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Electric vehicles are not a short-term solution: VW

Electric short-circuit: Volkswagen Group of America president and CEO Stefan Jacoby says electric vehicles are not the short-term answer.

VW exec urges consumers to lower EV expectations

23 Mar 2009

IN CONTRAST with other leading car manufacturers striving to achieve widespread electric vehicle (EV) sales over the next decade, Volkswagen believes EVs will take 25 years or longer to achieve significant global market share.

Speaking to the University of California in Los Angeles earlier this month, Volkswagen Group of America president and CEO Stefan Jacoby detailed a number of drawbacks related to EVs and their infrastructure, and stressed that other green-car innovations – including further optimisation of the internal combustion engine – were higher priorities for the European auto giant.

“The technology of electric cars is not really properly developed – there’s a lot of research and engineering necessary in respect for the safety of the battery, the lasting of the battery, the whole issue of the recycling of the battery (and) the electric engine itself,” he said.

“Electric engines are very properly running when they are on high torque and high speed, but it’s getting more complicated with electric engines when they are in a city mode with a lot of accelerations and slow movements – so this is not really properly solved.

“And there is no infrastructure. What do you guys believe would happen if 50 million customers plugged in their electric cars in an electric socket? There is no country on earth who is really properly prepared for electric cars.”

 center imageLeft: VW Polo. Below: The Golf.

Mr Jacoby added that petrol prices would have to rise substantially – to about $US10 a gallon – before consumers could break even on an EV investment, considering the costs involved in purchasing the vehicle and its battery.

He also said that while Volkswagen favoured leasing a battery, there were infrastructure issues with battery maintenance and recycling that were a long way from being resolved.

“On a global scale, there is a shortage of batteries, and there is a shortage also of competence, especially in the western world, with battery technologies – not only in the United States but also in Europe as well,” he said.

According to Mr Jacoby, the world will have to live for another 25 years or so with fossil fuel engines.

“The key to ‘sustainable mobility’ is not at the beginning or at the end of the car’s lifespan – it’s during its service years when it is on the road. At Volkswagen, we are taking a long-term and a short-term approach – and the short-term is not electric vehicles,” he said.

“Our goal is a carbon-neutral car, but we are not letting that long-term goal distract us from improvements we can make right now. Before fossil fuels can be completely phased out, and that will take at least 20 to 30 years, we have to make sure that we get maximum efficiency from gasoline and diesel engines.

“I personally believe that we will have fossil (fuel)-driven vehicles for the next 20 to 25 years. We should not dream, and it’s totally unrealistic, that within a decade markets like the United States, like Europe or especially global emerging markets can change to advanced technology.

“The good news is that the gasoline engines and other fossil fuel-related engines can be dramatically optimised.” As examples, Mr Jacoby mentioned wider availability of ‘clean’ diesel engines, increased bio-fuel compatibility, and development of diesel-electric hybrid powertrains and plug-in hybrids.

He said that following the 50 new models the Volkswagen Group introduced globally in 2008, the company would introduce 60 new models and product enhancements worldwide this year. In 2010, VW intended to bring 20 “completely new products” into the market globally.

“Why? Our customers want us to change. Our customers want us to change the direction of sustainable mobility,” he said.

“The auto industry has changed many times through the course of its 120-year history. We are in a period of profound change right now. And we will emerge better for it. The economy will rebound, that’s a fact, and when it does the winners will be the companies that … take the road towards sustainable mobility and sustainable investment into modern technology.

“In these challenging times, the economy and customers are sending the same message. Consumer tastes are in line with economic realities. That’s why we have to respond – now. Not some time in the future, after the economy has recovered.

“I’m not saying that the final solution couldn’t be electric cars. Or that I’m saying the final solution would be the fuel-cell cars, which is even more complicated. What I want to bring over to you guys here is to please lower your expectations. Gasoline engines have a huge capacity for improvement.”

Read more:

First Oz drive: Volkswagen Golf remastered

First look: VW renews Polo for Geneva

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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