Whoever has been on the inside of Volkswagen knows that they are devout skeptics when it comes to alternative energies. Sure, they do some token research into hydrogen and hybrids to give the blue VW logo a greener hue, but deep in their hydrocarbon pumping hearts, they are devoted pistonhardheads. The aggressive incremental improvement of internal combustion has been their true strategy. Under the “BlueMotion” moniker, they tweak existing technology to wring every last drop of gas (or diesel) out of it. So far, the conservative (and conserving) strategy has succeeded: The new BlueMotion Golf VI, fitted with a peppy 1.6L TDI oil-burning engine, gets 61.9 mpg, handily beating the 2010 EPA 51/48/50 mpg numbers of Toyota’s third gen Prius (YMMV, as you well know.) Suddenly, Wolfsburgologists are registering a change in VeeDub’s secretive Forschung und Entwicklungs Abteilung (R&D Dept., see picture above.)
Followers of Volkswagen have noted alliances with battery makers such as Sanyo and Toshiba.
Last week, Wang Chuanfu, Chairman of BYD, China’s battery maker and budding EV manufacturer with Buffett backing, came to visit Wolfsburg. Not for a factory tour. According to Automobilwoche [sub], both parties signed a Memorandum Of Understanding. We understand that VW and BYD want to jointly “explore possibilities of cooperation in the sector of hybrid vehicles using lithium batteries.”
Ulrich Hackenberg, chief of VW’s R&D said: “Volkswagen will continue to improve its successful BlueMotion technologies. Hybrid and pure electric vehicles play an increasingly important role in this.” The first sentence wasn’t surprising. The second is. Does Wolfsburg have a change of heart and mind?
It may only be a nod to the Chinese market, which is extremely important to VW. Wan Gang, a former Audi engineer in Germany who is now China’s minister of science and technology, has ambitious plans to electrify China’s auto industry. In March, Beijing unveiled an auto-industry plan to create capacity to produce 500,000 “new energy” vehicles, by 2011. According to the New York Times, “China vies to be world’s leader in electric cars.” Which should assuage the fears of the formerly developed markets that China will gobble up all the gas when it starts buying cars in earnest.
Of course, VW wants to have their fair share of this. VW doesn’t make a secret of it. “Particularly for the Chinese market, potential partners such as BYD could support us in quickly expanding our activities,” Hackenberg opined. Unsaid, but obvious: Getting in bed with BYD is probably a better move than Daimler buying 10 percent of a zombie known by the name of Tesla.