Olaf Schilgen of Volkswagen presented the company’s strategy for e-mobility by jumping straight into the question of which cars are needed in which countries, and thereby also which drive technology is most applicable: e-mobility might not be the answer in 100% of the cases.
So what is the problem? Is it not enough EVs? Offers? Or the charging infrastructure? The argument made by Schilgen is that technology is expensive, and new innovations are not what the client is used to, so a manufacturer needs time to adjust its portfolio to the changing needs of a rather conservative customer base. For instance, Wolfsburg produces 4000 EVs daily, but there are 120 Volkswagen factories worldwide and the job of convincing clients to switch over often requires them to be convinced during a test drive, which they only do when they are in need of a new car every 3-5 years (at the best).
Volkwagen has increasingly invested into its iD brand in the past two years, owing in part to the Diesel crisis, and now wants to offer its 20-30 different models in electric versions in the near future, but still offer the traditional models as well. One attempt has been the e-Golf, where the vehicle is completely battery-operated but looks like any other Golf. This is not optimal for what an EV could do: the motor is very small in comparison to traditional motors, and thus needs less space. The heavy motor and transmission also aren’t ideal in an accident as they don’t compact on impact. With batteries the design of the vehicle can be changed to improve weight distribution, build a safer car, and create more space in the vehicle itself whilst making the vehicle smaller and more efficient.
At the moment, the battery cells fit around the Golf, not the car around the batteries, which also means increased costs because of inefficent and complicated parts during assembly. If the design is focused on the batteries, this can be improved and the cost and be lowered to be equal to what one would pay for a car with a traditional motor and gearbox.
Another problem is the desire by some of the clients to have their EV stand out from ordinary cars. In the words of Schilgen: “Das merkt doch keiner”. One has to straddle the line between being too innovative, and too forward thinking, and not making enough changes for them to be noticable to the naked eye.
With EVs hopefully thus becoming more affordable, more efficient, and more palatable for the consumer, the next question is where to charge them and who pays for the necessary infrastructural changes?