By on February 20, 2019

Volkswagen walked journalists through its much-hyped electrification strategy at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, giving the automotive media a preview of the automaker’s plans.

MEB, which is an acronym for the German Modularer Elektrobaukasten, is the platform underpinning the company’s push from internal-combustion engines to electrified vehicles. The company intends to roll out 50 battery-electric vehicles and 30 plug-in hybrids across Volkswagen Auto Group’s 12 global brands between this year and 2025 as part of a larger strategy to field 300 electrified vehicle models across the dozen brands by 2030.

That’s obviously an aggressive strategy — one requiring a closer look.

The usual caveat applies – VW was presenting to the media, so the company of course put its best face forward. That said, the automaker faced many good questions – and I am happy to pass good questions from the comments on to VW. If some of those queries stand out, and VW is willing to answer, maybe we’ll do a future post.

Until then, here’s a clearer look at what VW is trying to achieve.

Starting with the basics, the MEB platform will be centered around the battery. Drivetrains will be all-wheel and rear-wheel drive, there will be a central computer system, and no center tunnel. VW estimates that trunk volume will be comparable to an internal-combustion engine vehicle.

That central computer will be able to provide over-the-air software updates, and there will be some level of autonomous driving capability. Customers will also have access to additional apps and services.

Range is always the key question when it comes to EVs, and Volkswagen estimates the MEB platform will provide at least 200 miles of range, with scalability up to 300 miles.

VW expects the MEB platform to have the flexibility needed to underpin vehicles of different heights, lengths, and widths. That’s due, in part, to the under-floorboard location of the battery. That battery location will also allow any MEB-based vehicle to feature a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs than a comparable vehicle from the same class. VW says it will also offer more space in both the front and rear areas of the interior, as well as a higher seating position — again, when compared to vehicles in the same class, whichever class that may be. There’s also the option of outfitting a vehicle with larger wheels.

The choice of rear-drive or all-wheel drive is aimed at fulfilling VW’s desire for more responsive handling. Rear-drive vehicles will have a single electric motor mounted on the rear axle, while not surprisingly, the all-wheel drive models will have another electric motor mounted on the front axle.

Power specs are tentative, but we were told that the first rear-drive miles will have electric motors generating about 150 kilowatts of power. That’s a hair over 201 horsepower.

Chargers will be Level 3, which means an 80 percent “fill-up” will take under an hour. Still, VW expects most customers to charge overnight at home, using a lesser plug. The company also expects to have EV production online at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee by 2022.

As is usually the case when it comes to OEMs speaking on-record about future product, VW’s spokesman, Matthew Renna, vice president for e-mobility, North American region, was mum on much more than the basics. Exact vehicle types, names, and pricing are all under cover, although Renna made it clear that pricing will be aimed at mainstream buyers, and not just the well-heeled.

It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure. Not to mention a reaction to the diesel emissions scandal that is still rocking the company nearly four years after it began. Fifty new battery-electric vehicles in six years seems about as ambitious as me trying to complete stage one of American Ninja Warrior, although, to be fair, VW probably has better odds of success.

As Matt pointed out earlier this month, VW feels it has economies of scale on its side, and tightening emission regulations in Europe and China may push consumers towards EVs. Problem is, while VW would seem to have a leg up, most of its competitors are also preparing for any market shift.

The flexibility of the MEB platform is the key to potential success. That flexibility may keep costs low while also allowing VW to quickly add new models and variants to appeal to the broadest range of consumers possible.

Volkswagen is betting a lot of its future on MEB. Still, given the regulatory climate and the rapid advance of technology, it’s not necessarily a dangerous gamble.

At least Volkswagen hopes not.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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33 Comments on “Digging Deeper into Volkswagen’s MEB Platform Plans...”


  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    What’s the wheelbase?

    I’m assuming so far they are planning on a fixed wheelbase and track width.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Not necessarily. If it’s like the current MQB platform, the “platform” concentrates on designing a common set of parts between the front axle and the steering wheel. Think of all the parts that fit in that space: a front-wheel-drive powertrain, HVAC systems, crush space, steering. Those are the active parts of a car, all the rest either leads or follows.

  • avatar
    Groovypippin

    I work at a brand that doesn’t currently sell EV’s so our familiarity with them comes via the used car lot. We just got our first Chevy Bolt in. Impressive range, zippy and the most craptastic interior I have seen and touched in a vehicle in quite some time. Absolute hideous garbage for a vehicle that sells for over $50,000 new north of the 49th parallel where I live. No sunroof. No NAV, manual seat adjustments and hard plastic surfaces you could break a limb on. It’s a $50,000 Chevy Spark that doesn’t require gas.

    I accept and embrace the fact that EV’s are the future. It’s easy to understand why they aren’t the present.

    • 0 avatar
      bts

      While the interior of the Bolt may not be great, the teardown showed the body and powertrain was very well designed along with way better build quality than something similar, like a Model 3. Comparing interior quality on something like a commuting car is pretty pointless too. It’s definitely not a highway cruiser so don’t think of it as one.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I found the Bolt interior to be ergonomically offensive. The shifter is in a very rearward position, with unorthodox positions.

      I couldn’t make sense of the screens (information overload). The back seat was awfully small, and I felt like the driver’s door was in my shoulder.

      • 0 avatar
        VJW

        I went to the car show on the weekend and sat in the Bolt. The seat adjustment is via two big plastic paddles mounted so high on the seat that I hurt my thigh getting out of the car. They have taken poor design to the next level.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I sat in a Bolt at a car show. Needless to say I had the same impression of the interior as you. Seemed incredibly bottom-bin; which is understandable I suppose if you’re looking at saving as much weight as possible. But still, a little more Audi would go a long way for the price and consumer impression.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      It shouldn’t be that difficult to put better interior materials and more design time into an EV. It’s just another car. Problem is, marketing and design people might want to say, “It’s not just a car, it’s the future!” In a world of confusing and distracting touchscreens, you might miss those clunky plastic buttons.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I feel bad, but I’m kind of over EVs. At price parity with an efficient hybrid, the savings are still marginal under normal driving conditions (15K miles/yr, regular gas & electric rates). $100-200 a year. Hell, $300-400 or so over an efficient conventional car. And then you have to get a charger and the like. So even at price parity a charger alone can wipe out payback.

    I feel like VW would have done better to simplify its gas engines and double down on hybrids. But we’ll see. Maybe I’m totally wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Mr. sportyaccordy,
      no coil packs, no fuel injectors, no spark plugs,no fuel filter, no oil filter, no radiator/water pump to break/be replaced and no oil changes. Yeah an EV still needs brake pads, brake fluid changed, tires rotated,cabin filters changed, windshield washer topped off, and new batteries for the key fob. A lot less maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      I’m with you on hybrids, especially plug-ins. My Ford C-Max Energi gets 64 MPG overall. My driving cost, including AC shore power, is under 5 cents a mile. Twenty EV miles doesn’t sound like much, but that’s all the short, local cold-start trips that gas engines dislike. After that, you get a 700 mile range on gas. It’s the best of both worlds, with no operational limitations.

      Yes, el scotto, EVs have a lot fewer parts under the hood. Hybrids have more, but they’re not all working and wearing out at the same time. The gas engine never idles, and rides as a passenger much of the time. The brakes don’t work so much thanks to regeneration resistance. Looking at the past performance of hybrids, I’m very confident in their reliability.

  • avatar
    blockmachining

    groovypippin, you are right. We have a 2018 Bolt and the inside is the worst. You can definitely tell they put their money in the powertrain and battery. The positives of the Bolt is reduced fuel costs, very quiet and up to about 65 mph, it will scoot. We have solar panels so our fuel costs went from about 12 cents per mile to zero. That zero helps us to overlook the interior shortcomings. Also, its pretty cool to realize you only change the tires and windshield wipers and that’s it for the first 150,000 miles. There is coolant you have to replace around 150,000 miles. The maintenance schedule is all of four lines instead of 3 or 4 pages of stuff. The brake pad life expectancy is ~500,000 miles!

  • avatar
    RHD

    Volkswagen is building one car with dozens of bodies. (Sort of like the Nissan NX on a larger scale.)
    It’s a great idea, and will likely be followed by other manufacturers. Once the basic platform is designed, R&D costs will go way down.
    The future of automotive building is likely to be very interesting.

  • avatar
    la834

    I’m really curious why none of these underfloor battery clusters leave the footwell area open. It’s like 1950s cars before they went to step-down frames.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My real interest is in how they plan to source all the GWh they will need for so many vehicles.

    If they intend to surpass Tesla, they’ll need their own Gigafactories to support the operation, and a well-planted supply chain.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Your post also makes me think of how junkyards will be able to handle these vehicles in the future. Will the batteries have to removed for recycling before being crushed?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I’d say yes, for reasons of safety and reducing cost for new batteries.

        The Gigafactory was supposed to be able to inhale old batteries for recycling, to help reduce costs. I haven’t heard if they are doing that yet. One reason may be that Tesla batteries have very low degradation, so there may not be that many available to close the loop yet.

        Removing batteries won’t be as simple as draining the gas out of old junkers.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        There is no real plan for mass battery recycling beyond finding new uses such as backup power storage for homes, which merely kicks the problem down the road because eventually the batteries will be useless hunks of dangerous chemicals and precious metals. My guess is container ships full of dead batteries going to some 3rd world country with low labor costs and no environmental regulations, where children will earn a few cents prying them apart and sorting the parts into containers – in other words, very sustainable.

        • 0 avatar
          jatz

          stingray65: COTD

          When reality and snark are one.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “There is no real plan for mass battery recycling”

            Every one of the cell manufacturers has plans for recycling. The materials are too valuable. Conventional lead-acid batteries are recycled. These will be too.

        • 0 avatar
          Master Baiter

          “…where children will earn a few cents prying them apart and sorting the parts into containers – in other words, very sustainable….”

          Spot on. I’ve been to the Philippines and seen this very thing.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            I doubt you’ve witnessed lithium ion cells being peeled apart by hand, since exposing their guts to the atmosphere makes them ignite.

            Recycling cells will require specialized equipment under controlled conditions.

        • 0 avatar
          vehic1

          stingray65: So that’s your “guess”. I’m sure that no one on earth has actually considered the recycling, whatsoever. Wow, blockbuster of a scandal; EVs are hereby kaput!??

          • 0 avatar
            stingray65

            I know how the real world works. Almost all the recycling efforts in the west have been a total waste environmentally. Either the “recyclable” stuff gets burned because it is too expensive to process, or it gets sent to the 3rd world where it can be processed more cheaply due to lax regulations and cheap labor. Show me how it is environmentally sound to send an used plastic bottle, dead battery, or disposed paper box from Omaha to Bangladesh or China, but that is how much of it has been done.

            Nobody has any idea what they will do with dead car batteries that will be piling up when electric cars become common enough that they are scrapped by the millions, but the lowest bidder is certain to get the job.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “Nobody has any idea what they will do with dead car batteries that will be piling up when electric cars become common enough that they are scrapped by the millions, ”

            Again, that is not true. For one thing, the batteries are still useful for power applications. Here’s a link to Nissan’s program for selling refurbished battery packs. Need a new pack for your Leaf? Only $2850 for a refurbished pack rather than %5,500 for a new one.

            https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1116722_nissan-begins-offering-rebuilt-leaf-battery-packs

            Tesla and other companies have recycling programs in place. It’s different than plastics and individual cells. It’s basically a big can of valuable metals and electronics. Refurbish the packs and utilize the old electronics along with new cells, use the cells for power storage, or scrap the metals.

  • avatar
    Asdf

    This MEB platform is dead on arrival. Why? Because charging will take about an hour and only charge 80 % of the battery! Those specifications are simply unacceptable for a vehicle of any propulsion type in 2019. Charging the battery to 100 % shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

    VW better go back to the drawing board, or this MEB will be a fiasco of such proportions that Dieselgate will pale in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      “Charging the battery to 100 % shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”

      And flying to the moon should only take an hour.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Most EV owners will have to open the charging port, plug in, and then walk into their house. Oh, the horror!

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        There’s going to be boatloads of extension cords stretching across the sidewalks.

        I’ve given up trying to get BEV zealots to explain how this is supposed to work for the huge number of people who park on the street. I’m just waiting to laugh and point when that particular load of feces finally strikes the rotating airfoil, and their incompatibility with the majority of vehicle usage patterns simply becomes too prominent to continue to dismiss and ignore.

        BEVs are niche vehicles with a very narrow range of applicability. Always have been and always will be.

        It ain’t (and never was) the range. It’s the refueling time (and always will be).

    • 0 avatar
      blockmachining

      I love the convenience of my Bolt. Its like having your own gas station in your garage. I go to bed and count sheep while my car counts watts. It really is an awesome benefit of EVs. The charging stations are starting to pop up in many locations and its getting easy to find them. I’d say out of 95% of my destinations, I’m within say a mile of a charging station. Its definitely getting better.

  • avatar
    jatz

    Aufbocken, aufbocken, aufbocken und es wird sich gut verkaufen!

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