Can Volkswagen really build a Tesla killer?

MEB car from VW
© Volkswagen

They are planning an electric car platform that they can build faster and cheaper. But will we ever trust them again?

Two years ago, Volkswagen revealed its plans for electric cars with its Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB). They said, "The MEB is being specifically developed to make the manufacture of electric vehicles more efficient — and potentially less expensive — in the long term. The MEB will allow Volkswagen to produce electric vehicles with a more systematic focus and to cater to increasing demand for electric vehicles."

Now Patrick McGee of the Financial Times describes the MEB as Volkswagen's plan to kill off Tesla, as the company invests 30 billion euros over the next five years in an attempt to build a new electric platform for a range of different cars.

“This platform is the heart and soul of everything Volkswagen is doing in the future for passenger cars,” said Johannes Buchmann, manager at FEV Consulting, an advisory group that focuses on cars. “It’s not just a design principle, a template for their new cars. It has an impact on the whole organisation, supply chain and manufacturing quality — pretty much everything.”

MEB chassis© Volkswagen/ The MEB Principle

  1. The low-voltage battery installed at the front will supply power to the vehicle electronic system and lights, among other things.
  2. Batteries installed in the vehicle floor distribute the axle load uniformly.
  3. Rear-wheel drive offers advantages when it comes to the MEB. An all-wheel version has been factored into the concept.
  4. Electric drive, digitalization, autonomous driving: The MEB will consider all of today’s major issues.
  5. The traction battery will be installed between the axles. Visually, it resembles a bar of chocolate.
  6. Wheels on the corners of the vehicle create space for batteries of different sizes.

They are actually building a "skateboard chassis" that could then be adapted for different kinds of vehicles; Derek showed us a bus version of what might go on top. VW plans to sell it to other car manufacturers; McGee notes that what's under the hood isn't as important to buyers as it used to be.

"..in the emerging era of electric, internet-connected cars, batteries are expected to be commodified — the way they are for mobile phones — with the motorist likely to be more interested in a car’s electronic and infotainment features than its horsepower.

designs of cars© Volkswagen

They are not kidding around with the scale of this investment either, planning eight factories on three continents by 2022 and selling as many as 3 million electric cars by 2025. They also want to build them faster and cheaper than Tesla.

The goal is to reduce this further to just 10 hours within a few years. That would enable VW to launch a low-end electric model as early as 2023, costing just €18,000 — one-third of the €55,000 starting price for a Tesla Model 3 in Germany today.

Writing in Jalopnik, David Tracy describes the MEB in detail. It has a radiator up front to provide liquid cooling for the batteries, and a lot of stuff up front where Tesla has a "frunk", including a possible heat pump for HVAC. It's rear wheel drive, which provides better handling than front wheel drive, and it makes sense when the weight of the car is in the batteries in the middle.

MEB on road© Volkswagen

Is it the Tesla Killer?

Tracy writes:

VW has clearly taken quite a bit out of the latter’s [Tesla's] book with the flat skateboard-like battery, rear-wheel drive setup, and the mostly steel design. But while Tesla is relatively new at large scale manufacturing and learning as it goes, VW is a manufacturing powerhouse with clever platform-sharing skills, enormous volumes, and a diverse supply chain, so it will be interesting to see just how affordable the company can make EVs.

It will also be interesting to see if all the people like me who were so angry over Dieselgate would ever buy another one of their products; I drove nothing but Beetles and Rabbits and Jettas for years, but it would take a lot to get me back into a VW. But this looks very interesting.

Can Volkswagen really build a Tesla killer?
They are planning an electric car platform that they can build faster and cheaper. But will we ever trust them again?

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