By on April 9, 2020

If you’re a greenie who loves hauling your compostable tote to the grocery store in search of climate-conscious vegan food, Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup likely leaves a lot to be desired. For now, anyway. The automaker’s domestic offerings are pretty heavily skewed in favor of larger, gas-powered utility vehicles, with the promised lineup of electrics has yet to materialize.

Overseas, VW product news would have this hypothetical buyer up at night, unable to sleep due to all of the cortisol rushing through their bloodstream. Knowing the jump to EVs might be too wide a gap for some, the automaker is readying a range of performance plug-in hybrids to placate the nervous and sell them on the idea of electricity.

European buyers have access to a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid with 242 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque drawn from a turbocharged 1.4-liter/electric motor combo. That same powertrain is expected to find its way into the Tiguan GTE and Arteon GTE, both announced by VW earlier this month. In that market, VW also has a Passat GTE on offer, with a second-generation Tiguan R plug-in for those who like spending money. That model pairs a 2.9-liter V6 with its electric hardware.

“This is one means of making electrified cars attractive: they can combine pure electric driving capability with high performance if the driver wants to use it,” said Kia Philipp, VW’s electric powertrain manger, in an interview with Autocar. “With a plug-in hybrid system, that performance comes with no compromise in terms of torque or power, so we wanted to use the two components to make the car as attractive as possible.”

With a hotter version of the Arteon nixed for the U.S. market and importation of anything but the hottest (Mk. 8) Golf family members expected for the coming year, a plug-in product surge in the U.S. looks unlikely. Here, VW has a two sides-style strategy in mind: conventional gas-powered vehicles, and all-electric. That said, it’s not inconceivable that the company would introduce a PHEV in a popular segment where the expected take rate would make the operation worthwhile.

If one were to come, the Tiguan seems the most likely candidate. Look at its increasingly electrified compact CUV rivals for a reason why.

While plug-in hybrids remain a tough sell on this side of the pond, Volkswagen sees brighter days ahead for the powertrain type. “It’s my personal view that the peak for plug-in hybrid cars is still ahead of us and will come in the next 8-10 years,” Philipp said. “But it’s strongly dependent on the market success of pure electric cars.”

[Image: Corey Lewis/TTAC]

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28 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Plan: Lure ’em in With Sporty Plug-ins, Sell Them on EV Tech...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “With a plug-in hybrid system, that performance comes with no compromise in terms of torque or power, so we wanted to use the two components to make the car as attractive as possible.”

    PHEVs look ideal on paper, but the compromise is in the actual use case:

    1. They cost more to buy.
    2. Their EV range is short, but maybe covers a commute.
    3. They’re dual fuel, so you need to plug in and still buy gas. Two hassles vs one.
    4. You need to get a home charger.
    5. It’s the most complex drivetrain you can build.

    Every time I’ve seriously considered a PHEV, I end up tilting toward pure ICE, regular hybrid, or pure EV.

    VW would be foolish to bank too much on PHEVs. They really only appeal to a person who would consider an EV in the first place, but want more range than today’s BEVs offer.

    If BEVs are a niche, PHEVs are a niche of *that*.

    • 0 avatar
      cprescott

      I am leading toward a hybrid for my next car. What many people who tell us of the great things about Tesla et al about electric cars fail to grasp is that EV’s are useless to apartment dwellers? How am I going to plug in my car so that I can work five straight days and still have juice for energy without having to find an external spot in a parking garage? That is the story here.

      I say this because this also makes plug-in hybrids worthless. Yeah, I would get one charge out of them before I used it up without giving me any real benefits over a hybrid.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Great point. Not everybody can plug in, even if they wanted to.

        My biggest gripe about hybrids (regular or PHEV) is driveability. My 13 Optima Hybrid has terrible hesitation off the line, and a rough transition to ICE. I think they were still learning back then. But my test drive of an 18 Niro was much different and better.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          your biggest gripe is drive-ability, but then you admit you bought a Kia? And you’re basing your comment about “all hybrids drive badly) based on a 7 year old Kia at that?

          yeah. No kidding. Had you bought a Toyota (or even Honda) hybrid you’d realize that hybrids don’t HAVE to drive like crap.

          Don’t take your single experience with a single brand/model and paint the entire, otherwise-very-mature hybrid auto industry with that brush.

          Had you bothered to drive the competition instead of look at nothing but “84 months! And look at that monthly payment!” you wouldn’t be tarring the entire hybrid field like that.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Funny, jalop.

            I’ve driven other hybrids, but owned only one. I wasn’t impressed with the smoothness of the Prius, either. And maybe you missed my comment that the Niro is just fine.

            BTW, the OH was paid off in 3 years. So much for painting brands and buyers with a broad brush, which is OK for you to do.

    • 0 avatar
      993cc

      My own reservations about PHEVs are mostly due to their limited E.V. range, as the majority of my driving is on trips beyond the typical 20-30 mile range. A larger battery would make them more useful to me, but then they would likely be as expensive as a BEV.

      On the other hand, regarding points 4&5:

      Many PHEVs have batteries small enough that they can be charged overnight on a standard 110V, 15 Amp plug.

      Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive as used in the Prius Prime and soon the RAV4 plug-in is arguably simpler than a traditional drivetrain with an automatic transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain is arguably considerably simpler than its ICE-only counterparts. Do some research and you’ll discover why. And a PHEV is nothing more than a hybrid with a bigger battery. The drivetrain is actually an advantage, and could easily be why you buy a hybrid or PHEV vs that Honda ICE-only car with a transmission that’s built to grenade at 36,001 miles.

      The purpose behind a PHEV is not to worry about EV range. It’s a factor, but you don’t buy it to be an EV. It’s a hybrid.

      To your “it’s a dual fuel system” comment, that’s not entirely true. If you want it to be, it can be. But if you want it not to be, or find yourself in a situation where it’s easier not to plug it in, then that’s fine–it’s just a hybrid that takes gasoline as its only energy input, while simultaneously managing that gasoline energy better than any ICE-only vehicle.

      No, you don’t HAVE to get a home charger. 120v is just fine.

      Yes, they cost more to buy. And you completely missed the biggest objection: 100% of the time you’re always hauling the additional weight of that larger battery.

      The answer is, if you don’t want or can’t use whatever EV range it provides, is to get a simple hybrid with a smaller traction battery. It’s a gasoline car that manages the gasoline energy incredibly well, much better than its ICE-only counterpart–and that includes the ICE-only counterpart *without* the additional battery weight.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain is arguably considerably simpler than its ICE-only counterparts.”

        Please explain how adding a battery, traction motor, additional cooling system, electronics, and software makes it simpler?

        They may be very reliable, but they are not simpler.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          Look into it and you’ll find out.

          Or you can just sit there and bleat ignorance.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Or you can support your own damn argument. You made the claim, you provide evidence; not his job to “do some research” to prove what you tell him.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “Please explain how adding a battery, traction motor, additional cooling system, electronics, and software makes it simpler?”

          I’ll start with one thing for you to ponder:

          how is the hybrid software any more complex than the software used to manage the ICE/auto trans on a Corolla?

          You exaggerate purposefully in your claim about “more complex! It has software!” hoping that people don’t realize that every drive system has software that controls it.

          So where is the additional complexity, hmmm? Compared to, say, an F150 with a 10 speed auto trans?

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Now I understand. Adding several thousand dollars worth of hardware to an ICE vehicle makes it less complex.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          but you forgot about taking AWAY thousands of dollars of complex hardware when you build the hybrid.

          You keep coming back to the same old thing: “but it has complex software! And lots of hardware!” without acknowledging that its pure ICE counterpart has…complex software and lots of hardware as well.

          Trade off that 10 speed automatic transmission and put in the incredibly simple Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, and you’ll see how that’s a more than fair tradeoff in hardware AND complexity.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Compare a typical Toyota hybrid with its gas equivalent, and here’s what you find:

          Parts in the hybrid not in the regular car:
          1) High-voltage battery
          2) 2-3 electric motors (the third is in the back of AWD cars)
          3) Inverter
          4) Planetary power split device
          5) High-voltage wiring

          Parts in the gas car not in the hybrid:
          1) Automatic transmission
          2) Transfer case and driveshaft (for AWD cars)
          3) Alternator
          4) Starter

          The hybrids are heavier, but on balance they’re really not much more complex. Taking away an auto transmission is a big win for simplicity.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    The PHEV is more to circumvent European electric-only rules that are being implemented in a lot of large cities. For example, BMW uses geofencing on the new 330e PHEV so that when you are within city limits it will prioritize/limit you to electric mode. It’s pretty clever stuff.

    If the automakers can get the PHEV range in the 30-50 mile range, it will fit the bill to cover the commute of a very significant portion of the population, and eliminate range anxiety issues.

    The key problem, as everyone has stated, is cost. Right now I find cars like the 330e intriguing, but if I were spending my own money, I don’t think I’d be able to justify the increased cost over a standard 330i.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      “The PHEV is more to circumvent European electric-only rules that are being implemented in a lot of large cities. For example, BMW uses geofencing on the new 330e PHEV so that when you are within city limits it will prioritize/limit you to electric mode.”

      So this is the 2020 version of the mousetrack electric shoulder belt from the late 1980s–a sucky solution to a problem generated by legislators who don’t know any better about how things work.

      Talk about cars with zero resale value in 5 years.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    EVs are fine, but out of town travel for most requires way too much compromise due to charging station locations and time.

    What Honda and Toyota have done with their hydrogen cars seems like a smart way to address this – offer up 2 weeks of lux rental car time per year with each lease of the Clarity/Mirai.

    No reason EVs can’t come with a similar feature.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “EVs are fine, but out of town travel for most requires way too much compromise due to charging station locations and time.”

      As an EV owner, I just don’t understand that. When I was making long distance trips in ICE cars, I was taking 30 minute rest stops every 2 or 3 hours. Actual number in one case that I looked up was 250 miles and 3 hours 45 minutes. I was probably stopping for at least 30 minutes. I’m looking at a 258 to 300+ mile range for my next car. A Model 3 can put in 180 miles range in 15 minutes. Maybe 45 to get to full range I’m guessing. So, you take a little more time catching up on email and resting. I just don’t see that much extra time for a trip in an EV. The extra time, if any, would consume more time than it would take to get the rental car and do the paperwork.

      These days, all of my out of town driving is less than 150 miles a year. Any of the cars I’m considering can do that without charging along the route. Even my Leaf can do it with just one 20-minute quick charge. No problem charging at my destinations. With the new car, I’ll never have to go and hunt down a place to fuel even on out of town trips.

      If I do need a charger, there are plenty of charging stations these days. At hotels, I’ve even been able to use a 120v outlet for overnight charging. The Tesla Supercharger Network is up to 16,585, so they have plenty of coverage.

      The other thing you don’t seem to realize is that it’s tough to go back to an ICE car after you’ve been driving an EV. I found that out first hand. I thought I’d use an ICE car for longer trips, but I found I’d rather deal with the 30-minute charge than a torque-lag afflicted ICE car. You also don’t have to stand next to the charger with your hand on the cord. You’re off doing other things. I’m usually catching up on email and it’s not unusual for me to stay a couple of minutes longer than the charge time to finish up.

      I think we’re getting close to 400 to 500-mile range EVs. 350-kW charging is starting to get deployed. I just don’t see when you’d need to rent an ICE car for a trip with that kind of range.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        From Monday to Friday I only drive about 23 miles a day but on the weekends driving 250-300 miles in a single day isn’t especially rare. I also usually do 2-3 1000 mile trips during the year. So a PHEV seems to fit my lifestyle pretty well. Maybe that is a weird use case, IDK. You also seem to have a lot more emails to catch up on than I do.

        But it is really more “infrastructure anxiety” than actual range anxiety. Availability is improving, but there still just aren’t enough sure-thing chargers around for me to feel comfortable with owning a BEV, especially a non-Tesla. More chargers would be great. A 500 mile range would work too because at that point I’d rarely need to use nonhome charging.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          “sure-thing chargers”

          That’s a very good point. Tesla chargers seem to be ‘sure-thing’, but others can be hit-or-miss based upon the provider or the host facility. The majority seem OK, but a few are very bad.

          The host facilities treat their chargers as an amusing novelty, while the EV driver sees it as a lifeline. Tesla understands this, which is why they built their own network.

          The PlugShare app shows charger ratings based on user input, and some are downright appalling, often ending with the words “thanks for leaving me stranded”. Others complain about washed-out screens or chronically broken stations at a facility.

          One way to resolve this problem would be a universal charging standard and user interface, much like the unleaded fuel nozzle and pump. Long distance EVs need this to increase market share and customer confidence.

          A decade after EVs went mainstream, I still can’t drive my 124-mile range EV out 62 miles and expect that I can refill it to make it home.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        I realize all of what you said. I’ve also heard Tesla owners complain about people parking in charging spots and leaving their cars past the time the cars are charged, preventing other people from charging. Or other people being jerks and using charging spots as regular parking spots. Or during busy times when there’s a wait for a charger.

        I live in So. Cal. so T chargers aren’t rare, but it’s just too much of a hassle on a longer trip, even if it’s local (going to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Orange County, etc.).

        Good to hear that it works for you. It wouldn’t for a lot of people with different use cases.

        Ironically, I’d have little concern taking a cross country trip with a Tesla. Locally though… no way.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        “As an EV owner, I just don’t understand that. When I was making long distance trips in ICE cars, I was taking 30 minute rest stops every 2 or 3 hours.”

        No, your lack of understanding doesn’t come from being an EV owner. Your lack of understanding comes from your inability to drive long distances in a reasonable manner.

        (cue the Teslarati “but you have to stop for lunch anyway” crowd, the mantra from 10 years ago as they try to excuse frequent and long stops for charging)

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          jalop1991: No inability to drive long distances in a reasonable manner. Maybe you think the right way to do a long-distance drive is put on a pair of depends and go non-stop for 8 hours. If I’m going to go long-distance, I’m going to kick back, enjoy the scenery, and take the time to stop and eat. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll fly.

          Nothing wrong with stopping to eat. I did it when I had an ICE car, and it’s no different with an EV. Nothing wrong with stopping for 30 minutes. That’s what I was doing before.

          Another thing, “reasonable manner” means not driving to the point you are so fatigued that you are a menace to others on the highway.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Spending 17-25% of my road trip time at a standstill is not reasonable.

            I’m taking a 1500 mile round trip with my truck this weekend to pick up a piece of equipment. It’s about 11 hours each way and I fully expect to be stopped for less than 30 minutes total in the 22 hours of driving (1 stop for fuel and food each way, possibly a second bathroom stop if needed). I literally wouldn’t be able to make this trip in 2 days if I had to stop for 30 minutes every 2-3 hours.

          • 0 avatar
            jalop1991

            “If I’m going to go long-distance, I’m going to kick back, enjoy the scenery, and take the time to stop and eat.”

            Ah, the cry of the defensive Teslarati. Tell me, how much DO you eat in a day?

            If you can’t go 6 hours in a car without stopping, something’s wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            You gotta stop and pee every now and then. Don’t tell me you’re one of those cretins who uses a Gatorade bottle, then chucks it out the window.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Imagine if maybe EVs (with the expanded charging infra that’s already on the way) are well-suited for families on road trips who have to stop for potty and snack breaks, and not as well suited for road warriors doing 1500 miles at a stretch! It’s almost as though different products could serve different markets.

            There is a spot on my last 2000-mile road trip where there are not currently any fast chargers, but fix that one spot, and I think we could do the trip in the Bolt almost as fast as we did it in the Highlander. Small kids, not range, are usually the limiting factor.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    • Volkswagen’s Plan: Lure ’em in With Sporty Plug-ins, Sell Them on EV Tech
    • Toyota’s Plan: More Grille
    • Hyundai’s Plan: Keep Improving, Sell Vehicles
    • GM’s Plan: Announce Plans for Future ‘Green’ Offerings, Then Cancel Those Plans and Sell Fullsize SUV’s
    • Ford’s Plan: Rainbow, Unicorn, Mach-E, Put Difficult Launches Behind Us
    • Nissan’s Plan: Find the Audio-Equipment Case
    • Honda’s Plan: What is a “Plan”?
    • FCA’s Plan: Refer to PSA’s Plan
    • Renault’s Plan: Unavailable for comment (in a meeting with the government of France)
    • PSA’s Plan: Push to Pass

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