Charg­ing ahead with a new strat­egy

FRANK­FURT MO­TOR SHOW/ The Volk­swa­gen Group has an­nounced it is on an elec­tric mis­sion, writes Mark Smyth

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

When you have not just Volk­swa­gen (VW), Audi, Seat and Skoda, but Bent­ley, Bu­gatti, Lam­borgh­ini and Porsche in your sta­ble, you have to put on a big event for your home show.

The Volk­swa­gen Group al­ways pulls out all the stops for its Group Night on the eve of the Frank­furt Mo­tor Show but this year it was less about the new mod­els and more, in fact only, about the group’s new strat­egy.

The car maker needs to re­cover some ground af­ter Diesel­gate and the per­son put in charge of that is chair­man of the board of man­age­ment, Matthias Mueller. He was put into what was prob­a­bly the most un­en­vi­able po­si­tion in the auto in­dus­try just af­ter the Diesel­gate scan­dal broke, be­ing moved from a nice po­si­tion in charge of Porsche, but this week he not only laid out the plans for the com­pany to elec­trify, but laid down the law to what he re­ferred to as the “so­called pioneers” of the elec­tric ve­hi­cle in­dus­try.

He means Tesla of course and as the huge ship that is the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try slowly tries to change di­rec­tion, Mueller is promis­ing se­ri­ous change.

“We’ve got the mes­sage and we will de­liver,” he told more than 1,500 guests at the event the night be­fore the start of the Frank­furt show. De­liv­ery will come in the form of the Group’s “Roadmap E”, what he de­scribes as a “well thought-out and sys­tem­atic change from the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine to elec­tric” and other tech­nolo­gies.

“A com­pany as big as Volk­swa­gen can­not fol­low, it must lead,” Mueller said, adding “we are go­ing to evolve VW into the biggest EV [elec­tric ve­hi­cles] com­pany in the world by 2025. We will achieve this goal.”

Achiev­ing the goal will be an enor­mous task and an ex­pen­sive one. Mueller said the group will have 80 elec­tri­fied mod­els by 2025, made up of 50 pure bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cles (BEV) and 30 plug-in hy­brids (PHEV).

It will not stop there ei­ther, with a plan to elec­trify ev­ery sin­gle one of its 300 plus mod­els across the group by 2030.

“We will elec­trify the en­tire model line-up by 2030, across all brands and all mar­kets,” he said. This, of course, does not mean ev­ery model will be elec­tri­fied, but there will be an elec­tri­fied model in ev­ery range.

“All mar­kets” means the plan will in­clude SA, but the coun­try is very much on the back foot as far as in­fra­struc­ture is con­cerned and it re­mains to be seen ex­actly how the strat­egy will be im­ple­mented lo­cally. PHEVs cer­tainly seem like the eas­i­est so­lu­tion in the short term, but dis­cus­sions will def­i­nitely be un­der way shortly in Uiten­hage and other mar­kets around the world to de­cide how to im­ple­ment the group’s new strat­egy.

Those dis­cus­sions will have to hap­pen quickly though, be­cause as Mueller said: “In the au­to­mo­tive world with its long de­vel­op­ment cy­cles, 2030 is the day af­ter to­mor­row.”

It will also not come cheap with the com­pany putting aside €20bn for its in­vest­ment in e-mo­bil­ity. That money will go to­wards two new EV plat­forms as well as in­vest­ment in man­u­fac­tur­ing, train­ing, charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture and bat­tery tech­nol­ogy and pro­duc­tion. The lat­ter is cru­cial for the growth of the EV in­dus­try, which is now real­is­ing the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem it faces.

The VW Group says that by 2025 it will need 150GW hours of lithium-ion bat­tery ca­pac­ity an­nu­ally just for its own fleet, the equiv­a­lent of four gi­gafac­to­ries pro­duc­ing bat­tery cells. To fa­cil­i­tate this the or­gan­i­sa­tion has put out one of the largest ten­ders in au­to­mo­tive his­tory at €50bn. Even this will not be enough, only meet­ing the needs of the group’s first level of e-mo­bil­ity. Be­yond that it is look­ing at solid state bat­ter­ies for its next gen­er­a­tion of ve­hi­cles.

None of this means that the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine is dead, even though some might wish it was.

“For the time be­ing, we will be of­fer­ing the en­tire pow­er­train spec­trum, from con­ven­tional to fully elec­tric, to en­able sus­tain­able and af­ford­able mass mo­bil­ity. We are not be­ing ar­bi­trary. We are lis­ten­ing to the voice of rea­son,” said Mueller.

That voice of rea­son means diesel will live on. Mueller was keen to point out the lat­est VW Group diesel en­gines are among the clean­est and most ef­fi­cient in the in­dus­try in terms of both emis­sions and con­sump­tion.

“State of the art diesels are not the prob­lem. They are an in­dis­pens­able part of the so­lu­tion,” he said.

The com­pany will con­tinue to in­vest in its in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines. Mueller said that a se­lec­tive cat­alytic re­duc­tion (SCR) cat­alytic con­verter will be stan­dard on all new diesel en­gines in the group from now on, while all petrol en­gines will be equipped with a par­tic­u­late fil­ter. The com­pany is also work­ing on a next gen­er­a­tion of en­gines for 2019 on­wards and, in­ter­est­ingly, is look­ing at new syn­thetic fu­els pro­duced from re­new­able en­ergy that it says can make in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines car­bon neu­tral.

An­nounce­ments are one thing, but you also want to know about the new mod­els the group un­veiled. There were not many.

Audi re­vealed Ai­con, its con­cept for full Level 5 au­ton­o­mous driv­ing. The com­pany also showed its R8 for “purists”, the R8 V10 RWS (rear wheel series). Lam­borgh­ini had its Aven­ta­dor S Road­ster and we got our first look at the new Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT.

Porsche stripped the wing off the 911 GT3 and put com­fort­able seats in for its Tour­ing Pack ver­sion and we got to see the new VW Polo in the metal ahead of its ar­rival in SA in 2018 as well as the VW ID Crozz con­cept.

It was not a night for new mod­els, it was a night for a new VW Group.

STATE OF THE ART DIESELS ARE NOT THE PROB­LEM. THEY ARE AN IN­DIS­PENS­ABLE PART OF THE SO­LU­TION THE OR­GAN­I­SA­TION HAS PUT OUT ONE OF THE LARGEST TEN­DERS IN AU­TO­MO­TIVE HIS­TORY AT €50BN

Audi showed its very strangely named Ai­con con­cept (Audi In­tel­li­gence Con­cept in case you were cu­ri­ous). Left: Porsche lopped the wing off the 911 GT3 for the Tour­ing Pack ver­sion.

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