Volkswagen’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle, the ID.4, made its American debut today setting the stage for what could become an epic battle with EV market leader Tesla, as well as more traditional competitors like Ford and General Motors.
Once heavily dependent upon high-mileage diesels, the Volkswagen Group is shifting focus to zero-emission battery cars, the launch of the ID.4 coming on the heels of the European introduction of the smaller ID.3 hatchback. All told, the VW Group plans to have about 50 all-electric products in showrooms around the world by mid-decade through various brands such as Audi and Porsche, as well as the namesake Volkswagen.
With a starting price of $39,995 – before federal and state incentives – and a range of up to 250 miles, the VW ID.4 will take aim at the Tesla Model Y, as well as other, upcoming entries into the BEV segment, such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E coming later this year. To further enhance the new electric SUV’s appeal, VW plans to include three years of free, high-speed charging in the purchase price.
“The ID.4 was engineered, loaded and priced to win the hearts of SUV owners who are simply ready to go electric—and fall in love with Volkswagen again,” said Scott Keogh, CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “It drives like a GTI, it has the packaging of a Tiguan and the purpose of the Beetle. All the best things about VW in one package.”
The ID.4 is a compact SUV measuring about 4.6 inches shorter than the automaker’s conventionally powered Tiguan, though it’s wheelbase is just 0.9 inches shorter. Visually, there are similarities to the two models, though there are a number of details that will help the electric model distinguish itself.
That includes the lack of a conventional grille, as there’s less need for air under the hood. Aerodynamics, overall, were critical to the design in order to maximize range. Instead of a normal grille there is an illuminated VW logo and “light line” stretching across the nose.
The layout of the drivetrain allowed designers to repurpose space normally dedicated to the drivetrain for a roomier cabin. The look is high-tech, with a digital display replacing traditional gauges. The 10-inch Discover Pro touchscreen handles the infotainment system with an upgraded 12-inch display available. A WiFi hotspot is available and a smartphone app can be used to monitor the electric SUV’s charge and operate various functions remotely.
One of the more distinctive features in the cabin is the ID light system, an LED strip under windshield glows to signal things like when and where to turn when using the navigation system.
The ID.4 comes standard with VW’s new ID.Drive advanced driver assistance technology suite, as well, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind sport monitoring, active cruise and more.
Like the smaller ID.3 hatchback, the Volkswagen ID.4 rides on a modular, skateboard-style “architecture” that houses its battery pack and motors below the load floor. Dubbed the MEB, the platform is flexible enough to handle dozens of upcoming products that will be sold through brands including VW, Seat, Skoda and even Audi – though a more sophisticated architecture will be the primary go-to for Audi, Porsche and other Volkswagen Group brands as the automaker’s ambitious electrification program rolls out.
The MEB is capable of serving vehicles that will be front, rear or all-wheel-drive. In the case of the 2021 VW ID.4, the SUV will launch with a single, rear-mounted AC permanent-magnet synchronous motor making 201 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque. The motor will draw power from an 82 kilowatt-hour battery pack estimated to deliver an EPA-rated 250 miles per charge.
“The torque is instantaneous,” said race driver Tanner Foust, a VW brand ambassador. “It literally catapults you off the line which makes it a blast to drive.”
A second version using motors on both axles will be added next year and will boost output to 302 hp. VW has also hinted that it may take the lead from Tesla and offer multiple battery pack options that could increase the ID.4’s range.
Using a 240-volt Level 2 charger, the SUV will fully recharge in about 7.5 hours, according to VW, while it can use a 125 kW public fast charger to go from 5 to 80% of capacity in about 38 minutes.
Unlike earlier all-electric models such as the e-Golf that were targeted at a handful of states, such as California, VW intends to sell the ID.4 across the U.S. and has begun taking reservations today. Though it had hinted at having some of the cars in showrooms before year-end, it now says that won’t happen until early in 2021.
When it finally does actually go on sale, VW plans to charge a base $39,995 before factoring in delivery fees, as well as the $7,500 federal tax credit buyers may qualify for. The automaker also will offer a three-year lease of $379 a month, with $3,579 up front.
That will position the 2021 ID.4 as a relative bargain compared to the Tesla Model Y which starts at $49,990 – after having its price cut by $3,000 this past summer. Tesla had planned to offer its own base model at $39,000. But CEO Elon Musk said he thought its more limited range – which would have matched the ID.4 at 250 miles – was “unacceptably low.” Tesla, meanwhile, no longer qualifies for the federal tax credits, so a base Model Y actually will be about $18,490 more than the ID.4.
The gap actually could widen, as VW plans to introduce a more affordable model when it begins U.S. production in a couple years, starting around $35,000.That version of the ID.4, Keogh said, will likely feature a smaller battery pack, though whether 57 or 62 kWh has not yet been determined.
Meanwhile, a well-equipped launch model, the ID.4 1st Edition, will come in at $36,495 after factoring in the federal tax credit.
“We didn’t set out to go tit-for-tat with other EVs out there,” said VW CEO Keogh. “We priced it to win the heart of SUV owners.”
To further enhance the appeal of its new SUV, Volkswagen will provide three years of free charging at public stations operated by Electrify America – the charging company VW set up as part of the settlement of its diesel emissions scandal.
Whether the Volkswagen SUV’s range will limit demand remains to be seen, but the automaker will clearly face a tough fight in challenging the EV market leader. For the first half of the year, Tesla had the three best-selling battery-cars in the U.S. market, the number four model, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, lagging far behind.
But, as Tesla CEO Musk acknowledged during a presentation of the company’s new battery technology on Tuesday, the BEV segment, overall, makes up little more than an asterisk on U.S. sales charts. That said, industry analysts like Aakash Arora, a managing partner with the Boston Consulting Group, believes demand will accelerate as more products come to production offering buyers more choices in more product segments.
VW itself plans to blanket the market with all-electric vehicles large and small and in a broad range of prices and body styles. It already offers the Audi e-tron SUV and the Porsche Taycan sports car in the U.S.
Initial versions of the Volkswagen ID.4 will be imported from Germany, the SUV rolling out of a plant in Zwickau that has gone through a $2 billion makeover to handle EVs exclusively. Starting in 2022, however, VW plans to begin production of the ID.4 at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant which is now in the midst of a major expansion. Eventually, that facility will produce at least two of VW’s planned BEVs.
Worldwide, VW eventually will have five plants producing the ID.4, including two in Europe, two in Asia and the one in the U.S. That will help drive up volume and improve economies of scale, Keogh said during a media conference call after the online debut of the new SUV. And that, he suggested, will help VW push towards a longer-term goal of introducing a long-range battery-car that it will be able to market for as little as $25,000 — the same goal Tesla CEO Elon Musk outlined earlier this week.