The car industry loves an anniversary and 2019 is awash with them. Bentley and Citroen are celebrating their centenaries, MINI fans have been enjoying year-long festivities marking the car’s sixtieth birthday, while relative youngsters, Land Rover’s Discovery and Mazda’s MX-5, both turn 30.
Meanwhile, September marks a more infamous anniversary. It will be four years since US regulators reported that some diesel-engined cars, undergoing routine emission testing, were fitted with rogue software – or defeat devices, as we soon learned to call them – to falsify exhaust readings and Dieselgate slipped into the popular lexicon.
One thing’s for sure the streets of Wolfsburg, the Lower Saxony home of Volkswagen AG, will not be lined with bunting as its cars triggered the scandal. The ensuing backlash saw national governments and local authorities introduce regulatory controls over diesel-engined vehicles, the fuel was demonised by the media and demand for new models collapsed.
The rate of the fall is unprecedented. Jato Dynamics reported diesel sales across Europe in 2018 fell to just 36% of all registrations; as recently as 2015 they accounted for over half (51%).
With VW AG caught red-handed it initially looked as though the fallout could cause long term damage Volkswagen, its hitherto much loved and admired core brand. Sales initially dipped but brand loyalty remained strong. Last year it was once again Europe’s biggest car seller with 1.75 million registrations, its highest volumes since 1999. Globally its sales grew 0.2% year-on-year to 6.2 million. How’s that for a comeback?
A major aspect of the brand’s rehabilitation has been the group’s strategic and vocal commitment to electrification; a very public cleaning up of its corporate act. In March 2019 it announced plans to supply 22 million electric vehicles (EVs) in 10 years. As plans go it is bold with 70 new EV models scheduled by 2028.
Outlining the new strategic direction Dr Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen AG, said: “Volkswagen is taking on responsibility with regard to the key trends of the future – particularly in connection with climate protection.” The message is clear. The group intends to be the global leader in electrification. It is as though Dieselgate never happened.
The group’s roadmap to complete decarbonisation by 2050 has been clearly signposted. A key ambition here is a 2025 target to reduce the CO2 footprint of its vehicle fleet by 30% compared to 2015 levels.
The group’s electrification programme will see investment of €30 billion by 2023, with the share of EVs across its fleet rising to at least 40% by 2030.
The first of the new-generation electric vehicles are the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan. With advance orders for the Taycan (its Tesla Model S challenger) quickly totalling 30,000, Porsche doubled its annual production target to 40,000 units. Even that is starting to look conservative.
Other model designations across the group will include the SEAT el-born, the Škoda Vision and, most ambitious of all is the rollout of the Volkswagen ID. sub-brand, all built on the new Modular Electric Drive Toolkit (MEB) platform, which the brand is also making available to Ford under its new joint venture.
VW’s future is riding on the success of its ID. models and the early indicators are that it has every reason to be confident.
First up will be the Golf-sized ID.3 (all model designations will be numerical), available in Europe from mid-2020. Launched as a 30,000 run ID.3 1ST special edition, it attracted €1,000 deposits from 10,000 eager customers within 24 hours of being unveiled in May 2019. Most orders came from Germany, Norway, Netherlands, UK and Sweden.
The number choice is significant. VW sees the ID.3 as the beginning of a third chapter in the brand’s history following the Beetle and Golf. The number 3 is also the industry designation for the compact segment.
Volkswagen has revealed future models in concept form. The ID.CROZZ crossover will be produced from 2021. While the ID.BUZZ, a retro-futuristic camper van, and ID.VIZZION, a saloon which will be the ID. flagship, are both planned for 2022.
The brand also showed the ID. ROOMZZ concept at the 2019 Shanghai Motor Show; a large SUV which will initially be launched in China in 2021. It has also hinted at future thinking with the ID. BUGGY concept, an electric take on the classic Meyers Manx Dune Buggy, which shows electrification is not just about being sensible.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen Motorsport has developed the full electric ID.R race car which this summer broke the electric lap record on the 20.83km Nürburgring-Nordschleife in 6:05.336, shaving 40 seconds off the previous record set by the Nio EP9 in 2017.
The next stop on VW’s road to redemption will be the unveiling its new logo at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.
The revamped logo will also be the springboard for the launch of the “New Volkswagen” brand design which will be rolled out across its 7,700-strong dealer network starting in Europe and China this year, followed by North and South America and the rest of the world from 2020. It will be one of the largest rebranding exercises ever conducted in the automotive sector covering 10,000 facilities and the replacement of 70,000 logos.
VW says the new logo will be “more modern, clearer and simpler” with a two-dimensional rendering. The ID.3 will not be the first car to wear the new logo, that honour goes to the all-new Mk8 Golf which arrives in early 2020, a clear signal that VW is not severing all ties with the past.
The new logo will be unveiled in September on top of the VW’s high-rise Wolfsburg HQ (bunting probably has been ordered this time), to coincide with the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Exactly four years on from Dieselgate and VW is presenting a bold new face to the world.