VW Plans to Recover From Its Scandal by Going Electric
Now that the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal is a month old, the new VW Brand Board of Management is beginning to publicly discuss its plans for the future—and how they’ve changed.
Step one: Use emission control systems that actually control emissions. Step two: Go electric.
As soon as possible, VW says, it will start equipping all its diesel cars in Europe and North America with AdBlue technology and selective catalytic reduction, a chemical process that breaks smoggy NOx down into nitrogen and water. It adds complication and expense—$5,000 to $8,000 per car—but it’s effective, eliminating 70 to 90 percent of NOx emissions.
VW’s big “advance” was the “clean diesel” technology that supposedly made this technology unnecessary on its smaller cars, like the Beetle, Jetta, and Audi A3 that are being recalled because they don’t meet emissions standards under real-world driving conditions.
Beyond diesels, VW announced it is “giving our product range and our core technologies a new focus,” lurching away from diesel and toward another way to meet increasingly strict CO2 and NOx emissions regulations in the US and Europe: an increased focus on plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. One of those, the company announced this week, will be the next-generation Volkswagen Phaeton.
Details are scarce, but the press release is full of high-minded statements about the past and the future. The first Phaeton was an engineering marvel that turned out to be one of the finest executive sedans ever made. Too bad no one in America wanted a $70,000 Volkswagen.
Well, VW is trying again, but rather than making the world’s greatest gasoline-powered car, it’s looking at something more futuristic.
“The Volkswagen Phaeton has embodied the brand’s technological competence and brand ambition from the first generation onward,” the company says. It plans to make the new Phaeton “the flagship for the brand’s profile over the next decade.”
The new Phaeton has supposedly been in the works for a while. VW says it’s “redefined the current project,” though it’s not clear exactly what’s changing, and what kind of work needs to be done to get there. VW is calling for a Phaeton with “pure electric drive” with “long-distance capability.”
This is not an easy shift to make. To date, the pure electric vehicle market has been split in two, with the roughly $100,000, 265-mile range Tesla on one side, and more affordable, 85-mile range city cars on the other (like VW’s own $29,000 e-Golf). Without years of investment, it’s hard to believe VW can bring out a fully electric large sedan with serious range and an attainable price tag anytime soon.
That’s why VW says its “focus is on plug-in hybrids,” which combine an electric motor with an engine, and can drive powered either by electricity or by gasoline. VW’s sister brand Audi has already put plug-in hybrid versions of its R8 and A3 cars on the market, with the “e-tron” moniker. VW brands Bentley and Lamborghini are also planning to introduce plug-in hybrid versions of their upcoming luxury SUVs, so it’s not a stretch to imagine the tech coming out with a VW badge on the hood.
Along with electric drive, VW promises the Phaeton will deliver “an emotional design.”
Based on the response from VW’s customers and dealers to the scandal so far, let’s hope that emotion isn’t disgust and betrayal.
Still, Volkswagen is a huge company with a ton of wicked smart engineers and designers (the diesel scandal aside) and we’re very interested to see what they come up with. But it may be too little, too late.