After taking reservations for months, Volkswagen began selling the electric ID.3 to the general public on July 20. It's a crucial step that accelerates the company's electrification offensive, but the hatchback is just the tip of the charging cord. Autoblog learned the flexible MEB platform gives Volkswagen a tremendous amount of freedom to release mainstream and niche models, but it doesn't exempt it from the need to put together a business case.
"The smallest [MEB-based car] is the ID.3. If we bring smaller cars, which we'll do in 2023-2024, they'll be on an adapted version of this platform. It'll be smaller. But, the smallest car from the actual platform is the ID.3," Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen's board member for electric mobility, during an interview, told Autoblog.
Volkswagen hasn't publicly said much about what will sooner or later slot beneath the ID.3. As of this writing, its most compact electric model is a battery-powered variant of the pocket-sized Up! sold in Europe. The sub-ID.3 car that Ulbrich alluded to could replace the E-Up!, or it could arrive as a slightly bigger car whose exterior dimensions are aligned with the Polo's, a popular global-market hatchback that competes against the Ford Fiesta.
At the other end of the spectrum, the architecture's flexibility allows Volkswagen to think big.
"The biggest one we will produce is a D-segment sedan stretched for the Chinese market. It could be the ID Vizzion, or something similar. That's more or less the upper limit, size-wise. In terms of weight, it's the ID.Buzz. We've already decided it will be based on the MEB, even if this requires some adaptations," Ulbrich said.
Volkswagen previously confirmed that the production version of the heritage-laced ID.Buzz concept is scheduled to enter production in Germany in 2022, meaning it likely won't arrive in America until the 2023 model year. One of its first public outings will be at the 2022 FIFA World Cup taking place in Qatar. Engineers are working closely with Qatari officials to reliably deploy a fleet of autonomous, Buzz-based prototypes during the event.
MEB was developed specifically for electric powertrains; it's not compatible with hydrogen or hybrid technology, let alone with a drivetrain that's not electrified. Hydrogen is not the ideal solution for passenger cars, according to Ulbrich, but it's well-suited to heavy-duty applications like trucks. However, he told Autoblog that the Amarok (the only body-on-frame pickup in Volkswagen's portfolio) would hypothetically slot on the electric side of the range.
"It's a difficult discussion, to have an Amarok or a similar car using BEV technology. We are looking at what Rivian is doing, because normally it is difficult to believe that a car like the Amarok, for example, could be electrified. But, nevertheless, step by step our investigation and research makes us think it becomes more possible. By making this technology more and more robust, an Amarok-type of car would be BEV."
That's not a confirmation that Volkswagen is actively planning an electric pickup. The second-generation Amarok is around the corner, and it will be twinned with the Ford Ranger's replacement thanks to the burgeoning partnership between the two companies. And, if Volkswagen does one take day the Amarok into EV territory, it will need to find a suitable platform to underpin it. MEB isn't an option because it's a unibody architecture.
Several market segments separate the ID.3 from the ID.Vizzion, but don't expect Volkswagen to fill them all. While the brand's electric car range will grow to include many body styles, Ulbrich told us his team is in no rush to release another coupe like the Scirocco, which retired for the third time in 2017. "I don't think so," he replied with a tinge of regret when asked if a fourth-generation model -- electric or gasoline-powered -- is on its way.