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It's Not Late, It Just Won't Be Here Until 2014


Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion – Click above for high-res image gallery

Don't tell Volkswagen that it's behind the curve on electric vehicles. The company is showing off its brand new e Golf – sorry, Golf Blue-e-motion – to journalists in Wolfburg, Germany this week, and is making sure to remind us that it has made at least 20 plug-in or hybrid prototypes in the past four decades, from the Electric Transporter in 1973 to the Space Up! in 2007. Okay, the company may not bring an electric vehicle (EV) to market until 2013 – three years after Nissan and General Motors – but that doesn't mean VW is really behind its competition.

This is the company line, anyway, and VW just might have a point. The press release announcing the latest on the electric Golf, for example, says that, while the prototype vehicle gets around 100 miles of range today, the version that will be released in 2014, "is expected to be significantly improved with the battery technology used then." That's a real advantage, no? This appears to be VW's game: make EVs at its own pace and try to get it right in a big way. We got a behind-the-wheel preview of 2014 with a short test drive of the Golf Blue-e-Motion and lots more on VW's e-mobility strategy, and you can read all about it after the jump.


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Photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / AOL

Driving the Golf Blue-e-motion: wherein we discover just how bad this thing needs a new name

Early one morning we were given the keys to a Golf R, the performance version of VW's most popular vehicle, and rocked it up to 125 miles per hour on the Autobahn. Man, that's fun. The Golf Blue-e-motion can't quite match that, topping out at a max speed of just 135 km/h (about 84 miles per hour), but that doesn't mean the car isn't also a blast to pilot. Calling it a "blue emotion" is just wrong. The car isn't depressing in the least. The company line on EVs? That's a bit of a downer, but not the car.

The one thing VW got absolutely right: selectable regenerative braking. There are four levels, from sailing to harsh regen, and it's great to be able to use the shifter paddles on the steering wheel to cycle through them. We'd have been quite happy with the two settings at the extremes, but we won't quibble with four. Cruising through wet Wolfsburg streets with the Golf Blue-e-motion's weight split 50/50 thanks to the battery placement, which is quite different than the front-biased standard Golf, handling was great at city speeds. The e Golf is also incredibly quiet, even for an electric vehicle, and that's saying something. It doesn't hurt that the Golf on which it's based is already a quiet ride. One big problem: the accelerator pedal completely lost the ability to function on a highway exit ramp, but a few restarts solved the problem. Such is the life of a prototype vehicle.

Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion frontVolkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion rear

Aside from the different regen levels, there are three drive modes to change how the car behaves: Normal, Comfort+ and Range+ (guess what they do), which are selectable on the go by a button near the shifter. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, which brilliantly adjusts the displayed "range to empty" figure as you play with the settings, the RTE number in the eGolf only adjusts to your current driving style, not the "range+" button. This means that, over the course of probably five kilometers of increasingly careful driving, we managed to keep the estimate at 70 km, even while the battery state of charge number kept dropping. Under normal driving conditions, it appears these numbers usually decrease in tandem, implying that the electric Golf has a real-world range closer to 60 miles than the 90+ quoted by VW. Without more time behind the wheel (we were given just 15 minutes), it's hard to know for sure, but we think VW's got room for improvement here.

There are other things that might change in the next four or so years. The car has no creep at idle, but it might based on the markets where the car is sold. Also, when the car is actually released, it will be based on the then-current Golf, not today's model, which is what we drove. We'd like to see the regen modes – currently called D, D1, D2 and D3 – given better names and or abilities, something like a "slow traffic" mode would be great. If VW could figure out how to make the car automatically adjust these braking levels based on things like GPS and traffic reports, that'd be pretty slick.

Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion motor


More details on the car: wherein we learn about the long path VW is taking

Speaking to the group of journalists at the end of a long and rainy day, Christian Klingler, VW Group board member of sales and marketing, repeated the mantra that VW has been working on electric cars for decades and is happy with its timetable. If this is true, then the obvious question is why is the company now ready to move from the R&D labs into the showroom? Klingler said it's because customers are more aware of the environmental impacts of everything today, and events like the Deepwater Horizon explosion have had a tremendous impact in the U.S. "We are sure electrification is the right path," he said.

Right now, there are only five or six Golf Blue-e-motions in the world, one of which just won the first Brighton to London Future Car Challenge in the UK this past weekend. As for the path to the eGolf's widespread availability, VW's Rudolf Kreps, group chief officer for electric traction, told AutoblogGreen that there has been no change in the timetable to bring the Golf Blue-e-motion to market (there was, though, as you can see in this press release).

So, with that in mind, here's the short version of VW's current electric vehicle plans: Jetta hybrid, which VW is trying to position as a performance hybrid, is coming in 2012. The company's first pure EV, the Up!, follows in Europe in 2013. In 2014, the electric Golf will make an appearance, followed by a plug-in hybrid of some sort. Prices, volume and release dates for these vehicles are all complete unknowns at this point, but Klingler said that the company will be flexible with production capacity numbers. This is one reason, he said, that it might be a good thing not to be first out of the EV gate. After all, the Honda Insight was the first hybrid to come to the U.S., but that's not the car that we automatically associate with the word "hybrid" today, is it? Just saying.

Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion profile

Even with all of this pro-EV talk, it's clear that there is still some serious EV skepticism at diesel-loving VW. Klingler said it most clearly:
The electric car is not a request from the customer. It's a request from the government. Developments are increasing the willingness of the customers to buy this car but it's important to understand that, from a market point of view, this is not so easy.

VW knows something about customer requests, because it is currently very big into conducting market research. The reason for all the queries is because VW has set four ambitious goals for itself for 2018:
  • To be the market leader in customer satisfaction
  • To have the best workers, and have them be the most satisfied, too
  • To make money
  • To sell 10 million cars a year, including a million in the U.S. (between the Audi and VW brands)
In talking with customers and potential customers around the world, VW says it has a good idea of what it will take to reach those goals. For various reasons, company execs know they have to play the plug-in game, but no one thinks these are the cars that will lead the way. Klingler said that the question about estimating the market share of plug-in vehicles in 2018 is "one of the most complicated to answer." There are studies that say it'll be three to five percent, others that say there's no way it'll be more than three and others that say it'll be more than five. Klinger wouldn't say what he or VW expects, but did say that whatever the number is for the industry as a whole is what it'll be for VW. When you enter the market with the second-wave of modern plug-in vehicles, can you expect anything more than that?


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Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by the manufacturer.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 17 Comments
      • 6 Months Ago
      Tweaker:

      Actually, you CAN make your own oil (fuel); if you read this blog even occasionally you should remember that used cooking oil can easily and cheaply be made into bio-diesel, if you can find a source for the cooking oil that isn't already bought up by someone with more foresight than I have. :)
        • 6 Months Ago
        sure.. if you have a source for oil you can make oil.

        and you can make your own electricity, but one of the cheapest ways to do that happens to be buying oil to run a generator.
      • 6 Months Ago
      "The electric car is not a request from the customer. It's a request from the government. Developments are increasing the willingness of the customers to buy this car but it's important to understand that, from a market point of view, this is not so easy."

      I agree with this statement completely.
        • 6 Months Ago
        it's particularly difficult when you are owned by oil interests. then for some reason EVs are not spoken of in positive terms. but I'm sure they wouldn't lie..

        I'm reminded of the american petroleum institute's rep's statement on EVs : ) he seemed to feel that EVs didn't have much merit. at all : )
        and oddly enough se evil germans have the same opinion..

        wake up people. and that includes you Martin Eberhard. time to distance yourself from VW when they are so obviously oposed to EVs. you should have plenty of the hush money you got from Musk.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Can we have more detail about the technology used?

      I remember that Tesla Motors co-founder Martin Eberhard was working with Volkswagen
      http://green.autoblog.com/2010/01/19/rumor-tesla-co-founder-eberhard-working-with-vw/

      So does the e-motion was designed in Germany or in Palo Alto, or both?
      • 6 Months Ago
      Its called blue-e-motion so they can conflate it with their tdi cars while they stall for 4 years.
      • 6 Months Ago
      It's late.
      • 6 Months Ago
      I'd like to point out that this VW won the Brighton to London Challenge for its class.

      "A new motoring challenge for electric, hybrid and low-emission Cars, LCV’s and Motorcycles to use the lowest energy on a 60 mile route from Madeira Drive, Brighton to Pall Mall and Regent Street, London."

      "Most Economic & Environment Friendly Regular Passenger EV"

      http://www.futurecarchallenge.com/docs/BLFCC%20-%20Results.pdf

      (In case you're wondering, there was a Nissan Leaf competing in the same category)
      • 6 Months Ago
      WHY WOULD YOU SPEND THE SAME MONEY ON A CAR THAT GOES 100 MILES WHEN YOU COULD BUY ONE THAT GOES UNLIMITED MILES???

      EVs make no sense. Let's see, buy a leaf or buy a honda civic? Hmmmm.



      Which one can I drive to Florida and back in?

      Which one won't need an expensive battery replaced like my cell phone later?

      Which one will operate in all weather and won't lose range in cold weather?

      Which one will have higher resale?

      Which one, which one, which one???




      Gas wins all day long against electricity. Add in sky high electric bills that are coming and you'd be an obama supporter to buy one. (That's a fool.)
        • 6 Months Ago
        I can make my own electricity. I can't make my own oil.

        The article says "We'd like to see the regen modes – currently called D, D1, D2 and D3 – given better names and or abilities, something like a "slow traffic" mode would be great. If VW could figure out how to make the car automatically adjust these braking levels based on things like GPS and traffic reports, that'd be pretty slick. "

        God help us we can't use our fingers to flip a switch. Have you any experience with German electronics???
        • 6 Months Ago
        Maybe everyone else isn't as selfish and self-absorbed as you are.
        "We need to end America's addiction to foreign oil" - as spoken by every REPUBLICAN president since Nixon.

        Even if you are selfish and don't care about geopolitical and environmental issues, against all the downsides you list you might appreciate the benefits of a commuter car that's quieter, more reliable, "refillable" at home, skips trips to the gas station, and is way cooler than an ordinary Golf. Like any other car feature (virtually all of which never pay back their cost), how much the EV feature is worth is up to the buyer. It's obviously negative $$ value to you, so don't buy one and move along. VW is selling microhybrid "stop-start" Golfs in Europe and will be selling hybrid Golfs by 2013, so get used to driving a car with some EV technology in it.

        If electricity rates go up, a) it's likely gasoline prices will rise as well; b) save and make money selling electricity back to the utility from your rooftop solar cells.
      • 6 Months Ago
      "After all, the Honda Insight was the world's first hybrid, but that's not the car that people automatically associate with the word "hybrid" today. "

      Actually the worlds first production was the Prius in 1997.

      The Insight came later in 1999, but it beat the Prius to the US market.
        • 6 Months Ago
        And how is that working out for them huh!? Uh, erm well pretty well I guess.
        • 6 Months Ago
        Thanks. I've changed that line.
      Angela Killpack
      • 6 Months Ago
      I've wanted to drive an electric car since they started coming out. They can actually go farther than I thought. Sounds like this prototype still needs work! http://www.rite-waywaterproofing.com/french_drains_rain_gutter_control.php
      • 6 Months Ago
      How many MPG did you get?
        • 6 Months Ago
        you know it's an EV right? It doesn't directly use gas or diesel fuel.
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