By on October 6, 2015

2015 Volkswagen eGolf Exterior-0051

A Volkswagen of America spokesman said Tuesday that electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars would be a “key part” of the automaker’s research and development strategy after CEO Matthias Müller told 20,000 workers in Wolfsburg that it would postpone or cancel other projects that weren’t critical to sales.

“Electrification, whether full EV, PHEV, or HEV, is a key part of our strategy long term in order to meet worldwide (greenhouse gas) targets,” a Volkswagen spokesman told TTAC on Tuesday.

In 2014, Volkswagen spent $13.5 billion on research and development — more than any other company in all sectors. However, that budget could be severely restricted as the automaker prepares to pay billions for software that cheated emissions tests.

Volkswagen could be looking for ways to not repeat history, when a 1960s lawsuit from Tatra crippled development well into the 1980s.

A lawsuit by Tatra over claims that Volkswagen copied its 1936 T97 for the German automaker’s Beetle that was made two years later, which was eventually settled for 3 million German Marks in 1961, could be a roadmap for Volkswagen today. (Most sources say VW settled the suit in 1961 for 3 million Marks, however one Wikipedia entry says it was settled in 1965 for 1 million Marks.)

The blow to Volkswagen’s research budget was measurable, according to Vintage Volkswagen Club of America Historian Heinz Schneider.

Volkswagen built the Beetle well into the 1970s, well after sales lagged, “because they didn’t know anything else to build,” Schneider said. “The Tatra lawsuit didn’t leave them much to spend on research.”

Volkswagen’s first water-cooled car was the rebadged NSU K70, a car that largely failed, according to Schneider. Volkswagen purchased NSU in 1969 and sold the rebadged water-cooled car for five years. Volkswagen fitted its Passat with a water-cooled Audi engine in 1972, but Volkswagen continued to produce air-cooled cars well into the 1980s, which didn’t do the automaker any favors.

Volkswagen sales sank during the 1970s and 1980s until its Golf gained traction with more buyers, Schneider said.

“It was the Golf that really saved them,” he said.

Schneider, who said he’s written more than 1,000 stories on Volkswagen’s history, said it would be difficult for the automaker to overcome its most-recent scandal.

“They could probably be wiped out,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re going to survive this.”

(H/T to Murilee Martin who’s written extensively about VW’s malaise-era cars.)

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23 Comments on “Volkswagen Says EVs ‘Key Part’ of Its Future (If History Doesn’t Repeat Itself)...”

  • avatar

    The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. -Mark Twain

    VW is well into “Too big to fail” territory.

  • avatar

    The timing of this announcement sounds more like a damage-limitation PR exercise to look like a responsible environmentalists company…

    • 0 avatar

      I would think so. EV PHEV take up in Europe is abysmal and to a greater extent not much better anywhere else.

    • 0 avatar


      Damen und Herren, we are an electric vehicle company now!!!

      Let’s get started. Does anyone have Elon Musk’s phone number?

      Honestly, given all of the $#!t that broke on my Jetta, a less complex EV drivetrain is one of the circumstances I’d consider giving Volkswagen another try. Fewer parts means fewer opportunities for failure.

  • avatar

    If I can’t get my fast ball by ’em no more I’ll just use my curve.

    ‘Cept I ain’t got one and this is my third time up from the minors…

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Well, that should take care of the emissions problems, at least the ones coming from the car’s tailpipe.

  • avatar

    I would say building gas engines that don’t consume a quart of oil every 1,000 miles and calling that normal, building ignition coils that last longer than 30,000 miles, listening to your market that wants CUVs not cars, making it easier for non-VW dealers to service VW products, and not cheating on government regulations on an epic global scale is more of a key to success.

    But hey, that’s just me.

  • avatar

    What’s gonna be funny is when more people have EV’s, oil prices drop and then the liberal greeners target EV’s to PILFER MORE MONEY out of stupid people.

  • avatar

    Whole declaration from VW – if it is true, stinks of desperation. And the fact that they did already an investigation and found no foul regarding the engineers that were thought to be responsible, sounds like they do not really want to change. Interesting dilemma.

    Oh yeah – VW did not really invent the people’s car. Heck, even Rudolph Diesel did not really invent his engine. Nor Otto. My 2 cents.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    VW could start by offering the e-Golf in all 50 states.

    Reviews of that vehicle are very good. Even so, it’s only sold 2555 copies in the US through September, which is about the same quantity as Tesla sells in 3 weeks.

    • 0 avatar

      Golf carts.

    • 0 avatar

      I leased an e-golf SEL this past Saturday. It’s surprisingly nice and extremely normal. No video game gauge cluster. Even the battery level gauge is analog!

      Quick to 40, slow after that. Cruises easily at 75mph. Handles pretty well (it gets the independent rear suspension). Infotainment system sucks. Uses a heat pump for heat which I found gives heat instantly and is pretty efficient.

      It has 5 levels of regen from None to Drive-with-1-pedal. In the highest level it triggers the brake lights when you’re slowing down quickly (maybe in the 2nd strongest level too – haven’t noticed).

      It looks like I could just about hit 100 miles with my normal driving distribution of 25% at 70mph and the balance on 25-50 typical suburban roads. My typical day is 25-40 miles though, so it works perfectly for me.

  • avatar

    That historian is clueless. Does he really believe a one-time DM 3m fine in 1961 had any impact on VW R&D spending way into the 70s? Just for reference, in 1961 alone VW had over 4bn DM in sales and a profit of 72m DM. Ridiculous. Some historian.

    • 0 avatar

      Vega – what you say is true. However, doesn’t it sound just like VW to have used this trivial fine as an excuse to keep cranking out dirty and unreliable vehicles well past their expiration date? History repeats…

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