Volkswagen has done nothing to hide its goal of becoming the world’s largest manufacturer of battery-electric vehicles, and it’s radically redesigning its product development process in a bid to take down the current EV market leader, Tesla.
The new process will take time to bring to market, with a new sedan version of the Volkswagen ID.4 expected to be the first tangible result. Known internally under the codename “Project Trinity,” the three-box version of the ID.4 is not set to reach market until 2026, according to a report by Wards Auto.
“We’re reducing development time by 25 percent,” Thomas Ulbrich, Volkswagen’s head of R&D, told the publication. “Future projects will be completed in 40 months from the point at which the basic software architecture is in place, instead of the 54 months we have today.”
The first offering
The automaker offered a hint of what’s to come with teaser images of the upcoming ID.4 sedan. It indicated the battery-electric vehicle will deliver as much as 700 kilometers, or 435 miles, of range. That’s based on the European WLTP system — but even using EPA numbers it should translate into a 20% improvement over the range of the best of VW’s current BEV line-up.
At about 181 inches in length, it would be sized close to the current Tesla Model 3 sedan, though it’s far from clear what that competitive offering might look like in 2026. For its part, Tesla is working on new battery technology expected to enhance range while lowering costs.
The ID.4 sedan is expected to go into production in 2026 at an all-new, $2.2 billion plant located near the automaker’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The Volkswagen Group says it will have as many as 50 all-electric models coming by mid-decade and its various brands already have begun rolling out products such as the Audi e-tron GT, the Porsche Taycan and the VW ID.4 crossover, including the newly debuted ID.4 all-wheel drive model. Several brands have laid out aggressive timetables for going all-electric, ultra-luxury marque Bentley expecting to get there by 2030.
Committed to EVs
All told, the German automaker expects to invest more than $100 billion in electric vehicle development by then and clearly wants to get the most for its money.
Virtually all of the vehicles now under development will use a small number of common platforms, primarily the MEB architecture targeting mainstream audiences. That offers a number of potential advantages, including economies of scale.
But VW’s vehicle development process is far less efficient. Individual products may share those common platforms but development teams seldom collaborate and may not even know what each other is working on. In effect, each has to develop the wheel from scratch.
Ulbrich wants the process to be more collaborative. And VW is turning to a mix of new hardware and software to allow that to happen.
On the hardware side, the MEB, or Modularen Elektrik Baukasten, platform will make way for a new architecture dubbed the SSP, short for Scalable Systems Platform. That’s not entirely a surprise. Despite VW’s high hopes for the MEB, it has proven to be less flexible — and more expensive than originally promised. And that has required various brands — notably Porsche and Audi to develop more upscale platforms of their own.
“The next generation of our hardware platforms will allow us to reduce complexity over time as we will consolidate our existing platform to one architecture for the entire e-product portfolio, from entry-level to top-of-the-range, from 85 to 850kW,” Diess said, according to Wards.
As for the new line of software, most of it will be designed in-house. And it will target a variety of different areas. Up front, VW is counting on new software and software-enhanced processes to make it easier for product development teams to work together, even when operating on opposite sides of the globe.
New software also will used inside VW vehicles. It will operate everything from powertrain controls to infotainment systems.
Big supporter for new process
The new approach has a high-level cheerleader, noted Wards, in the form of Group CEO Herbert Diess. The prime proponent of the switch to electric propulsion, he has called for a “complete rethink” of the automaker’s entire business model, from product development to sales and marketing.
Diess is by no means the only auto industry leader betting on the switch to electric propulsion. General Motors CEO Mary Barra wants to eliminate internal combustion engines entirely by 2035. Manufacturers as diverse as Volvo and Honda have laid out similar aspirations.
As the first to market with a long-range BEV, Tesla remains the global leader in all-electric vehicles. But, even as it ramps up production with new factories in Berlin and Austin, Texas, it faces an increasingly challenging environment.
VW is betting it can catch up in the next half decade. Diess now wants BEVs to account for 20% of its global sales by 2025, up from 6% last year. If its sales were only to hold steady at pre-pandemic — and pre-semiconductor shortage — levels, that would translate into at least 2 million BEVs annually.