In 2016, Volkswagen started a family of futuristic concept cars named I.D. We first saw a Golf-sized hatchback, followed by a crossover with a fastback-like roof line, a modern interpretation of the emblematic rear-engined Bus, and a high-end sedan that will soon sit at the top of the company’s line-up. With the exception of the R, a race car designed for Pikes Peak, every I.D. rides on a modular platform named MEB.
“There is a real market for electric cars. We just need to understand what customers want to see,” Christian Senger, Volkswagen’s head of e-mobility, told Digital Trends. He listed Norway, where 30 percent of new cars run on electricity, as a prime example.
MEB will allow Volkswagen to experiment with different types of electric vehicles and see what works. It’s flexible enough to underpin anything from the I.D. hatchback to the Vizzion, which is roughly as big as Audi’s stately A8.
In recent years, government incentives have propped up sales of electric and hybrid vehicles in key markets like Europe and the United States. Many auto-makers frantically sent SOS signals last year when the American government announced it could end the incentive program because they were worried sales would embark on a free-fall. Volkswagen isn’t betting on incentives to make its EVs popular.
“Subsidies aren’t everything. We hope there are still some support programs available but the business case is not built on that. Imagine, when Volkswagen says we plan on building one million electric cars a year; that’s the size of some OEMs. Can you create a business based on receiving subsidies or trusting government support programs? No way you’d kill yourself,” Senger said.
Engineers aren’t locking themselves into a single cell type, either. The brightest minds in the automotive industry agree lithium-ion battery packs will power electric vehicles in the foreseeable future, but these same minds are also working hard to make solid state batteries a reality.
In theory, MEB is compatible with different types of batteries as long as the pack’s basic dimension remains the same. It’s also ready for autonomous driving, whether level five arrives in 2025 or 2050. Engineers left enough space in the platform to install the huge ECUs required to program a car that drives itself.
So far, a distinct family resemblance has linked all of the concepts even the R, in spite of it being a one-off model that shares no parts with its more down-to-earth siblings. Some styling cues will make the transition from concept to production, but the final products could look different than the design studies that preview them as stylists continue to make changes.
“Most I.D. cars don’t have a design freeze yet. If you look at the appearance of the cars from the past year and a half it was an evolution, and I assume we will continue to optimize the design language,” Volkswagen of America boss Hinrich Woebcken told Digital Trends.
Volkswagen will begin building the I.D. hatchback a name that might not make the transition to production in 2019. The Crozz will follow shortly after, and it could be assembled in the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. The Buzz will arrive after the turn of the decade, and the Vizzion will round out the first part of the model offensive in 2022.
Woebcken revealed that, like its rivals, Volkswagen is considering launching a subscription service in the United States. It’s an option that remains on the table but his team hasn’t made a final decision yet. Woebcken, Senger, and other decision-makers we talked to predict the I.D. cars will help transform Volkswagen, much like the original Golf did when it took the baton from the venerable Beetle.
“We have shortened the development time. It’s a four-year program. We’re designing a new platform, a new powertrain, and new electronics. Usually you do not combine all of this. In order to really recreate Volkswagen, we decided to do it all together,” Senger concluded.