The e-car is coming, that much is certain. In the meantime, the Volkswagen Group is betting on an intelligent mix of drivetrain technologies
In implementing the “TOGETHER – Strategy 2025” future program, the Volkswagen Group is resolutely preparing for the profound changes that will shake up the automotive industry in the coming years. One of the focal points of this activity is restructuring the drivetrain portfolio. “The future drives electric,” says Ulrich Eichhorn, head of research and development at Volkswagen. However, it is also evident that electromobility will not arrive overnight. Until true e-vehicles dominate the streets, the Group is banking on an intelligent mix of various drivetrain technologies.
The company’s planning projects that in 2025, three out of four new vehicles will still be sold with a gasoline or diesel engine. “The internal combustion engine will remain indispensable in the foreseeable future,” Eichhorn states. Despite all of the discussions, this is true for modern diesel engines that meet the Euro 6 (EU6) standard as well. Diesel motors still provide substantial efficiency potential. “And we are going to unlock it.”
At the same time, the company is simplifying and streamlining its portfolio of gasoline and diesel engines. By 2020, it plans to offer 40 percent fewer engine options in large series. “The engines are used by several of the Group’s brands, so we can avoid duplicating our work, which is expensive,” Eichhorn says. Various technical architectures and reduced engine displacement make this possible. One example is the 1.5 liter four-cylinder TSI engine, which is already used in more than 45 Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and ŠKODA models.
Once the transition into this new engine world has been completed, the Group will offer engines ranging from an inline three-cylinder engine to a V6 for its volume series, thereby covering a range from 65 to 450 PS.
Sports and luxury cars will also tap synergies: Porsche’s new 4.0 liter V8 biturbo engine will be offered in models made by Audi, Bentley and in the future also Lamborghini. This saves the Group from developing parallel technologies at greater cost.
Improved efficiency is the objective in terms of consumption as well. The Volkswagen Group aims for its diesel and gasoline motors to use 10 to 15 percent less fuel by 2020. EUR 10 billion will be invested by the company within five years. The technical measures being used to reach this goal involve optimized combustion processes and injections systems as well as intelligent lightweight construction. As part of this process, metals are being replaced by plastics and composite materials, whenever possible. Active Cylinder Management is also being further improved to reduce fuel consumption.
In addition, the Volkswagen Group is forging ahead with the expansion of natural gas-powered mobility. This type of drive system is still leading a niche existence in most countries – although this is completely unjustified in view of its advantages, Eichhorn believes. After all, natural gas burns significantly cleaner than gasoline or diesel fuel and is therefore more environmentally conscious. And this is all the more true if biogas is used.
Volkswagen is therefore growing its natural gas portfolio considerably. The new models include the Audi A4 Avant, the A5 Sportback, the Volkswagen Polo and the SEAT Ibiza. Volkswagen will work with the managers of filling stations, the operators of gas supply networks and other automakers to expand the CNG tanking network in Germany – from 900 locations today to 2,000. The fleet of vehicles powered by natural gas on German roads is supposed to rise to one million vehicles by 2025 – 10 times the total today.
In addition to internal combustion engines, Volkswagen will steadily increase the number of electric models in its range in various ways. “Until purely battery-powered electric technologies become widespread, all types of partially electric drive systems play a crucial role. In this context, we are leveraging every opportunity offered by our modular components. These enable us to offer every degree of electrification and therefore meet a variety of specific customer needs at an acceptable price and with a reasonable amount of effort,” emphasizes Eichhorn.
An example is plug-in hybrids that use electricity and gasoline: Porsche’s Panamera 4 E-Hybrid proves that this alternative technology is certainly capable of offering the driving pleasure that people have grown to appreciate. It also has many advantages: In the city, the four-seat car cruises along without making a sound or emitting a trace of emissions. Furthermore, it automatically draws on the power of its internal combustion engine during longer trips.
Mild hybrids are another option. They are supported by electricity which functions as a type of turbocharger. The Audi Study Q8 sport concept embodies the strengths of this approach: The electrically assisted six-cylinder engine performs like an eight-cylinder – but achieves the mileage of a four-cylinder model. This technology will soon be added to many different Audi models.
These bridge technologies also include full hybrid vehicles that burn gasoline and produce electricity. Volkswagen is currently developing a new generation of these models for the U.S. market.
Finally, vehicles such as the totally electric e-Golf constitute the upper end of the e-scale. It can currently travel up to 300 kilometers on a single battery charge – enough for an entire week for most commuters.
Volkswagen’s volume e-models will be based on the modular electric drive matrix (MEB) in the future. By 2025, we will have introduced more than 30 other fully electric vehicles to the market. The first MEB model will go on sale in 2019 and will have a range of up to 600 kilometers, while costing as much as a comparable diesel-powered vehicle. There are several other realistic expectations – thanks to the battery technologies of the future that the Volkswagen Group is in the process of developing.
The Audi and Porsche brands are working with BMW, Daimler and Ford to significantly boost the number of charging stations and therefore make it easier for electric vehicles to travel long distances, a key step toward establishing this technology in the mass market. The joint venture is starting to build up the infrastructure required this year, and by 2020, customers are expected to have access to thousands of high-performance charging stations. The charging stations on highways and high-traffic arteries will be available to the public and therefore enable electric-powered travel over longer distances. The ultimate goal? Providing the convenience of a conventional filling station.