Microbus all the buzz of VW EV push

VW’s electric car push is ramping up, locally as well as internationally
Monday September 11, 2017

 

By Richard Bosselman

THE best beacon to alert Kiwi attention to Volkswagen’s emergent electric car drive could well be a model that has already grabbed public interest but might never roll out on our roads.

That’s the view of the brand’s top man here as he discusses the immediate and longer term prospects for electric motoring behind the VW badge.

Tom Ruddenklau provided comment about the exciting I.D. Buzz, a concept harking back to VW’s yesteryear, when talking more broadly about the marques electric vehicle programme.

The reprise of the famous 1960s’ Microbus is the second of three disclosed models from VW’s impending all-electric family, to be followed at the Frankfurt motor show by I.D. Crozz, a sports utility. The first I.D. car is a hatch, revealed last year.

All are going into production, but the brand has also indicated that whereas the hatch and soft-roader are global fare, the Buzz might only be available to certain left-hand drive markets.

Ruddenklau says he would love to see it here – The Buzz was the hot find of Motown then found headlines all over again just a couple of weeks ago, when displayed and driven – this time with a set of surfboards – at the Pebble Beach concours.

However, even if it remains purely poster fare here it remains a great flagbearer for VW’s broader electric vehicle push.

Yeah, about that. The brand’s local top man agrees VW here is only just starting out on its drive down the electric highway and potentially isn’t moving as quickly as he might want it to.

The latest version of the eGolf, which he had wanted to have on sale by now, is being held up by supply constraints and now might not be on sale until this time next year.

The irony is that it is going to driving NZ roads a lot earlier. VW NZ has managed to wangle 10 examples of latest edition, which looks just like the Golf 7.5 update that has just come into NZ showrooms in orthodox form.

However, those eGolf 7.5s cannot be bought – just hired. They’re joining a small fleet of the outgoing generation car that has been operating as rental cars, in association with provider EuropeCar.

The Electric Daypass scheme allows for cars to be rented for short to medium distance day drives from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports and have proven brilliant at showcasing VW electric vehicle technology.

The new cars will be even better – the 7.5 editions have more powerful motors provide a 50 percent improvement on range, up to 300kms.

Ruddenklau is keen to have the eGolf on sale alongside the regular 7.5 petrol models as soon as possible. But getting space on the production line is proving challenging; EVs have taken off in Europe and VW head office has given priority to home turf.

In any event, the focus on Golf might only be temporary – as the Kiwi EV enthusiast base will already be aware, VW’s masterplan in respect to electric drive is focussing even more on a whole new breed on vehicles that are only designed for electric power.

The I.D. cars are cited with ultimately being the true drivers of a brand plan that foresees one million VW electrics being sold annually by 2025. All have only been seen in concept form, but their arrival in the showroom is just a couple of years away.

All are based upon VW’s MEB underpinnings, which have been specifically configured for battery electric vehicles.

“At the moment we are concentrating on eGolf, but there’s this whole family of cars coming and the I.D. models are at the top of the avalanche.”

In the interim, he is confident Kiwis will find a lot to like about eGolf. But exactly it can be delivered is still up in the air.

“I can tell you it will be next year … at some stage. We’re still waiting for the final production start date for New Zealand. It might be toward the latter part of next year.”

And yes, if you’re wondering, this IS a frustration, given all the present interest in EV tech.

Then again, Ruddenklau reasons, it’s best not to rush either.  “It’s a long game and we’ve all seen what has happened with others who have come in early and have not got it right, they have not assessed where the demand is … and haven’t geared their business to take it seriously.

“We would have loved to have had an electric Golf five years ago, but we haven’t and when we do get it then it will be positioned right and it will make a difference – and it’s going to be worth the wait.”

Meantime Electric DayPass is providing a good exposure and feedback. It is aimed particularly at corporates for one simple reason; the best way of ensuring EV exposure to the greatest count of potential converts is to run the product in a fleet environment.

“The feedback has been sensational. We’ve learned that you have to get people driving the product … corporates need to be the first cab off the rank because they can quickly see the real benefits and they can also invest in the requisite infrastructure. It’s been great for us to have some key decision-makers try the car and give us their feedback.”

The Golfs are only hired for a day at most and generally travel just 50-60kms with any one user, which is well within their range capability.  “It’s been designed like that so they don’t have to consider, then and there, the infrastructure. They can just get into the car and drive.”

In addition, the brand is already starting to focus on preparing for I.D. “There is a lot of product planning about the rest of the range and when we are going to get them and how they might position. It’s a massive chapter of our product planning manifesto.”