By on April 2, 2019

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]

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6 Comments on “Don’t Lose Sleep Waiting for Volkswagen’s Super-cheap EV...”

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    i was hoping to buy a base model Jetta type electric sedan for $22K. Guess I’ll have to wait a little longer. Chevy – here is your chance. I have no problem writing a check for that amount.
    BTW I was in Spain last September and noticed what I thought was a higher than expected number of Tesla Model S on the A roads. There is a lot of room beneath Tesla in Europe for EVs. I just wish we could get a sub $25K BEV in the US.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      It might happen. Battery density and costs have been steadily improving. The original Leaf cell density was about 157 Wh/kg and one of VWs suppliers, CATL, just announced their cells are at 304 Wh/kg. I think Teslas Model 3 cells are 287 Wh/kg. Greater density per kg means more efficiency so you need less battery capacity for a given range.

      The real wild card in all of this is the new technology. There are labs making real breakthroughs on a regular basis. The problem is getting that technology into mass production – if it can be done at all. Even if it can be produced, it’s not an overnight process. It takes years. Even worse, the companies involved are secretive about what they’re up to during that phase.

      The auto companies are in the best position to know what’s going on. They’re probably under non-disclosure and are getting feedback on the progress. If VW and the others (including Shell which just bought a US charging network and withdrew from GCC) are moving towards EVs, somethings up. I think we’ll definitely see 400 to 500 Wh/kg by 2023-24, but if any of those coating technologies that are already working in a lab make it into production, that number will be blown out of the water.

      The bottom line is that the battery business is very secretive and it’s difficult to speculate what’s going on unless you’re directly involved. The best indicator as to what’s going on are the people that are probably under non-disclosure and their behavior. Pay less attention to financial analysts that have no access to the real status of battery technology.

      Who knows what’s going to happen, but I wouldn’t bet against EV technology making significant progress in the next few years.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        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.

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