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Volkswagen to plug in

Futuristic: Volkswagen's XL1 plug-in hybrid coupe concept from this year's Qatar show had a two-cylinder diesel-electric drivetrain claimed to return fuel economy of just 0.9L/100km and CO2 emissions of 24g/km.

German giant to top Toyota as VW promises a range of plug-in hybrids from 2013/14

Volkswagen logo10 May 2011


VOLKSWAGEN has met and raised Toyota by announcing it will introduce a range of plug-in hybrid models from “2013/14”.

The German giant’s electrification plan was revealed by Volkswagen chairman Prof Martin Winterkorn at the 32nd International Vienna Motor Symposium on May 5.

Yesterday (May 9), Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported that Toyota plans to make plug-in technology standard on its Prius from 2014 – when the next generation of the Japanese giant’s hybrid icon is due for release.

Both VW and Toyota continue to develop hybrid and all-electric vehicles, but Dr Winterkorn made it clear that VW – which along with General Motors could overtake Toyota in terms of global sales this year – thinks plug-in technology is the most viable form of electrification in the mid-term.

“The electric car will impact the future of individual mobility in crucial ways and Volkswagen is spearheading this technology,” he said.

“Over the mid-term, the plug-in hybrid offers great potential, because it combines the best of two worlds in one vehicle.”

Dr Winterkorn said plug-in hybrid technology delivers unlimited internal combustion engine performance combined with attractive electric mobility ranges in everyday driving, with no limit in vehicle speed or climbing and towing ability, while still reducing CO2 emissions.

But he warned that more targeted research funding, especially in the field of electro-chemistry for battery technology, is required.

 center imageFrom top: Volkswagen chairman, Prof Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen Golf Blue-E-Motion, Volkswagen Up, Porsche Panamera hybrid, Audi A3 e-Tron.

“Electric mobility is the task of the century for the automotive industry and the European industrial community as a whole. Manufacturers, suppliers, energy providers, scientists and politicians – everyone must step up to the plate here,” said Dr Winterkorn.

It already offers a number of hybrid models, including the Touareg SUV, but will not launch its fuel-saving ‘BlueMotion’ vehicle range in Australia until June, when the Golf BlueMotion is released, followed by the new Touareg BlueMotion in July.

VW luxury brand Audi has also committed to releasing its first full hybrid models in the Q5 SUV and new A6, as well its first all-electric model in the e-Tron Spyder, by the end of 2012. It has also revealed a string of plug-in hybrid prototypes, including the Audi A5 e-Tron.

Another VW luxury brand, Porsche, has gone further, last October committing to producing a hybrid version of every model in its range.

Porsche last year introduced its first hybrid model – the Cayenne – and next month will release its second: the Panamera S Hybrid. Hybrid power for the 911 has been previewed in the 911 GT3 Hybrid R racecar, while the 918 Spyder supercar will represent Porsche’s first plug-in hybrid.

Volkswagen debuted the futuristic XL1 plug-in hybrid coupe concept at the Qatar motor show earlier this year, powered by a two-cylinder diesel-electric drivetrain that was claimed to return fuel economy of just 0.9L/100km and CO2 emissions of just 24g/km.

The maker, which previously also revealed a plug-in hybrid version of the Golf, dubbed the TwinDrive, said it would produce just 100 examples of the gullwinged tandem two-seater for Germany, the US and China in 2013.

Volkswagen’s long-awaited entry into the volume plug-in hybrid market, however, is expected to include the next-generation (Mk7) Golf and Audi’s third-generation A3, both of which will be based on the company’s new compact front-drive MQB platform.

Despite committing to releasing its zero-emissions Golf Blue-E-Motion EV in late 2013 – soon after it launches its Up city-car, which should also offer at least the option of EV power – VW’s latest announcement suggests it will now not build a purely battery-powered version of the Golf to rival the Nissan Leaf.

VW Group sold about 1.97 million vehicles globally in the first quarter of this year (up 14 per cent) – more than a quarter of which (548,400 units) came from China, where it is the market leader.

Volkswagen, which has stated plans to be the world’s biggest auto-maker by 2018, expects to sell about eight million vehicles this year.

Meantime, Toyota early next year will launch a plug-in version of its Prius, which is expected to be priced around the same as the regular Prius and will be the first Toyota to be feature a lithium-ion battery pack, extending its electric-only driving range to more than 60km.

Last October, Toyota – which has promised to produce a hybrid version of every model in its range by 2020 – said cumulative Prius sales had reached two million units worldwide. The first Prius was launched in Japan in 1997, followed by the second in 2003 and the third in 2009.

Nikkei said Toyota was aiming for total annual hybrid vehicle sales of a million units a year by 2015 – up from 700,000 units in 2010.

Toyota has also committed to releasing an EV version of its iQ city-car in 2012, featuring a new flat lithium-ion battery pack that Toyota claims will give the car a potential driving range of up to 105km on a single charge.

While the iQ EV was developed in-house, Toyota has also co-developed an electric version of its RAV4 EV with Tesla for US sales in 2012.

Now, however, in the absence of a fully fledged recharging network, the Nikkei reports that Toyota is looking to plug-in hybrids as the most promising next-generation vehicle technology.

Including the Prius Plug-In, which has been confirmed for sale in Japan, the US and Europe by early 2012 and is expected to attract more than 50,000 annual sales, Toyota has promised to release 11 new hybrids by the end of 2012.

Toyota and Volkswagen’s plug-in hybrid plans are in line with that of GM, whose high-tech new Volt was launched in the US late last year and will go on sale in Australia alongside Nissan’s all-electric Leaf in 2012.

GM describes the Volt a range-extending electric vehicle, but it is, in effect, a plug-in hybrid.

Ford, meantime, revealed its electrification strategy at the Detroit motor show in March, when it committed to introducing five part or full electric vehicles by 2013.

So far we’ve seen the Focus Electric, C-Max Energi and C-Max Hybrid, but Ford potentially could fit both its all-electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains to all 10 derivatives of the new Focus, including next year’s new Kuga/Escape.

While other car-makers such as Renault-Nissan have forecast a rapid take-up of all-electric vehicles like the Leaf, it is not the first time VW has lambasted EV technology for the medium-term.

Renault chief Carlos Ghosn famously predicted in 2009 that EVs would account for 10 per cent of global vehicle sales by 2020, but in the same year VW said EVs will take 25 years or longer to achieve significant global market share.

“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,” said Volkswagen Group of America president and CEO Stefan Jacoby at the University of California.

“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.”

VW also used this year’s Vienna Motor Symposium to unveil two new engines that will be available “shortly” – a new 2.0-litre TDI turbo-diesel and an E85 ethanol-compatible version of its turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-litre TSI ‘TwinCharger’.

Fitted to the new Passat sedan, the latter will produce 118kW and return 8.8L/100km and 144g/km of CO2 on E85 with a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG transmission – a seven per cent reduction on the petrol version.

While the E85 TwinCharged Passat will be sold first in ethanol-friendly nations such as Sweden and Finland, VW also showed an upgraded version of its second-generation 2.0-litre TDI diesel.

Now meeting North America’s strict BIN5/ULEV emissions regulations while maintaining its 103kW/320Nm outputs and 6.7L/100km economy, it will be produced for US-market Passats at VW’s Chattanooga plant.

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