It’s easy to forget that, just one month ago, the eyes of the automotive industry were fixed firmly on the 2015 Frankfurt motor show. Connectivity, autonomy, new business models… These and more were at the forefront of OEM and supplier technology developments, whilst the new and future product launches themselves focused on performance, luxury, SUVs and luxury SUVs.
There was nary a mention at the IAA of green or blue technology, and “battery electric” appeared only on concepts to be developed for launch after 2018.
Just one month later, fuel economy, CO2 emissions and most importantly NOx emissions have become a regular feature not just within industry press but also the mainstream media. Consumers are concerned about the cleanliness of diesel, and it won’t be long before the widely expected shift in Europe’s diesel:gasoline ratio is visible in monthly sales data.
There was nary a mention at the IAA of green or blue technology, and “battery electric” appeared only on concepts to be developed for launch after 2018
With an uncertain outlook for diesel, what’s an OEM to do to meet future fleet-wide CO2 emissions targets? At a Standard & Poor’s automotive event this week, a straw poll saw attendees unanimously identify regulation as the number one automotive industry concern. Increasingly stringent emissions targets have been blamed for VW’s defeat device use, raising questions about further efficiency gains in combustion engine technology. Mainstream fuel cell cars appear to still be a decade away, apparently leaving electrification as the next available option.
Sales figures have already highlighted the gulf between consumers’ and regulators’ interest in BEVs. Nonetheless, VW’s latest new corporate strategy sees the OEM making a renewed push on emobility.
Presented this week by brand head Herbert Diess, the headlines of VW’s new strategy include a €1bn annual reduction in investments, a “reorientation of the diesel strategy” to focus only on SCR and AdBlue technology, and increased emphasis on electrification.
People don’t want dirty diesels, but they also don’t want EVs – didn’t we learn that just a month ago in Frankfurt?
It’s worth remembering that a move to electrification has not just been conjured up; former Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn announced a commitment at the IAA to launch 20 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2020. Now VW has confirmed that its electrification strategy will consist of a new EV architecture and a new electric Phaeton. For so long considered by observers to be the most ‘cancellable’ VW activity, the low-selling Phaeton somehow continues to survive, and the next iteration of this Piech-sponsored project will be an all-electric, long-range, high-end, highly-connected flagship vehicle.
Its sights set clearly on another all-electric, long-range, high-end, highly-connected vehicle, VW believes that from around 2019, the Phaeton “will once again be the flagship for the brand’s profile over the next decade”; note that by then the Tesla Model S will have been on the market for seven years.
VW is in desperate need of corporate reinvention, but this is no time to rush. An announcement about switching focus from diesels to EVs looks, well, rushed. People don’t want dirty diesels, but they also don’t want EVs – didn’t we learn that just a month ago in Frankfurt?
Martin Kahl is Editor, Automotive World
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