Volkswagen has staked out a claim to be the industry leader in electric vehicles. One of the executives leading the VW Group into an e-mobililty future is Rudolf Krebs, who took over VW's electrification efforts back in 2010. Today, he is the group commissioner for electric drive systems for the VW Group, and he took part in a green energy round table at the LA Auto Show today. We'll have a more complete write-up on that discussion later, but for now we wanted to tease out something Krebs said about an inherent problem with hydrogen-powered vehicles. His basic argument is that no matter how excellent you make the cars themselves, the laws of physics hinder their overall efficiency. The most efficient way to convert energy to mobility is electricity, that's true," he said.

When asked by our friends at Plug In Cars about his stance on H2 vehicles, Krebs made an argument that we will be interested to see discussed more in the future. "Hydrogen mobility only makes sense if you use green energy," he said, but when you start from there, you need to convert it first into hydrogen "with low efficiencies" where "you lose about 40 percent of the initial energy," he said. Then, you have to compress the hydrogen to 700 bar and store it in the vehicle, which costs more energy. "And then you have to convert the hydrogen back to electricity in a fuel cell with another efficiency loss," Krebs said, "so that in the end, from your original 100 percent of electric energy, you end up with 30 to 40 percent."

"In terms of energy saving, a plug-in hybrid is the only sensible hydrogen vehicle" - Rudolf Krebs

All of these conversion losses tell Krebs that, "The best hydrogen vehicle is a plug-in hydrogen vehicle." This means an EV with a commuter-sized battery pack for daily use with a fuel cell range extender that you use, "only if you are in an emergency or you really want to go long distance. In terms of energy saving, this is the only way to have a sensible hydrogen vehicle."

VW is, of course working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, so we asked Krebs how these vehicles will be received if the math remains against H2. Right now, Krebs told AutoblogGreen, many people claim the future of mobility is hydrogen. But, people who studies physics or thermodynamics disagree because they say they want to optimize efficiency. "What we have to do is explain that hydrogen might be one solution," he said. "If the technology has further developed and we do see a light at the end of the infrastructure tunnel, we can decide later on. For the time being, to switch from electric to hydrogen is much too early."
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Volkswagen to Roll Out "Bumper-to-Bumper" Strategy for Alternative Powertrain Cars

Carmaker to electrify vehicles in all segments; up to 40 models in line-up as demand rises
Think Blue. Factory. program ahead of schedule

The Volkswagen Group has outlined its global strategy for the launch of vehicles with alternative powertrains. The Group's Commissioner for Electric Drive Systems, Dr. Rudolf Krebs, said at a sustainability workshop at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday: "We are going to electrify all segments. In plants equipped with our standardized assembly kits and modules, we are able to produce cars on the same assembly line, bumper-to-bumper, with conventional, electrified, and CNG powertrains. This flexible strategy enables us to react fast and cost-efficiently to actual demand and thus reduces risks."

Krebs stressed that the Volkswagen Group aims to become a leader in e-mobility by 2018 by offering a full range of technologically refined, reliable, and affordable cars with alternative powertrains. By 2014, a total of 14 models from the Volkswagen Group brands will be available as Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Battery Electric Vehicles, or Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, according to Krebs. A total of up to 40 models can be fitted with alternative drivetrains, including those running on CNG, as demand rises, he added.

Krebs emphasized: "We start at exactly the right time. Volkswagen has placed e-mobility at the center of the Group and has invested heavily to build up core competencies for e-drive and battery manufacturing in-house." The Group has hired 400 experts and trained 70,000 employees in e-mobility development, production, and servicing.

The Volkswagen brand now has a positive interim balance from its "Think Blue. Factory." environmental program which was launched in 2011 and has since contributed to the carmaker's considerable progress toward sustainable automobile production. The Volkswagen Head of Strategy, Processes and Organizational Structures, Peter Bosch, said: "The objective of the program is to continuously improve the environmental compatibility of the production process." By 2018 (based on figures for 2010), waste, energy, and water consumption and solvent and carbon dioxide emissions are to be reduced by 25 percent. Bosch added: "Already, half of the 3,400 environmental measures planned at our manufacturing plants have been successfully implemented." On balance, key performance indicators have been improved by more than 10 percent in the first two years of the program.

"Think Blue. Factory." is an important part of the Group's overall ambition to become the world's greenest carmaker by 2018. Volkswagen integrates sustainability in all business units. The company is undertaking one of the most comprehensive ecological self-assessments ever and is making verifiable and comprehensible progress. At the same time, Volkswagen pushes renewable energies to supply production worldwide -- from the large solar park at Chattanooga in the U.S. to hydroelectric power plants in Brazil, the use of geothermal energy in Emden, Germany, and a biomass thermal power plant in Pune, India.

The "Think Blue." sustainability strategy differs from similar projects in its holistic approach: It reaches far beyond products and technologies, is inspiring and motivating for both customers and the interested public to participate in, and encompasses multi-faceted collaborative projects with a broad range of environmental organizations. Naturally, Volkswagen, as an automaker, puts the focus on innovative, environmentally friendly products and engineering.

Lars Menge, General Manager of Product Strategy, Volkswagen of America, pointed out that Volkswagen has expanded its diesel leadership position in the U.S. market, selling 72 percent of all light-duty diesel vehicles in 2013. Currently, the TDI Clean Diesel installation rate is above 22 percent -- an all-time high. Volkswagen now offers seven Clean Diesel models, more than any other brand, and six of those have an EPA estimated highway fuel economy rating of 40 mpg or better. In 2014, Volkswagen will launch the latest high-performing TDI Clean Diesel engine generation, codenamed EA288. Menge also announced that Volkswagen of America will add Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) to its lineup in the near future.

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