You may recall the other day we told you about a new Volkswagen concept electric dune buggy, one heavily inspired by old dune buggies like the Meyers Manx. It’s now being reported that VW execs are seriously considering putting the ID Buggy into production, or at the very least selling its MEB platform so other companies can put cars like it into production.
This got me thinking—if this actually happens, VW could end up having the most desirable lineup of EVs in the near future. Weirdly, I think we can thank the whole Dieselgate fiasco for VW’s surprising new position.
At the moment, and this is surely temporary, the only company really making electric cars that anyone truly desires is Tesla. The Chevrolet Bolt is very good, but about as emotionally compelling as a four-day seminar about really honing your Microsoft Excel skillset.
The Nissan Leaf is decent commuter car but forgettable, the BMW i3 is interesting but not widely appealing and likely gone soon, and almost everything else is forgettable compliance stuff or still-vaporware dreams from start-ups. Then there’s a huge onslaught of EV crossovers from companies like Audi and Mercedes, but none of them are especially stirring to look at.
If Volkswagen can pull off the EV lineup it claims it will have, it will easily have the most interesting and exciting selection of electric cars—possibly even eclipsing Tesla on that all-important and hard-to-quantify desirability index.
I mean, look what VW says is coming: first and most importantly, an all-new EV Microbus, retro and nostalgic but also modern and practical. The new Bus would have gobs of emotional appeal, and be the sort of highly-visible attention-getter that only Volkswagen could build.
This is not some boring compliance EV; this is a real halo car, and VW should milk it for all it can.
The ID.Buggy is another attention-getting, niche-market but very emotionally appealing car. It’s not going to be the big seller, but it will make people pay attention, and it will help to make Volkswagen electric vehicles associated with fun and innovation.
The other cars that Volkswagen is likely to take to production on the modular MEB platform—the ID, the ID Crozz, and ID Vision—all are currently just concepts. But take away some of the more blue-sky autonomy bullshit and you’ve got some very appealing looking core vehicles, including an easy-to-sell crossover, a premium sedan that could be a cheaper but almost as appealing alternative to the Tesla Model S, and a good general-use electric hatchback.
And, the VW group includes Porsche, who, with the upcoming EV Taycan, will have a true premium competitor to Tesla on the high end as well.
If Volkswagen can bring these cars to production and stay at least somewhat true to their concept car roots and design and ideas, then it will have a remarkably strong five-car EV lineup.
And, incredibly, I don’t think Volkswagen would be in this position had it not been for the brutal failure and humiliation of Dieselgate.
When Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions testing for TDI diesel vehicles back in 2015, it didn’t really have many mature plans for electric cars. For many years the idea was that diesel would cover its efficiency needs just fine, hence the big push for it to take over in America as is the case in Europe and other markets. Like most major manufacturers, VW’s EVs were compliance cars—low-range models adapted from existing designs, and not very impressive.
Pre-Dieselgate VW just didn’t need to care much about EVs because it was so busy building and selling gasoline and diesel cars. But then the cheating scandal came and changed everything.
Gone was VW’s arrogance and confidence, replaced by hefty fines, criminal charges in some cases and a total overhaul of the executive ranks. The company was vilified and humiliated, and desperately needed to rebuild its brand image, and the only way to do that without bringing up the specter of emissions cheating is to really dive into cars that make no emissions at all: electrics. (The importance of the EV-thirsty Chinese market can’t be overstated here, either.)
VW had to push hard into environmentally-friendly vehicles as a sort of penance for all the damage it’d done. If there was no Dieselgate and VW could choose where to put R&D efforts, it’d be like every other big car company: some EV projects, but no real definitive unified platforms or detailed and comprehensive near-future electric plans.
But VW has come up with a viable, mass-market EV platform, the highly modular MEB. It’s similar to Tesla’s platform in many ways, but VW has the ability to build these in quantities Tesla can only dream about. (As for battery production, we’ll see there, but VW is obviously a manufacturing titan that no startup can match.)
If the 2020s start with a Volkswagen that is selling an electric Microbus, open buggy, crossover, hatchback, and premium sedan-ish thing, then it’s going to be in a hell of a better position than I think even we all realize now.
And it’s all thanks to them making what was likely the biggest corporate fuck-up of the 21st century, so far. If VW didn’t fall so far and so hard, I’m pretty sure it’d just be another player in the EV pack scrambling to figure out how to stay relevant.
Instead, deep failure gave them nothing to lose, so VW reached deep into the past, looked hard to the future, and took some chances. I bet it’ll pay off.