Don't Lose Sleep Waiting for Volkswagen's Super-cheap EV

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

As Volkswagen Group embarks on its quest to build and disseminate The People’s Propulsion across the globe, rumblings of an ultra-cheap electric car from the automaker have come into focus.

We began hearing of such a vehicle last year, when reports emerged that VW was planning an EV with an MSRP below 20,000 euros (roughly $22,400 USD). That’s below the expected price floor of even the lowliest MEB-platform I.D. model — the I.D. Neo, which starts production in Europe late this year.

Now, the automaker has revealed where it sees this vehicle fitting into VW Group’s vast lineup, and when it might appear.

Think low-end. VW’s Seat brand — the pride of Spain — will be that bargain basement greenie’s home when it rolls out, probably in 2023, claims the brand’s CEO.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Luca de Meo said Seat will carry the torch for cheap electrics in the European market, rolling out a slew of electrified models to battle the likes of Nissan and Renault in the low-cost green field. Joining those future models will be the new, cheapest EV, built atop a sub-MEB platform.

“We spent so many years trying to fix our things so we couldn’t afford to get into the hottest and most innovative areas,” de Meo said of Seat’s recent return to profitability. “Now, because we are not busy with a fire brigade emergency, we can actually look a little bit more on the horizon.”

Seat will lead the new EV architecture’s development, apparently, with other VW Group brands adopting it for their own low-cost offerings. While we’re certainly not going to see a Seat offered in this market, a VW-badged model isn’t out of the question. A 21st-century green people’s car, perhaps — assuming the market looks sufficiently receptive to VW brass. Its appearance would only come after the North American market gets a taste of the automaker’s larger I.D. models, which include a crossover and a microbus.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess wants Seat to take on more responsibility beneath the corporate umbrella. Diess told de Meo as much during a meeting last week.

“It’s a recognition that we can play a different role in the group,” de Meo said.

While fielding the cheapest EV on the market would be a coup for Seat (the Smart brand might pose a challenge to that boast), not everyone’s impressed by the plan.

Arndt Ellinghorst, head of global automotive research at Evercore ISI, told FT it would be “impossible to make money” on a model at that price point using today’s battery technology.

“In terms of innovating, it’s the right step,” he said. “But I would try to not lose too much money on it. They don’t have the pricing power of Audi or VW.”

[Image: Electrify America/Volkswagen Group]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 02, 2019

    For $22K you cannot even buy base Mazda3 - forget about EV - it never going to VW lost its collective mind. They should start with Audi not SEAT.

  • TheBrandler TheBrandler on Apr 03, 2019

    2 Years ago this month I remember listening to some presentations online where this "futurist" was predicting that EVs were at the beginning of their "S" curve and that by 2024, the first EVs would appear that are cheaper than their "ICE" equivalent with all the same features, and equal range. 2 years on now, he sounds just as crazy as he did then, and it's looking like there will never be such a thing as a cheap EV. And I do mean NEVER. By the time EVs drop in price such that they cost as much as a normal car, it will be circa 2030, and by that time, there will be no affordable cars at all unless you buy used.

    • See 1 previous
    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Apr 03, 2019

      @mcs Mass production of the new technology also means some leading indicators should appear, like huge investments in on-the-ground factories and announcements of extraordinary range or recharge capabilities in a specific new vehicle. Another indicator would be abandonment or reduction of traditional lithium ion battery supply chain commitments. Given that the design and planning cycle for such a mythical 2024 vehicle needs to start now, I doubt we're in store for any breakthrough technology in a showroom by then. Maybe in 10 years. Until then, we're likely going to see incremental improvements, and will have to settle for the slow pace.

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.