putting your kids in?
For a start, last year automakers recalled 53.2 million cars in the US alone for mechanical and technological problems. Airbag manufacturer, Takata, pleaded guilty to a felony charge as part of a $US1 billion deal after its airbags had a habit of exploding shooting shrapnel into happy passengers.
Then there’s the matter of trust. So far VW, Audi, Fiat Chrysler, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi have been caught up in the dieselgate scandal.
Before you say, “well, the mining industry has driverless trucks”, be aware the big miners don’t let them loose on the Great Northern Highway or send them on a beer run to the Karratha International Hotel (which I rate as five star because it has a top pool, Wi-Fi, laundry service and al fresco dining) and they have remote drivers keeping eagle eyes on them.
As Consumer Reports said earlier this year: “Volkswagen lied to us. Its 11 million ‘clean diesel’ cars have been polluting the air at up to 40 times the federal standard for years. Worse: It installed technology to hide the problem from emissions tests.”
I think you should read any reports on driverless cars as meaning “maybe we’ll make them work in 20 years or maybe we won’t”.
However, I am grudgingly prepared electric cars might catch on given this is their second coming. They were first invented 185 years ago. But I don’t buy the green argument. Electric cars just shift the environmental damage around, and don’t ask about resale prices.
In more bad news, last month the Bank of England warned of a possible massive and even bigger than massive credit crunch because carmakers are financing their own cars and increasingly they’re using a rental scheme called Personal Contract Purchase plans. Basically, you rent the car for three or four years then either return it or buy it for a specified price. The Conversation UK compares the PCP crunch to the US mortgage crunch. Last year in Britain alone, $US7.1bn of auto loan securities were sliced and diced up and packaged into assetbacked securities. Most new car buyers are not told about other less profitable and less commission-friendly options.
In equally bad news, Hagerty, the leading classic car insurer, has just released its latest classic vehicle rating and two-thirds of the vehicles in the Top 25 ranking are trucks or SUVs, and nearly 90 per cent of them are valued at $20,000 or less.
Hagerty’s Jesse Pilarski blames Millennials and Gen-Xers. I blame them too for global warming, child poverty and the mess we’re in.
“We’re seeing the most interest in the entry-level market, and several factors play into that. Rare and desirable cars like Ferrari 275s, Mercedes-Benz 300SLs, and air-cooled Porsche 911s saw huge increases in value over the last five years, but now that values aren’t rising like they were, interest has started to wane. Most buyers aren’t worried about losing $2000 on a $20,000 purchase, but $20,000 on a $200,000 car? That’s a different story. Also, the stockmarket has been performing well relative to car values, which may have pulled some of the interest away from those high-end vehicles.”
And there are some crooklooking pieces of metal at the top. The 1973-1987 Chev C/K Pickup, the 1945-1968 Dodge Power Wagon and the 1976-1986 Jeep. Fortunately there are some sane Americans.
Also on the list are the Pontiac Firebird, the Toyota Supra (very good buying in Australia) and the 2000-03 Honda S2000. You’ll pay the same here (around $40,000) for a Concours quality Honda S2000. Don’t pay more than $20,000 for a good one. But I think they are a good bet. Then again, I was the one that knocked back a Ford XY GT at $65,000. Shannons sold it last month for $210,000.
OK. There’s been a lot of complaints recently about this column sinking to new lows and pandering to the lowest common denominator. And they’re right. But the editor (yes, the same one who likes motorbikes) has told me to go more upmarket. So, on Sunday I’ll see you at the Mossgreen Melbourne contemporary art auction. I’ll be bidding on Jitish Kallat’s Collidonthus, which is the skeletal frame of a car made of artificial mixed media. It represents Jit’s concern about the role of the car as a constant and animate force in the urban streets of India. (You don’t seriously think I know what I am talking about, do you?) Yours for a Ford XY GT.
vision EQ Fortwo’ concept car; BMW’s i3 electric vehicle
Clockwise from top: a Volkswagen ID Buzz; a ‘Smart
Volkswagen’s Herbert Diess presents an ID Crozz
Jitish Kallat’s Collidonthus at Mossgreen art auction