VW boss Thomas Schäfer on an electric Golf, the Polo's survival and the ID.1 | CAR Magazine

VW boss Thomas Schäfer on an electric Golf, the Polo's survival and more

Published: 08 May 2024 Updated: 08 May 2024

► VW brand boss speak to CAR
► Next Golf will be electric
► And the Polo will survive longer than we thought

The next all-new Golf will be electric-only, the Polo supermini will soldier on until 2030 at least and VW is progressing with a sub-€20,000 electric hatch below the forthcoming ID.2, Volkswagen brand boss Thomas Schäfer has confirmed in a wide-ranging interview.

Schäfer outlined the challenges when planning the future of the humble VW hatchback, given the car market’s rocky transition to electric, tightening EU regulations and customers’ ongoing love affair with SUVs.

Speaking to five UK journalists at the Financial Times’ tenth Future of the Car summit, Schäfer was blunt that the SUV bubble showed no sign of bursting. ‘The trend is still there… If we take [our models] away, chances are customers will go somewhere else. The small SUVs – the T-Roc, T-Cross, Taigo are super in demand. It’s very good business.’

The next Golf is guaranteed to be electric

Does that mean the Golf – celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – is becoming irrelevant and won’t exist in 20 years, asked CAR? ‘The Golf is a phenomenon. It’s a timeless car, ideal for anybody from a student getting into mobility to a CEO driving the GTI.  

‘The Golf has always been very constant but it has always brought technological advancement too. No matter when it is, the next Golf is going to be electric. We’ve just brought in the [Mk8.5] with diverse powertrains but [after that] to bring in a whole new Golf with combustion engines is just not worth it in the total numbers.’

Hatchback sales vs SUV sales

In 2023, VW sold just over 300,000 Golfs, with VW group volumes bolstered in the hatchback segment by 205,000 Skoda Octavias, 100,000 Cupra and SEAT Leons and 246,000 Audi A3s. ‘This is all based on the MQB-A platform which is super cost effective with a number of models from various brands,’ said the VW brand chief. ‘If everybody wants to do it themselves, it kills you on the [scale].’

That’s 851,000 midsize hatchbacks across the group – but VW’s top-selling model, the Tiguan, sold 633,147 units alone in 2023 for comparison. ‘It wasn’t long ago that the company was a strong fanbase of non-SUVs, before 2015! But when we brought them out you could see the success, the Tiguan, T-Roc, super-successful cars, good margins.’

And will this new electric Golf be called ID.Golf? ‘We will only call it Golf if it’s a Golf, from the proportions to the performance. We have put the first definition together, the first design sketches with the proportions and that bodes well.’

VW has previously intimated a swing back to its heritage nameplates, and the ID tag is likely to be phased out as core models are electrified.  

Fiesta may have died, but Polo gets a stay of execution

The Golf’s little brother, the Polo, will be a fixture in VW showrooms for longer now, thanks to the European Union pushing back tough emissions regulations from 2025 to 2030. Car makers’ protests that expensive exhaust treatments would have made superminis unprofitable appear to have been heard.

‘The Polo will definitely carry on until the end of the decade. Euro 7 has been done in a reasonable way: it adds cost to vehicles but not too crazily,’ explained the boss. Car makers will still be compelled to clean up brake and tyre particulates nonetheless.

‘What adds tremendous cost is the GSR2 safety regulation, with interior cameras and a couple of things you need to add to the platform. That is a real cost complication but we’ve now done it across the brands and we can carry on. We’ll keep the Polo fresh and it will be a good entry into our brand,’ says the 54-year-old CEO.

The €25,000 ID.2 – and one beneath it

But the company is working on another entry point: an electric city car, dubbed ID.1, which could arrive in late 2027. 

That’s in addition to the ID.2, the €25,000 small hatch revealed as a concept car in spring 2023. Its 4m-length is about the same size as the Polo’s – the ID.1 would slot in beneath it and effectively replace the Up! city car, which ceased production last year.

The ID.1 would rival Renault Group’s Dacia Spring, the Chinese-built EV that will cost from £14,995 when UK sales begin in October. Dacia’s 3.7m-long hatch has a 137-mile range (220km). But Schäfer ruled out importing the ID.1 from China, despite VW working on four entry-priced models on a new CMP platform there: ‘China is for China.’ 

He continued: ‘We have four €25,000 [electric] cars coming across the brand group. They are super vehicles with no compromises on looks, safety, quality, range.

‘Do we need to go further, lower? Absolutely. We’re working on that. Why does it take so long? Because we need to make cars that fit to the VW DNA without compromises and still meet the price point.’

Will the ID.1 make it to launch?

But the ID.1 – which would cost less than €20,000 – is not a done deal. Schäfer reiterated there are four options for the business case, including co-operation with an external partner (Renault has been strongly tipped and very vocal about working with others), internal pooling and scaling it across multiple regions. 

‘I’d like to make it happen,’ says the CEO. ‘But if it’s not feasible and it doesn’t make sense we’re not going to make it.’

VW is exploring 300km (186 miles) of range for the city car: ‘you cannot offer a car that can only do 150km or something, it makes it cheap but it’s just going to annoy customers,’ says Schäfer. ‘You need enough range so you don’t run out within a day; otherwise customers could buy a plug-in hybrid with over 100km of range.’

He concluded: ‘The current EV slump that we see in Europe, it’s not really affecting the decision, because this is a car that would come in after the ID.2 so probably 2027 onwards. It just needs to be done properly. It’s a very, very sharp pencil to get this into profitability, it has to earn money. The [final] decision we’re trying to get done before summer – and then we’re ready to go.’

By Phil McNamara

Group editor, CAR magazine