Volkswagen brand CEO Herbert Diess spent the first ten minutes of his Consumer Electronics Show keynote address apologizing for his company’s recent emissions indiscretions. That was followed by his introduction of “The New Volkswagen,” which outlined VW’s planned path to redemption. Here’s what the beleaguered automaker has in store.
What are we going to do with all those dirty diesels?
The first big question is Dieselgate. And exact details of how that will be fixed continue to elude the public and regulators.
Right now there are almost 500,000 diesel cars and SUVs in America that technically became “illegal” once the Environmental Protection Agency found out Volkswagen had rigged them to pass emissions tests when they should not have.
So what if you own one or breathe the air they burn through? Diess didn’t go into detail on the “how” VW’s going to fix this—that proposed plan still hasn’t been made public yet—but he did make a definitive statement on “what:” He said Volkswagen will complete “a comprehensive plan to bring half a million cars to compliance.” (Bear in mind we’ve heard VW is having trouble figuring out a fix.)
To me, the only way to interpret that is that the company’s committed to physically retooling the cars that are already on the road, not rectifying the situation with some kind of carbon credit or buyback, although the latter is the current rumor out of Germany.
What will the performance tradeoff be? How long will the cars be down? Will such retooling be mandatory for owners? If so, how will VW or the government accomplish that? Stay tuned.
What’s the timeline for fixing the boondoggle?
Diess is “optimistic that we will gain approval within the coming weeks and months.” So, less than a year? Volkswagen submitted the proposed fix plan late last year, and it faces deadlines this month.
Obviously he was was intentionally vague to minimize the pressure to deliver, but I think anything more than half a year out is too far away to legitimately call “coming months.”
What’s happening with the brand’s image?
It feels like VW is trying to become the Apple of cars with a “techy, sexy” vibe with a twist of “cutesy” that they’ve traded on since forever. Glass! Chrome! Swipe your worries away! Also:
“The Microbus was pretty much the embodiment of peace, love and happiness,” Diess reminded us, as we watched a montage of classic VW vans before BUDD-e was rolled out on stage.
It may be a VW van, but it’s the opposite of retro. It is also a “truly social car,” as described by its engineer Astrid Kassner. That means it’s basically a hub for every passenger’s cell phone. Instead of having a conversation, the crowd in the car could interact, with each other, through their phones.
That sounded profoundly sad to me until Kassner pointed out the realistic alternative; you and your friends riding in silence, nose-deep in your own mobile phone screens.
Did somebody say #Buzzwords?
No, but Volkswagen would like you to know that “The New VW” stands for: Electric Mobility, Fully Connected, Automated Driving, New User Experience.
Basically, they’re running with the themes of touch-screen everything that’s showcased in BUDD-e.
What will we get that’s actually tangible?
Over the next year, driving a new VW will start to feel more like using a phone. Seeing a pattern here?
“We are no longer operating a machine, we are acting intuitively,” explained Diess. I think we can distill that to “less pushing, more swiping.”
Throughout 2016 (and not later) he promised we’ll see gesture control, a lot more phone-devices-car connectivity, further digitization of displays and some form of autonomy on VW’s cars; the latter most likely as driver-assistance features.
The e-Golf Touch; an electric Golf hatchback with a gesture-driven infotainment rig, was described as “a new automotive experience for the near future.”
My car and phone will finally be best friends?
The days of a basic Bluetooth uplink are winding down. VW’s “App Connect” will port more and more of your phone’s functions straight to the car’s screen via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.
That will come along with proprietary VW apps, like speed warnings to narc on your kids who drive irresponsibly and Find My Car features to help you navigate confusing parking lots.
On top of all that, we’re going to see fewer menus; you’ll cut straight to feature-activation with gesture control. This has all been promised “before next year’s CES” in January 2017, so stay tuned.
My friend wears a tin foil hat and says this tech is evil. Is there some kind of conspiracy-theorist catch?
Besides the fact that driving new cars will feel less and less like driving old cars, VW has also announced they’re partnering with Mobileye just like GM. That means your VW’s camera and GPS will be recording your every mile and beaming it to a cloud server for the purpose of creating super-precise maps for autonomous vehicles to eventually operate off.
Potentially creepy, realistically useful. If you already location-tag all your check-ins and tweets you don’t have anything new to worry about. As far as “rise of the machines” goes, I’d be sweating Toyota’s artificial intelligence scheme more than mapmaking.
Last question; has VW officially replaced “Das Auto” with das new tagline yet?
Diess repeated the phrase “New Volkswagen” a few times, but that’s way too weak to trade on. When I saw “Think New” plastered in monolithic letters at VW’s show floor booth, I could sense Steve Jobs shaking his fist from the grave.
I think, or rather hope, that Volkswagen’s still gestating their real revised slogan, but the company’s directions seems pretty clear; they want to fix the broken car they sold you, and by the way your next car will be less of a car altogether.
Images via the author, AP, Volkswagen
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