The VW Group night is a long-standing tradition where all the brands of the mighty Volkswagen Group get together to showcase what they have in store on the night before the opening of the two major auto shows every year – Geneva, which is held annually, and Paris or Frankfurt, which alternate each year.
Well, on the first such event since the diesel scandal broke two years ago, Matthias Muller, Chairman of the Board of Management for Volkswagen, was driven out onto the stage by an autonomous driving pod named Sedric. And he had a rather blunt message for the industry. He said that business, as usual, was over. The days of basking in “our own glory” in Frankfurt – the largest motor show in the world – are over! He said that the VW Group had got the message loud and clear and that they would be more transparent and honest when declaring emissions levels.
He went on to say that the current generation of petrol and diesel engines being produced by the Group are the cleanest ever. He emphasised that state-of-the-art diesels are not the problem – and that they’re actually an indispensable part of the solution. This seemingly inevitable transition to electric mobility is much more from switching from technology A to technology B. “The current technology has brought good things, and it’s important to keep it alive. A well thought out transition to electric mobility is required, and ideological trench warfare will get us nowhere,” warned Muller.
By 2025, one in four new cars from the Group would be all-electric – which means up to 3 million electric cars per year, since the VW Group sells 10 million vehicles a year. VW will put all its industrial might behind this initiative, and aims to be number one in electric mobility by 2025. The VW Group is launching the largest electric mobility initiative the auto industry has ever seen, with plans to launch 80 new electric models across segments from their different brands – which include Volkswagen of course, but also the likes of Audi, Porsche, and Bentley. These electric cars will have charge times of no more than a coffee break. And by 2030, the VW Group will electrify its entire model line-up – which is to say that there will be at least one electric variant of every model in its line-up. So, their engineers have to rethink all development. Moreover, it’s a clear signal on the political level.
Muller said, “2030 in the auto world, with its long development cycles, is like the day after tomorrow. So we're going to race towards this future, and by 2030 we will make more than 20 billion Euros available for this development. We will also take batteries into our own hands.”
The Group is in the process of setting up a new pilot factory to produce lithium-ion battery packs. By 2025, the VW Group will need a battery capacity of 150GWh (gigawatt hours) per year, which is the equivalent of 4 giga-factories (an obvious reference to the massive facility being setup by Tesla in the Nevada desert). The VW Group will invest over 50 billion Euros in this project in the long term, and initiate one of the biggest procurement projects in history.
Next-generation battery technology
The next generation power source will be the solid-state battery, which will provide a range of 1,000 kilometres. But creating a comprehensive charging infrastructure will be key, and much more needs to be done. “Only when this is done will customers trust electric mobility. This requires a joint effort, and everyone has to make their contribution,” said Muller.
Voice of reason
Muller closed his address by urging administrations the world over to listen to the voice of reason. He was almost pleading with the powers that be when he went on to say that the Group still needs the modern internal combustion engines as a bridge to this new era. “By selling the vehicles of today, we are making the money to invest in future,” said Muller. For the time being, the Group is looking at the entire powertrain spectrum, from CNG to Hydrogen. He closed by saying that the transformation of the industry is unstoppable, and the VW Group will lead this transformation.
All eyes on 2030 then, both in India – because of the government’s stated objective of phasing out the internal combustion engine – as well as in Germany, the powerhouse of the global automotive industry.