EVs Made Simple

Why shouldn’t they be simple?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Years ago, before there were plug-in hybrids, I remember having an early Prius to test drive.

My neighbors were sufficiently knowledgeable about cars to know that it was something different.

So I explained to them that at some points during the drive cycle the Prius was capable of driving on electricity alone, that there were both electric motor and generator functions, as well as a good-ol’ internal combustion engine.

And the single question that came: “Where do you plug it in?”

I explained that it didn’t have a plug.

“How does it run on electricity?”

I tried to explain that the generator charged the battery and the battery powered an electric motor that drove the wheels.

And I might as well have been talking in some alien language.

After there were plug-in hybrids out there for a few years, when the then-FCA launched the Pacifica plug-in hybrid, the company didn’t promote it as a “plug-in hybrid,” but simply as a “hybrid.” The marketing folks knew that it would be too confusing for their own good.

One of the problems with people who are deeply involved in the auto industry in some way is that they expect everyone else is as fascinated as they are.

The other people aren’t.

Not by a long shot.

What seems ever-so fascinating to the enthusiast is, well, some irrelevance being described in some alien language.

The Volkswagen ID.4 is an electric vehicle.

Fully electric. (For my neighbor: “No, you can’t fill it with gas.”)

It strikes me that one of the best things about it is that it is sufficiently straightforward and simple. Yes, there are some things to get used to, like getting into the vehicle and not turning a key or hitting a button to activate it. And like turning a knob to put it into gear.

Small things, though.

Otherwise, it is all rather obvious.

Which is a good thing.

Regular people can drive it without feeling like they’re taking part in a science experiment.

So massive credit to the folks at VW for creating a video series, “Electric Like I’m Five,” hosted by Volkswagen Director of E-Mobility Dustin Krause and his daughter, Harper.

I can imagine the EV enthusiasts gasping: “How dare they simplify this exquisite technology!”

But I submit that is exactly the point.

VW realizes that to make EVs mainstream, then it needs to be something that is understood by adults and children alike.

This is not some sort of ultra-advanced technology (brought to us by aliens). It is an advancement in transportation.

Once people understand that it will get them to work in the morning—while providing advantages (like not having to go to a gas station unless snacks are desired)—then there will be more EVs purchased.

Simple as that.

Even a five-year old could understand that.

Made You Look, Didn’t I?

There are jokes. And things that fall flat. And things that have consequences. And something in between. Which isn’t particularly good.

By Gary S. Vasilash

“You’ve got a spider on your head!”

“Taylor Swift is on the phone.”

“There’s a unicorn in the backyard—come see, quick!”

Today in the U.S. people of all ages are saying things like that. It is April Fool’s Day.

Are those characteristics supposed to be a joke, too? (Image: Volkswagen of America)

For the past several years automotive companies have been participating in pranks. They distribute news releases on April 1 describing things from flying cars to flux capacitors.

The more plausible, the more funny they tend to be.

Earlier this week, on Monday, there was a “leak” that Volkswagen of America was going to change its name to “Voltswagen of America.”

Reporters contacted sources that substantiated that yes, VoA was going to be doing that. The rationale was that it really wanted to emphasize that it is going to be an all-electric brand.

Right now VoA has one electric vehicle, the ID.4.

On Tuesday, the company sent out a news release with the headline:

Voltswagen: A new name for a new era of e-Mobility

The opening sentence: “Today, Volkswagen Group of America, is unveiling the official change of its U.S. brand name from Volkswagen of America to Voltswagen of America.”

There was a link to the company’s media webpage.

(Those of a grammatical bent might have thought there was something awry because of that second comma, which shouldn’t be there.)

The dateline on that release: “Herndon, VA, March 30, 2021.”

Herndon is where VoA is headquartered.

Now the company is claiming that this is all an April Fool’s joke.

Let’s see:

–April Fool’s Day: April 1, 2021

–VW press release: March 30

–VW denial: March 31; the press release was scrubbed from the site

If it is a joke, then it wasn’t very well executed.

If you told your significant other, who was going to be leaving for an important meeting, that their car had a flat tire and then said “April Fool’s!” when it was March 30, you probably would be spending that night on the couch.

There are those who say that this isn’t a big deal, that it is simply something along the lines of P.T. Barnum’s “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

But in this case, the name wasn’t being spelled correctly.

The people trying to minimize this say that “regular people,” not those who are obsessed with the auto industry, probably don’t pay much attention to this.

I would suggest that this story had national attention and while it didn’t shake anyone to their core, “regular people” heard “Volkswagen” and words associated with denial and retraction.

Maybe the last time they heard the word “Volkswagen” on their local news “diesel” was linked to it.

VW’s market share in the U.S. is small. The company, which is #1 or #2 in Europe, depending on the month, is way down the list in the U.S. market.

The people in Wolfsburg are probably quite frustrated at this.

VW is going electric in a big way. So far that big way is in Europe and China.

In the U.S., not yet.

But this whole thing has done nothing to improve its reputation in this market.

And that’s the problem. They need to get people into dealerships to buy vehicles to increase their market share. One of the ways they could do this is by selling more EVs.

I’ve driven the ID.4 and I think it is a very good car, something that could make “regular people” go to an EV.

But if those regular people are skeptical about VW and are interested in an EV (and let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of them right now), they could conceivably go to their local Ford or Chevy dealer for a Mach-E or Bolt EUV.

Right now I am test driving a 2021 VW Golf GTI 2.0T Autobahn and think that it is the best car that I’ve had the opportunity to be in during the first quarter of 2021: Inside, outside and under the hood, this is what seems to me to be a well-executed machine that is the definition of affordable German engineering. A superb car.

It would be a shame if people stay away from VW vehicles because they think there is something foolish about the company.

P.T. Barnum also allegedly said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Yes there is.

By the way: There’s ink on your nose.*

*Ignore this after April 1.

Inside the Volkswagen ID.4

A look at the vehicle and the strategy that Volkswagen has for this important electric vehicle

By Gary S. Vasilash

Even though the Volkswagen ID.4 is only now beginning to roll out on American roads (as well as on German autobahns, which one would have imagined would have happened sooner, as the vehicles are built in a plant in Zwickau), people at Volkswagen were evidently certain of the likely success of the electric vehicle as on November 19, 2019, there was a ground breaking for a $800-million, 564,000-sq. ft. facility at the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, complex that will be used, in large part, to build EVs, with the ID.4 being the first.

What’s more, they’re in the process of building a plant for assembling battery packs.

Volkswagen ID.4 (Image: Volkswagen)

So to say VW has a lot riding on EVs is not a hackneyed phrase.

What’s interesting about Volkswagen in America is that it has made a decided focus on crossovers.

While there were once the Touareg and Tiguan Limited, it wasn’t as though either of them made much of a dent in the ute market. The Touareg was described as being “the people’s premium SUV” and the Tiguan Limited was, well, limited in its appeal. MY 2017 was the final for both of the vehicles in the U.S.

But VW has subsequently come out with a new Tiguan, the Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport and the soon-to-arrive Taos. And the ID.4 is also positioned in the utility space.

In 2020 VW sold 325,784 vehicles in the U.S. While it is down 10% from 2019, arguably because of the pandemic, even 2019’s 363,322 units was nothing to necessarily celebrate, especially when you consider, for example, that in 2020 Toyota delivered 430,387 RAV4s. In other words, one vehicle sold nearly 105,000 more units than the entire Volkswagen lineup.

Be that as it may, the SUV lineup is fundamental to the success of VW in the U.S. market as it accounted for 58% of all VW sales in the market. The Tiguan is the only model that had 100,000+ sales in the U.S. in 2020.

So on the one hand, VW wants to sell more SUVs. On the other hand, it wants to sell more EVs. And while the ID.4 is an EV SUV, it still presents a bit of an issue for VW in that it is close to the Tiguan in terms of passenger volume, which is a metric that people pay attention to more than, say, slight differences in wheelbase (the ID.4 has a 108.9-inch wheelbase, which is 0.9 inches shorter than the Tiguan).

A man who has to deal with all of these issues is Hein Schafer, Volkswagen of America senior vice president, Product Market and Strategy.

And he explains what the company is doing regarding the ID.4 in the context of the company’s other offerings on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Schafer also gives insights into features of the electric vehicle and why they are the way they are (e.g., when you climb into an ID.4 with the keyfob, you don’t need to push a button to start the vehicle: you engage the gear selector and just go; Schafer says they took that approach to make the vehicle simple to use, recognizing that people unfamiliar with EVs might have a preconceived notion that driving one is akin to an algebra class or science experiment).

Schafer talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance journalist Sebastian Blanco, and me on the show.

Additionally, McElroy, Blanco and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including the focus other OEMs have on luxury EVs rather than something that is more mainstream like the ID.4, whether sales practices are likely to change as a result of the massive increase in on-line shopping for seemingly everything during the past year, and a whole lot more.

You can watch the show by clicking here.