We recently drove the 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack, a tall, all-wheel drive wagon set to give the Subaru Outback a run for its money. In our review, we laid out Volkswagen’s post-Dieselgate steps, saying:
A full line of crossovers and EVs is likely the best way to right the ship after weathering the biggest scandal in automotive history, but best case scenario, that’s a few years off. So what will it do in the meantime? Well, it looks like Volkswagen will go after one of the fastest growing brands in America: Subaru.
Now, after releasing the I.D. concept at the Paris Auto Show, Volkswagen has signaled that it’s committed to that “best case scenario” timeframe. Because the all-electric car will enter production, and it’ll be here by 2020.
The I.D. is the first of what Volkswagen promises to be a family of electric vehicles built on the Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), and is expected to make a splash when it arrives. A big splash. “Das Auto,” the old, monolithic, pre-Dieselgate slogan has been replaced with “Think New,” and the I.D. is, for now, the face of the campaign. In Paris, the concept was set against a huge backdrop showing the car with the company’s two world-changing models: the Beetle and the Mk. I Golf.
“The I.D. stands for this new era of all-electric vehicles, for a new automotive era: electrical, connected and autonomously driving, ” said Dr. Herbert Diess, Volkswagen brand chief. That may not entirely be the case — the Chevy Bolt will be here next year, and the Tesla Model 3 will arrive in 2018 — but for Volkswagen, it will certainly be the start of a new chapter. Speaking with Bloomberg Business in Paris, Diess said the launch of the I.D. will represent a return to “good times,” after a few more years of reckoning with one of the worst automotive scandals in history. “We have three to four tough years ahead of us to really restructure the company and getting more profitable and more competitive,” he said. From there, Volkswagen is hoping any lingering aftereffects from Dieselgate will be overshadowed by a massive push toward EVs.
While a commitment to EVs is a huge leap for Volkswagen — a host of new models will eventually use the MEB underpinnings — it also represents a spiritual return to form for the brand. Similar to Tesla’s architecture, the MEB is a flat, skateboard-style platform, with wheels at the corners, motor over the rear axle, and a flat floor. The recipe isn’t all that different from the Type I Beetle’s from 78 years ago, a platform that underpinned models around the world until the last decade. Does this mean the MEB will revive the long-dormant market for wacky VW-based fiberglass kit cars too? Only time will tell.
Until then, the I.D. does seem like the car of the future that we’ve been promised over the past few years, for better or for worse. Outside, it’s shorter than a Golf, but has a wheelbase that’s nearly five inches longer. The result is a compact hatchback with more room inside than a Passat. On top of all that room inside (which Volkswagen calls the Open Space Concept), come 2025, drivers will be able to enjoy it more, thanks to “I.D. Pilot” mode, which the company says will be its first fully-autonomous vehicle. By touching the VW logo on the steering wheel, it retracts into the dashboard as the car takes control, allowing the driver to sit and relax, or swivel around to chat with the rear-seat passengers.
Performance-wise, the car will go from zero to 60 in under eight seconds, top out at 99 miles per hour, and have a range of somewhere between 250 and 373 miles on a charge. Power for the car comes from a single 125 kW electric motor, and instead of a key, or even a fob, access comes from your smartphone, which will store everything from radio presets and seat settings to navigation points of interest via the “Volkswagen Automotive Cloud.” Price will likely be competitive with the growing number of EVs on the market, so if it can stay in the mid-$30K range before tax credits, it could be a contender.
Unless a dark-horse emerges, the I.D. will be the next all-electric model to debut after the Bolt and Model 3, and will be a crucial part of Volkswagen’s plan to sell 1 million EVs across its brand lineup by 2025. A lot can happen between here and 2020, but Volkswagen has a lot riding on this, and we don’t doubt that the I.D. is one of the company’s biggest priorities. Fuel prices, public reception to the Chevy and Tesla, and EV infrastructure will all play a role in the I.D.’s success, but if Volkswagen can successfully reinvent itself as a major player in this growing segment, then its return to good times really isn’t that far off.