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Volkswagen chief outlines future priorities

What’s next?: Volkswagen AG chairman Martin Winterkorn made some intriguing – and no doubt influential – forecasts at last week’s International Motor Symposium in Vienna.

Plug-in hybrid, natural gas, hi-po turbo-diesel, 10-speed DSG on Volkswagen agenda

29 Apr 2013

VOLKSWAGEN has provided insight into its next-generation drivetrains, with a 10-speed dual-clutch transmission and a high-performance diesel with an electric turbocharger well under development.

Europe’s largest car-maker has also signalled that it will continue to put its substantial weight behind plug-in hybrid and natural gas-powered vehicles as medium-term solutions to achieving strict emissions targets.

By using its vast global footprint, and industry-leading levels of commonality between model lines, the company claims it can more efficiently spread vehicle electrification – starting with plug-ins – across a host of segments, thereby helping the industry “make the breakthrough” to critical mass.

Therefore, expect the German powerhouse to deploy these developments across much of its portfolio, including vehicles badged Skoda, Audi and Porsche. The group’s entire global range will soon share a mere handful of adjustable modular platforms.

Speaking at the International Motor Symposium in Vienna last week, Volkswagen AG chairman Martin Winterkorn gave the motoring world an unusual sneak-peek into its future plans.

A diverse strategy will see the company continue to invest in numerous drive technologies, with the overarching objective of lowering the CO2 emissions of its European new-car fleet to 95 grams per kilometre by 2020.

Of most significance is confirmation that the company will add more ratios to its DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, with the onus on reduced fuel use. More ratios mean fewer revs per minute, and therefore lower fuel use.

Since the company’s current-generation six- and seven-speed DSG units are in use across much of its global range – including Audi, which has versions labelled S-tronic – expect to see the 10-speed version in a host of future models.

Several automotive giants consider extra ratios a crucial way to cut fuel use, with arch-rivals Ford and General Motors actually teaming up to develop their own 10-speed unit, and Korean giant Hyundai doing the same.

Meantime, despite the gap between petrol and diesel engine fuel use narrowing significantly in recent years, Volkswagen clearly sees enough upside to invest in a high-performance, next-generation family of oil-burners.

An accompanying release refers to “new technologies that are finding their way into the modular diesel component system’s future engine generation” – pointing to deployment in a wide range of vehicles.

The company claims its engines will produce up to 100kW per litre – a 2.0-litre unit with 200kW would certainly set some new benchmarks – thanks to a variable valve-train assembly, a high-pressure injection system at up to 3000 bar and combined charging with an e-booster (VW-speak for an electric turbo).

Dr Winterkorn said existing internal combustion engines still have potential, despite a growing focus on electricity.

“Since the year 2000, we’ve reduced the fuel consumption of our TDI and TSI engines by more than 30 per cent. I’m convinced that by 2020 we can achieve further increases in efficiency of around 15 per cent,” he said.

Factors making this possible, he said, would include “enhancement of the combustion process”, lightweight design, and optimisation of friction levels and thermal management.

Probably of less importance in terms of overall volume in the near future, but nevertheless crucial for brand perception and longer-term development, is Volkswagen’s seeming emphasis on plug-in hybrid technology rather than pure electric vehicles (EVs).

“In the medium term, the first choice in terms of alternative drive systems is plug-in hybrid technology,” the company said in a statement.

“This enables a purely electric range of up to 50 kilometres, a high level of suitability for everyday use by virtue of recharging from a socket at home and also complete flexibility for long journeys thanks to an efficient internal combustion engine.

“The Volkswagen Group’s first plug-in hybrids, the Porsche Panamera and Audi A3 e-tron, will shortly be going into full production. They will be followed by the Golf and many other models, such as the Passat, Audi A6 and Porsche Cayenne.” Finally, Volkswagen AG will persist with its developments in natural gas vehicles – potentially pertinent given Australia’s vast reserves.

“The gas engine is environmentally friendly, economical and suitable for everyday use,” said Dr Winterkorn. “The technology is fully developed and the vehicles are already on the market.” The best example, he said, is the new Eco-Up – at 79 grams of CO2 per kilometre – claimed to be the world’s most economical natural gas car. The group said it will further roll out natural gas technology with the Golf TGI BlueMotion and the Audi A3 g-tron.

“We need to make the public even more aware of the benefits of natural gas engines. Everyone needs to play their part in this: car-makers, politicians and the fuel industry,” said Dr Winterkorn.

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