EVs will play an increasingly large role, Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, Chief Officer for Electric Traction at the Volkswagen Group, tells FastCompany.com. But combustion engines aren't going anywhere either.
In an interview about the company's plans for electrification, Neumann echoed the feelings of many EV experts when he explained that all-electric vehicles aren't yet realistic for the majority of customers. "EVs are coming, but they will have to be affordable," he said. "As we start to use more renewable energy, the electric network will stabilize." Still, Volkswagen is waiting until 2013 to launch its first EV. Neumann estimates that 3% of VW vehicles delivered globally will be pure EVs by 2020.
And as for the Better Place model of renting EV batteries and swapping them out at highway stations? Neumann isn't convinced that the model will work any better than if customers just buy batteries as part of their vehicles. "The infrastructure discussion is overhyped. Most people will charge overnight, at home, and won't use EVs to drive long distances. If they do, they can use quick-charging stations." And then, of course, is the problem of sticking Better Place swap stations on highways across the country. It's a strategy that could work in smaller countries like Israel and Denmark, but one that could be difficult here, Neumann said.
Hybrids, on the other hand, are coming up fast. "Light hybridization is the answer for most cars," Neumann said. VW already has the Touareg hybrid in production, and many more are on the way. "We'll have announcements at every upcoming motor show," Neumann said. As of right now, though, VW doesn't have any big news on specific models.
VW isn't counting out combustion engines quite yet. Like it or not, regular gasoline-powered cars are still the cheapest option for most people, and they will be for a long time to come. "We have a responsibility to improve the combustion engine. Cleanliness needs to be affordable," Neumann said. Important words to keep in mind as we charge ahead with the EV revolution.