"The future, for us, is really a dedicated EV platform," Matthew Renna, vice president of e-Mobility for Volkswagen's North American region, explained during a media event at the Chicago Auto Show last month. The MEB platform is "flexible enough to cover a broad gamut of products ranging from an entry level subcompact up to models like the I.D. Buzz minivan and even midsize SUVs," he noted, while adding that upscale models, such as the Audi Q4 and the all-electric version of the Porsche Macan, will rely on a second platform, dubbed the PPE.
The first generation of battery cars, such as the VW e-Golf, had to stuff batteries wherever room could be found, often intruding into passenger and cargo space. The MEB and PPE "architectures," however, are more like skateboards, with their batteries, motors and other key powertrain components mounted in or below the load floor. That frees up passenger and cargo space and lowers a vehicle's center of gravity, improving handling.
Renna said VW is working to address other key issues that have slowed the public embrace of electrification, notably range, charging times and vehicle pricing.
As sales volumes go up, the automaker hopes to benefit from economies of scale, especially when it comes to batteries. Where lithium-ion technology cost as much as $1,000 per kilowatt-hour at the beginning of the decade, that has fallen to below $200 for most manufacturers, according to David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, and could drop below $100 during the first half of the coming decade.
A study by Deloitte released in January predicted that prices on powertrain components will start falling so rapidly that BEVs could reach cost parity with gas-powered models by as early as 2022 – though other studies, including one by the Boston Consulting Group, don't see parity coming until later in the decade.
With most of the products it's developing expected to yield anywhere from 200 to 400 miles per charge, VW also believes it can minimize concerns about "range anxiety." Charging, however, is another matter.
While millions of BEV owners are expected to install home chargers, there will still be a need to expand the availability of public charging stations. In Europe, VW is partnering with rivals including BMW and Daimler to set up a continental infrastructure. In the U.S., meanwhile, it has earmarked $2 billion from the settlement of its diesel scandal to fund a new company called Electrify America. That venture is already installing thousands of public chargers across the U.S., especially on main, cross-country routes like Interstate 80.