avatarby Nick HallAugust 4, 20160 comments

Volkswagen has set its sights on producing electric cars in North America by 2020.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Volkswagen North America chief Heinrich Woebcken revealed the  company is seriously considering moving EV production to its Tennessee production plant. If the second largest car manufacturer in the world bases its EV effort in North America, that has to be a positive sign.

Woebcken wouldn’t reveal the exact models that could roll off the production line in Chattanooga, but VW is working on up to 30 electric models that will make their debut in the next decade. So it’s reasonable to assume he doesn’t yet know how the production will be split between North America, Mexico and Europe.

The German marque has caught up and plugged in

VW has publicly embraced the electric powerplant of late, which has gone some way to restoring its reputation after the diesel emissions scandal that broke last September.

The fallout from the discovery of ‘cheat software’, that was installed into its diesel models to fool the emissions testers, was immense. The CEO resigned, the company was humbled and it recently reached a $14.7 billion settlement deal with the US regulators. So it paid a heavy financial price as well.

Some of that money, ironically, will go towards zero emissions technology. VW, meanwhile, will have to work long and hard to win back the public’s confidence. EVs could help its cause.

Image credit: MotorBlog

Image credit: MotorBlog

The numbers are falling

The only electric VW currently on sale in the US is the e-Golf and orders for the electric version of this premium hatchback fell by 9.4% this year to 1,257. That means VW is lagging well behind the likes of Nissan, which sold 5,800 units of the Leaf.

The recent bad press on the environmental front hasn’t helped VW, but Nissan’s dominance in the field is another reason. Price is a big factor as well. The plug-in Golf costs $28,995 before you hit the options list, while the Leaf weighs in at $26,700. Chevrolet sold 9,800 units of its Volt, extended range plug-in, too. So VW has a lot of catching up to do.

There is clearly potential for an electric Touareg, Passat, Jetta and more. The Amarok pick-up could also find a home on these shores and an electric version could take the fight to Tesla’s upcoming pick-up truck. But VW will have to establish itself in the EV sector first.

A new boss and a new direction

Woebcken took over as chief of VW North America in January and will undoubtedly keep pressing the electric car initiative as part of a strategy to get Europe’s biggest carmaker back into the US’s good graces.

Understandably its push for diesel technology has fallen by the wayside. So it needs a new cause and VW will almost certainly play it safe and put its weight behind clean fuel in the wake of recent events.

With Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda and Ducati all coming under the VW Group umbrella, there is also a great deal of room for manoeuvre in the US with electric vehicles. A rumour surfaced earlier this year that the group was considering following in Elon Musk’s footsteps and building a Gigafactory of its own to power the next generation of vehicles.

That could tie Volkswagen to large-scale production of electric cars in North America by 2020, which would create jobs and help take the company to the head of the EV field.

It sounds like a massive step in the right direction.

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