By on April 10, 2019

Even with affordable electric vehicles cropping up on the global market, their budgetary nature is relative. While the industry promises that EVs will offer the world an affordable, mechanically simple and green alternative to traditional internal combustion models, they’ve yet to deliver. That’s not to suggest e-cars are failures, just that the technologies involved are still maturing.

Battery prices will continue to decline and eventually governments won’t always need to incentivize EV purchases through tax credits. But we’ve yet to reach the point where it makes just as much financial sense to buy a small EV as it would a gasoline-powered econobox. That could soon change.

Volkswagen Group, the largest automaker to seriously stake its future in electrification, has tapped the Seat brand to blaze the trail of truly affordable, fully electric city cars, based on a shortened version of the group’s modular MEB platform. It admits there are plenty of obstacles VW engineers have yet to overcome.

According to Automotive News, VW brand development chief Frank Welsch said the automaker is looking into radical changes for the EV architecture earmarked for the group’s smaller city EVs. Among those solutions is a proposal to shrink essential drivetrain components and bring the amount of materials that goes into an electric vehicle to a bare minimum. Welsch also said that the two banks of battery cells fitted perpendicular to the door sills could be rotated by 90 degrees.

“That would give us more space between the battery and the sills, and hence a greater cushion should an accident occur,” he explained. “Safety is a major priority at Volkswagen and a lot of money is spent trying to protect the battery cells in the event of a crash.”

There are other aspects to consider. “We have to see, for example, whether the range of electric motors we currently have planned for the MEB need to be supplemented with a smaller one for example [sic],” Welsch said.

Unfortunately, adding complexity to a manufacturing process that was clearly decided upon to minimize just that is less than ideal. MEB was supposed to be ultra versatile, maximizing the number of parts shared between vehicles.

From Automotive News:

Welsch said it hasn’t been decided either whether such a motor should be an induction motor rather than the competing format intended for use in the ID, which uses a permanent magnet that requires rare earths.

Currently VW Group’s entry-level electric car is the VW e-Up. Skoda will launch a Citigo EV based on the e-Up this year and Seat’s Mii EV will go on sale next year.

The Mii will serve as a “appetizer” until the new small MEB cars are launched, Seat CEO Luca de Meo said at the brand’s annual results conference on Wednesday.

Since these new vehicles are all supposed to be under 162 inches in length, North America isn’t likely to see many. But the overriding plan is for the auto group to build up its pint-sized EVs across all brands after Seat makes its initial European push in 2023. Following that, there’s a decent possibility that VW could try to market something extra small through its I.D. sub-brand in our neck of the woods.

The key takeaway from all of this is that VW is openly acknowledging that affordable electrification is much harder to pull off than the industry initially led us to believe. After so many years spent promising us the moon, it’s refreshing to hear any automaker level with the public and outline the obstacles they’ve yet to overcome. Development is hard and it’s okay to remind us of that. It keeps consumers from feeling tricked or asking stupid questions about why entry-level EVs are still so expensive versus their internal-combustion alternative.

“Anyone can build an expensive car. The most difficult task as an engineer is to build an affordable one,” Welsch said, adding that VW’s small electric platform would be an essential step in finally providing the (Western) world with inexpensive electric vehicles.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

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23 Comments on “VW Group Admits Developing Affordable EVs Will Be Difficult...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “VW is openly acknowledging that affordable electrification is much harder to pull off than the industry initially led us to believe.”

    What industry? Nobody – including Tesla – has said such a task was easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it.

    OTOH, anyone can build an affordable EV, but it’s yet to be proven that this can be done profitably. As a matter of fact, if you look at the dearth of small cars in the market, this problem seems to apply to any ‘affordable’ car.

    As for VW, I was hoping they’d figured this out already. Their big talk about future EVs fully depends on solving this problem.

  • avatar

    Anyone can build an affordable EV (battery not included).

    • 0 avatar

      My chuckle for the day.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re more correct than you perhaps intended.

      BEVs will be viable, once they only need to carry enough battery for lower speed, shorter local hops. With power for the higher draw, higher speed, longer distance highway portions of the drive, being supplied by the highway directly. Until then, they’ll never outgrow their niche as a vehicle for politically motivated transfers of wealth to politically correct conmen.

  • avatar

    Seems like an affordable electric city car shouldn’t be that hard to pull off. Don’t need a lot of range, relatively light weight, so you don’t need a lot of expensive battery. Won’t sell in the US but you’d think there’d be a market in Europe with gas at $6+/gallon.

  • avatar

    And the EV miracle blasts along. Until the day governments finally apply road taxes to the electricity they slurp up.

    As it stands, not only do I fund people getting a credit for purchasing an EV, but I also pay for the cheap untaxed electricity they use. Why should I or anyone else pay for someone else’s free ride?

    I’n fed up with people lecturing me using my own money.

    • 0 avatar

      Many states already apply a road tax to EVs at registration. I have no prob with that, as long as it’s calculated to be similar to what a driver of a comparable ICE car would pay in gas tax and not just jacked up to punish EV buyers.

      How do you “pay for the cheap untaxed electricity” others use? You don’t pay for my electricity. But as you’re volunteering, I’ll have my light bill sent to your house. Fair warning, it’s not untaxed, and neither is anyone else’s.

      I don’t like paying for things that demonstrably don’t work, like Middle East oil wars or abstinence-based sex ed or anti-drug education. You don’t care. I get to pay for them anyway, because that’s how representative government works: we all get some things we want and some things we don’t. You don’t like paying for EVs. I don’t care: same thing applies.

  • avatar

    When I drove an EV and had range issues, I often wished for smaller drive motors/different gearing (yielding slower acceleration but longer range).

    VW: “Anyone can build an expensive car.”

    Me: “Yes, and anyone can build a heavy vehicle.”

    Regarding EV subsides – these are what, like 85% of US Federal expenditures?

  • avatar

    I don’t understand why nobody is combining the hot trends:

    – SUVs
    – mobility (I hate that word)
    – electric vehicles

    Sell a small EV that is good for commuting and short distance travel, with ownership, you have the ability to go to your local dealer and pick up a larger SUV for when you need more cargo capacity, and also provide the option for a certain amount of long term use per year (for family vacations).

    A hybrid (pardon the pun) ownership model means that you will always have “your” car, without having to worry about the “what ifs”. Instead of buying the car you need 5% of the time, you can buy the car that meets 90% of your needs.

    • 0 avatar

      Fiat did this with the 500e in California. You got the ideal short-range city EV, and a prepaid card to rent a bigger car from Enterprise whenever needed. I got my Fiat the month after that program ended, unfortunately.

  • avatar

    I wish people would stop calling EV vehicles greener than fossil fuel vehicles. I would love to have a good EV and leave behind all those add-ons like water pumps, fuel pumps, oil systems, ignition, and that’s without even considering all the political crap like catalytic converters. I’d love to not have trannies even though I like stick shifts better than automatics.

    Electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, and except for minor efficiencies from their larger size, gigawatt power plants still only convert 1/3 of the power to electricity. Throw in transmission losses and battery charge/discharge losses, and EVs are no more efficient than fossil fuel engines, and possibly less so. Fossil fuels have their own inefficiencies, such as carting fuel around from refineries to gas stations, but that doesn’t negate the fact that EVs have an entire intermediate step that fossil fuel vehicles don’t.

    Don’t drag in wind and solar; their intermittancy requires backup fossil fuel plants.

    Do drag in nuclear power, but since the greenies refuse to consider nuclear in the face of the self-proclaimed existential threat from fossil fuels, you don’t get to include nuclear on their behalf; if you want to use “green”, you have to forego “nuclear”.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s simply not accurate. This has been studied to death and EVs are greener, full stop. I guarantee you, nobody would bother with all this if there were no upside. Caveat: they’re more energy intensive to manufacture, so the environmental benefit doesn’t really pull ahead until year three.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s a hilarious statement. The world is full of policies, and history is littered with efforts that have no upside at all and were purely politically drive.

        And yes, it’s been studied to death, EVs produce marginally less CO2 per life span IN SOME MARKETS. In most it’s either a wash or they produce more because of the source of electricity plus their manufacturing costs.

        Also, currently all EVs are essentially blood vehicles built on the backs of child slave labor to mine for their precious cobalt – so there’s that against them too.

        It’s far from sunshine and rainbows with Evs. Really, when you get out the physics book and do some maths, the one major technology being shunned, series hybrids, looks like the best option for reducing emissions and preventing western ideals from being built on the backs of child slaves.

        So yes, there are no upsides right now for EVs. Only a future promise that no one can guarantee will ever be achieved – all while yielding tons of downs sides right now. They are fantastic to drive though, or so I’ve heard.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Catalytic converters are not “political crap”. They actually work, and they are the best thing to have happened to city air, besides the oxygen sensor.

      Your comment sounds like it was written in 1975.

  • avatar

    Show & Tell. let’s show these global elitist CFR, Bilderberg Bozos that we don’t want them forcing products on us we don’t want and resist government sponsorship that reeks of Communism

    • 0 avatar

      You’re hilarious. The automotive industry is more dependent on government largesse and indirect subsidies (e.g. infrastructure) than any other with the possible exception of aerospace.

  • avatar

    Electric vehicles will be a mainstream choice for many consumers when: 1) the minimum range under very hot or cold conditions is 250 miles, 2) recharging stations are along almost every highway, 3) recharging takes a maximum of 15 minutes, and 4) the overall costs of purchase, fuel, & service are about the same as for a conventional car – WITHOUT government subsidies that rob people whose needs make EVs an impossible choice.

    • 0 avatar


      Until the poor range and long charging times are solved, then I will find an EV attractive. Until then, I will stick with my diesel Skoda Octavia and diesel Mercedes GL320 CDI 4Matic.

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