Volkswagen AG (VOW), Europe’s biggest carmaker, said the German government’s goal to have 1 million electric cars on the country’s roads by 2020 can be achieved if partly battery-powered cars like hybrids are taken into account.
“We will make our contribution toward this goal,” Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said today at a panel discussion at a ceremony near chemical producer BASF SE’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Plug-in hybrids, which can switch between rechargeable battery power and conventional combustion engines, “offer the biggest market potential,” and should help with a rollout of electric mobility on a larger scale, Winterkorn said.
The CEO reiterated Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen’s plan to offer as many as 40 electric or hybrid models in the event that demand for low-emission cars takes off. The manufacturer will produce 14 vehicles with alternative drive through next year after introducing electric versions of the Golf hatchback and Up! city car at the Frankfurt auto show last month. Volkswagen also showed new plug-in hybrid versions of the Porsche brand’s Panamera four-door coupe and Audi’s A3 compact.
VW’s move echoes initiatives by peers such as Nissan Motor Co. (7201) and General Motors Co. (GM) to promote purely electric and hybrid cars, which help automakers comply with tightening fleetwide emission regulations across the globe. Corporate enthusiasm for alternative-drive engines has failed to translate into significant sales amid consumers’ concerns that powering systems offer only limited distance before a recharge is required and objections to higher prices.
Purely or partly battery-powered vehicles accounted for 4,157 new car registrations in Germany in 2012, about twice as many as the year before, according to the VDA auto-industry association. Germany’s new car market amounts to about 3 million vehicles a year.
VW’s e-Up! went on sale in Germany this month for 26,900 euros ($37,000). The model is “deliberately positioned” against the battery-powered i3 city car that Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is bringing out, Rudolf Krebs, head of electric-powertrain technology at VW, said on Sept. 4.
BMW, the world’s biggest luxury-vehicle manufacturer, presented the i3 in Frankfurt last month, as well as a plug-in hybrid version of the X5 sport-utility vehicle. The i3, priced at 34,950 euros, will enter showrooms in Germany in November.
Plug-in hybrids have the most potential and BMW plans to eventually offer one in every model line, Herbert Diess, the automaker’s development chief, said in an interview last month. Cars with electromobility will make up 5 percent to 10 percent of the market by 2020 from well under 1 percent now, Diess said.
Other alternative-drive vehicles shown at the Frankfurt auto show included an all-electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class crossover from Daimler AG (DAI) that will use a drivetrain supplied by Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), and a hybrid coupe prototype from Volvo Car Group.
VW was “startled” by reports of a fire earlier this month involving a plug-in Tesla electric car, Winterkorn said today. Electric-vehicle safety is “a very intensive issue,” and the German company’s own systems have successfully passed extensive testing. “Our battery technology is on the safe side.”
Tesla shares dropped to a two-week low yesterday after the top U.S. auto regulator said the agency is studying the Oct. 1 incident, in which a Model S sedans battery caught fire following a collision with a large metal object on a road in Kent, Washington.
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