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VW’s electric roadmap: why the ID.3 EV is just the beginning

Published: 23 April 2019

► New spyshots of VW ID electric car
► Your Volkswagen ID sub brand briefing
► The EV hardware bound for 22m cars 

Is VW serious about those crazy-sounding EV ambitions? Yes, absolutely. And here’s how it’s going to work. Thomas Ulbrich, VW’s head of electric vehicles, has been spelling out some of the detail at the FT Future of the Car Summit in London.

‘Our decisions are done. Our planning is in progress. We will have the ID 3 here in the middle of next year. There will be 70 new fully electric VWs by 2028; an investment of €30 billion in e-mobility by 2023; 22 million EV sales for the VW Group by 2028.

‘Yes those are high figures. That’s the only way. The future is electric. There’s a huge challenge in the next decade to follow the Paris climate targets. In global emissions of CO2, the transportation sector is responsible for 14 per cent. And within that 14 per cent, VW is one per cent.

‘We have chosen electrification of our portfolio. The global EV market is gaining momentum. By 2025 the UK and Germany will be up by 15 per cent, the US by six per cent, China by 17 per cent.

Key to this is the MEB platform, which has different design opportunities, different wheelbase, including the ID 3, SUVs, shooting brakes. We have roughly 15,000 pre-bookings in a week; in the UK, it crashed the internet.

‘There will be 15 million MEB vehicles in the first wave, to 2025, at an average volume of one million a year, produced at eight sites [four in Germany, one in the Czech Republic, one in the US, one in China].

‘We want this platform to be shared by other OEMs; smaller companies can join the electrified world.

 ‘Everybody knows there’s a lot of hesitation, a lot of questions, about sustainability, choice of cars, price, range, charging. The electric car is the most efficient and best way to reach the climate targets for a volume player.’

The ID.3 will have a CO2 balance of zero. ‘We have investigated the supply chain. Our suppliers use green energy. Our Zwickau factory has already changed to green energy. Elsewhere we will use a compensation scheme [ie carbon trading].’

But other aspects of the grand plan were still, he said, works in progress, for example whether the owner of an ID 3 will use green electricity, and the recycling of the car.

VW’s research shows that about 50 per cent of charging will be at home, 20 per cent at work, 25 per cent at public chargers and five per cent at chargers on long-distance routes.

In the UK, VW is working with Tesco to create the UK’s largest free EV charging network, increasing the number of public chargers by 14 per cent, as part of a multi-pronged global strategy.

‘There’s a need for good co-operation between the government and industry. In Germany, for instance, we need to change laws about the right to install wall boxes. In the UK there’s a need for long-term infrastructure planning.’

Is all this a reaction to Dieselgate? ‘It’s not done because of diesel, but let’s say it’s boosted by diesel.’

Is VW right to put all its eggs in the BEV basket? ‘There’s not a possible fruitful alternative for the next five to 10 years. But we are continuing to explore alternatives.’

What about shortages of the raw materials for batteries? ‘Early on, supplies of cobalt got so short that prices went up. But generally there is enough, globally. And the technology is evolving. Somewhere down the street it may be possible to close the loop and recycle batteries, maybe as far as raw materials.’

Everything else you need to know

We've caught the new VW ID electric hatchback out and about on winter test, confirming that this car has a footprint remarkably close to a Golf's, even if it is somewhat higher, on account of the skateboard battery cell.

Although the name is not yet clear (might it be called VW Neo? Or VW ID 3?), we do know that VW will show the production version at this autumn's Frankfurt motor show in September. It's the first proof that Volkswagen is accelerating its roll-out of electric cars; at its 2019 annual conference, Wolfsburg revealed plans to launch almost 70 electric vehicles (EVs) by 2028, instead of the 50 it had previously planned. That'll mean 40% of cars sold by 2030 will be battery powered across the VW Group (including Audi, Seat, Skoda, Porsche and others).

As a result, the projected volume of EVs to be built upon its electric platforms will spiral from 15 million to 22m, bringing crucial economies of scale - useful when all car makers are desperate to push down the cost of electrification. Committing to higher volumes will secure lower unit prices for batteries and power controllers necessary to electrify a car. The group also committed to going carbon neutral by 2050; it is analysing its CO2 output at every step of manufacturing, from factory floor to external supply chains.

Electric Volkswagens: the new ID EV range explained

The electric ID brand is as significant to Volkswagen as the Beetle was in 1945 and the original Golf in 1974. In their different ways, they transformed the company. Can ID do the same at a time when VW is still being buffeted by the aftershocks of Dieselgate? This is a revolution in vehicle design and manufacture that’s about to get very real, with VW committed to putting its first production ID on sale in 2020 for the price of a decent Golf diesel. 

In late 2018 a senior board member was quoted by Reuters saying that VW would stop building internal combustion engines by 2026. While VW isn’t dropping petrol and diesel just yet, its investment in electrification is vast; there’s no turning back now. The only question is how long the electric and internal-combustion product lines will co-exist. The £5.3bn programme includes £1.1bn at its Braunschweig, Salzgitter and Kassel sites, with a further £1bn at Zwickau. That investment in production capacity is necessary because VW expects to be building 100,000 ID models in 2020, rising to 10 times that in 2025.

Key to the programme, which will see the roll-out of 27 EV models from Seat, Skoda, Audi and VW worldwide by 2022, is its modular electric drive matrix or MEB platform. ‘This is the world’s first platform dedicated to electrification,’ Christian Senger, head of the e-mobility product line, told CAR.

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The hatch displayed at the ID brand’s launch in concept guise is the size of a Golf but with the interior space of a Passat – a crucial advantage of electric propulsion. ‘Each of the ID models, which will range from A-segment through to a saloon, SUV and a seven-seater, will have the interior space of the class above,’ explained Andreas Köhler of the MEB’s electronic project management team. 

With an anticipated 10 million vehicle sales across all VW Group brands during the first wave of electrification (and now we know up to 22m by the end of the 2020s), there’s been considerable focus on component sharing and cost cutting. The use of an all-steel platform will help; it’s far cheaper than a lightweight aluminium alternative.

But the big cost challenge will be in the less familiar area of battery costs. As VW makes the transition from internal combustion to electrification, it needs to not only master the use of batteries but secure a reliable, cost-effective supply of the raw materials, while being on the lookout for technical advances.

CAR lives with a VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid

How VW ID electric cars work

Said Senger: ‘Today 40% of an EV’s cost is the battery and while the cost of components like electric motors and power electronics has halved we won’t achieve cost parity until 2025, not before. We have to reduce battery costs but in the meantime reduce complexity by simplifying the architecture is a move in the right direction.’

Like the MEB, the battery pack is modular. According to the new WLTP assessment, the entry-level battery will offer 200 miles of range. The next step up is around 270 miles.

A third, yet to be confirmed, is expected to hold enough charge to offer a 340-mile range. Initially, the entry hatch in 2020 will only get the middle-sized battery, expected to be 48kWh; the most powerful is likely to debut in an SUV.

Volkswagen is about to start mass-producing its own electric car batteries

The lithium-ion batteries (above) are still undergoing development, according to Dr Armin Modlinger, responsible for developing cell technology for all the VW brands; he’s based at the pilot line for battery cell production being built in Salzgitter. VW is using both prismatic and pouch cells for the most efficient packaging and easier handling. ‘We need to increase the energy density to improve range by adding more nickel to the cathode and silicon to the anode,’ he said. 

Crucially, because the ID range will be built on a global scale, including the USA and China, the batteries are ‘cell agnostic’ – able to accommodate locally produced cells.

According to Modlinger, solid state batteries – with their improved safety and higher energy density – are not likely to appear until the end of the 2020s.

ID is not just about electrification. When the first production ID is launched, it will be the first VW to be permanently connected to the cloud via 4G, and it is being future-proofed for 5G. VW has developed a completely new end-to-end electronics architecture, branded E3, together with the new vw.OS operating system allowing the car’s software to be remotely updated. 

A trio of separate application servers control various functions on the car: an infotainment server for third-party apps; an autonomous driving server; and a third server that is only accessible via VW’s digital platform.

Electric Volkswagen recharging

VW is part of the Ionity partnership with Daimler, BMW and Ford, which plans to open 400 charging sites with an average of six charge points per site across Europe in 2020; as demand and technology evolve, these will be able to charge at up to 350kW and 920 volts.

Senger dismissed concerns about battery recycling and the prospect of a dead li-ion battery mountain, revealing that VW is working with both universities and industry to develop recycling processes that will recover 97 per cent of the batteries’ chemicals, although that is unlikely to emerge before 2025 when there are sufficient EVs on the road to make it financially viable. 

‘Before then we could just replace any cells that fail and rebalance the battery or remove the battery and use it for stationary storage – there will be  a huge market for this as the pricing is higher than in the automotive value chain.’

Credit where it’s due: hasn’t VW been forced into this by  Elon Musk and Tesla?’ Senger says: ‘Tesla proved that people like EVs and that it’s not just about being CO2 compliant. If Model 3 had been on time – yes, that would have been a serious threat.’

Secrets of the new Volkswagen MEB electric car hardware

VW's new MEB electric car architecture will be used in 27 VW Group electric vehicles by 2022

1) The transition has begun

The first-generation ID, built on the new MEB platform, will be made alongside the eighth-generation Golf, using the MQB platform. Petrol, diesel and electric will all be constructed under one roof. Transition could take more than one generation.

VW electric car battery

2) The great unknown

VW is on a steep learning curve with lithium-ion batteries: it’s not only developing them but also mass-producing them. Each has around 2500 components when connectors, cooling and management systems are included. For Euro-built cars, battery production is concentrated at Braunschweig, able to make 500k a year. 

Electric Volkswagen cars: lots of space in EV package

3) Under the skin, it’s still big lumps of metal

The steel MEB platform underpinning the first VW ID EVs positions the battery packs under the floor, and has a relatively long wheelbase and minimal overhangs. Combined with the absence of engine and conventional transmission, that provides a roomy cabin, albeit one with seats positioned high.

VW ID Buzz shows how a camper van or high-sided commercial vehicle can be electrified

4) Maximum modularity

Different batteries and different motors can be slotted in relatively easily, and different bodies put on top. Basic ID hatch has motor in the back, nestling among multi-link suspension, and rear-wheel drive. SUV will have an additional motor – positioned with the heating system under the front bonnet – and all-wheel drive. 

VW ID Buzz shows how a camper van or high-sided commercial vehicle can be electrified

5) Lose the blue wheels…

The first production ID will be a Golf-sized hatchback, launched at the same time as the next-generation Golf. Expect roughly similar price and performance, but Passat-level cabin space, taking advantage of the lack of ICE engine and transmission.

Ionity: VW electric car charging

6) Living with an ID

VW has a three-pronged charging strategy. Every European dealer will get at least three charging points (7.2, 11 and 125kW). Customers can buy a domestic 11kW charger. And VW is part of the Ionity project to open 400 public charging sites across Europe in 2020.

How to charge your electric Volkswagen: new mobile charging stations are planned

Volkswagen has announced a new mobile quick charging station that can be delivered anywhere to power its forthcoming range of electric cars.

Designed to enable a quicker ramping-up of the EV infrastructure, VW reckons these portable chargers are a great way to scale up quickly and support events such as festivals where there might be a temporary need to charge electric cars.

Electric Volkswagen mobile charging station

Each unit has a capacity of 360kWh and can charge up to 15 electric cars, VW claims. Time to recharge? An average of 17 minutes, making for ultra-fast recharging at 100kW. The pods are being trialled in Wolfsburg in 2019, before being rolled out to other cities in 2020 to coincide with the launch of VW's new ID range of EVs.

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