The death of the internal combustion car will likely begin with the smallest, cheapest offerings. The writing’s been visible on the wall for some time now. Last year, Audi’s chief executive Markus Duesmann said it wasn’t looking good for the A1, the Ingolstadt’s tiniest vehicle. That was a little disappointing, but then of course Audi is about so much more than the A1. It wasn’t on the level of — hypothetically speaking — Volkswagen killing the Golf. That would’ve been truly unthinkable.
Well, as it turns out Volkswagen has started thinking about it, and perhaps it’s for the best that we all start warming up to the idea, too. The impetus is the same: Euro-7, the European Union’s forthcoming emissions regulations, set to kick in by 2025. The exhaust cleaning and controls that governments will require on gas-powered cars after that point are expected to raise sticker prices by between 3,000 and 5,000 euros. Larger, more expensive vehicles can absorb that cost pretty well — after all, what’s another $3K on a $55,000 Touareg?
That premium becomes harder to justify on a 20,000-euro Golf. And while EV tech will one day be sophisticated and affordable enough to attain in a small, cheap car, that day isn’t here yet. So, Volkswagen has a decision to make about the bread-and-butter Golf: let it ride out its days as we know it now, or give it one more — likely final and abridged — generation. As Volkswagen’s new boss Thomas Schäfer put it to German publication Welt, via Google Translate:
“With a small car, these additional costs can hardly be absorbed. So entry-level mobility with combustion engines will be significantly more expensive,” he said. Starting prices at 10,000 euros will no longer exist in the future. “Individual mobility is a basic need and must remain achievable in the future,” said Schäfer. The solution is electromobility.
Schäfer left open whether there will be a new edition for the VW Golf, Europe’s best-selling car. Because the political course is set for electromobility and the demand for it is developing rapidly, “we will have to see whether it is worth developing a new vehicle that does not last the full seven or eight years,” he said. That is “extremely expensive”. They are currently working on an upgrade of the current Golf 8. It has not yet been decided whether a Golf 9 will come onto the market after that: “We will know more in twelve months.”
The ordinary Golf has been absent from our shores for about a year now, and the enthusiast-centered GTI and Golf R is all Americans get. Sure, the Golf was never a volume player in the compact segment here, but in Europe, it’s ubiquitous. The idea of it riding off into the sunset, only to be replaced by a considerably pricier ID-period-number is deeply offensive to me, but Volkswagen wants to look only forward. I would too, if the 2010s were as embarrassing for me as they were for the world’s second-biggest automaker.