And after all that, Dieselgate and the billions in settlement, Volkswagen is still the largest carmaker in the world selling 10.3 million cars last year as if nothing ain’t even broke. Oh but it is broke, and what was one of the biggest diesel passenger car manufacturers on the planet is ditching Rudolf’s true brew in favour of the clean salvation of electricity.
In the space of two weeks, on opposite ends of the globe in Shanghai and Vienna, Wolfsburg was simultaneously unravelling its grand plan for the death of diesel and the spark of electricity. There’s lots of badge engineering involved…
If you wanted to know how advanced your future Golf will be, all you had to do is look at the S-Class Mercedes for a preview of the technologies on their way into next-generation average cars, they used to say. But in Wolfsburg, if you want to see this future all you have to do is drive a Golf.
Unconventionally, Volkswagen is trickling technology up instead of down its range of products, which remember, range from MotoGP prototype Ducati racing motorcycles to 1,500 horsepower Bugatti Chirons, and carbon-fibre Lambos, and tweaked Bentleys.
It starts with a simple base-model Golf TSI BlueMotion in showrooms this summer in mid-life updated Mk7.2 form. This vehicle features a conventional 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with all the usual bits, such as direct injection and cylinder deactivation, making an easy, unwound 128bhp or so with a double-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission for company. One of those DSGs ubiquitous across the Group.
The trick Volkswagen is employing with the new Golf is a compact lithium-ion battery, not like you get in a hybrid, but a tiny one, that allows you to lift off the throttle completely and still coast with the engine shut-off at speeds of up to 130kph, hybrid-style.
With battery improvements continuing, the pack in the similarly-updated e-Golf all-electric model is now good for a 15kW and 20Nm increase and 0-100kph in 9.6 seconds. It’s small steps like these that’ll get Volkswagen to 2020 and to Wolfsburg’s electric revolution.
The first Volkswagen models with all-new all-electric architectures will roll out of the factory in 2020 as previewed by the 2016 BUDD-e minivan concept, and this year’s ID compact concept and the ID Buzz bus concept from the Detroit motor show earlier in January. That’s three concepts nowhere near the showroom and all on one platform, and Volkswagen isn’t done.
Away from Vienna where the Golf ‘micro-hybrid’ system was announced (as well as a new 1.0-litre three-pot that runs on petrol, or compressed natural gas that can be made synthetically from water and recycled CO2, just not diesel…), over in Shanghai Volkswagen and its luxury brand Audi put two more vehicles on top of the 2020 architecture concept, demonstrating the EV platform’s versatility, and at the same time suggesting there’s little limiting the Group from one day relating a lowly Mk8 Golf to an electric Bentley.
Electrification lends itself perfectly to badge-engineering, indeed, and Audi is planning to put its Shanghai show star into production even earlier than Volkswagen, in 2019. The Audi e-tron Sportback presented in China produces zero emissions, just like a Tesla and all that, and does 0-100kph in 4.5 seconds with a range of 500km.
Using much the same parts, and facing the e-tron Sportback concept on the stand opposite, Volkswagen unveiled its fourth concept on the new electric architecture called the ID Crozz, also already green-lit for production in 2020. Two same crossovers, two different badges, and although it’s 95kW down on the Audi that’s how they let you know you bought a Volkswagen, and anyway, the Crozz’s range is still the same at 500km claimed.
In China Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board Herbert Diess was succinct: “By 2025, we want to boost annual sales of electric vehicles to one million units.”
That’s a tenth of the company’s wares, though it seems Volkswagen knows how to get ahead — whether they’re clattering to the sound of diesel or whirring silently by, just make them crossovers.