Electric cars to become ‘hallmark’ of VW’s portfolio

Automotive giant Volkswagen (VW) has unveiled new transformative outlines for its future projections, which will see the company make electric vehicles (EVs) its new "hallmark", in an attempt to rectify the recent emissions-rigging scandal.

VW has announced it will focus future production on EV portfolios, which will see 20 different models released across its VW, Audi and Porsche divisions by 2020; but only after the “very last vehicle” from the dieselgate scandal has been recalled and fixed.

Speaking at VW’s annual conference, chief executive Matthias Mueller said: “The automotive industry is on the cusp on the next innovative leap. The car of the future is more efficient, more intelligent, more comfortable and also safer than ever before.

“It will be powered by electricity, and in a few years will drive itself. It will be connected via next-generation wireless technology and will always be up to the latest technological standards thanks to continuous software updates.”

Mueller stated that VW’s first all-electric car would be operational and on the roads by 2020, and will act as a “hallmark” for the company alongside the Porsche Mission E, and Audi’s e-tron quattro concept car.

While the shift to an electrified portfolio is a sign of progress for the German car maker, Mueller noted that, for the immediate future, redemptive efforts to fix rigged vehicles would be the “most important task until the very last vehicle has been put in order”.

More than 500,000 defective VW vehicles have been recalled after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found models with Type EA 189 engines had been fitted with a device designed to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) under testing conditions.

The scandal – which caused nearly one million tonnes of extra pollution – has led to public backlash, levy fines which VW anticipates to reach $8.8bn and the resignation of chief executive Martin Winterkorn.

VW – which announced a net loss of €5.5bn for 2015 and has set aside €16.2bn to cover scandal damages – will now attempt to reinvent its public image, which included an apology to US President Barack Obama, by entering into an EV market which could be accountable for one third of all car sales by 2040.

Bio-fuelling the discussion

However, VW’s new EV ambitions are somewhat contrasted with a study released on Wednesday (27 April) by consulting firm Roland Berger, which was commissioned by executives from Shell and VW as part of the EU Auto Fuel Coalition. The study declared the use of biofuels, CO2 car labelling and the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) as a potentially better means to introduce new fuel efficiency targets.

Alongside delegates from Shell – which itself recently unveiled its new project M recyclable EV prototype that uses 34% less energy than current vehicles – VW’s new head of research and development Ulrich Eichhorn noted that while EVs were “building blocks” for the future automotive market, biofuels would be needed to bridge the gap.

At a meeting in Brussels, Eichhorn said: “Modern diesel and natural gas engines will absolutely be required to deliver CO2 targets until 2020 and they will also contribute to further reductions going on from there.”

Lax limits

The results of the study come as NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) warned that the use of biodiesel in transport will increase emissions by 4% – the same as putting an extra 12 million cars on the road in 2020.

Despite the EU planning to add two new fuel efficieny targets within the next 15 years as part of the legally-binding requirements established – and later signed – as part of the Paris Agreement, European lawmakers have actually backed a compromise deal to reduce car emissions that will still allow vehicles to exceed official pollution limits.

The lax approach to fuel efficiency has contributed to emissions from Britain’s diesel cars being “five times over EU limits”. A Department for Transport (DfT) investigation revealed that some vehicles are still producing up to 12 times the EU maximum limit for road-tested emissions.

Matt Mace

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