It’s easy to chastise the Volkswagen Group for Dieselgate — for gaming emissions tests — and for management’s tone-deaf responses to systematic malfeasance at the giant German automaker.
VW, of course, has been trained by friendly and lenient German authorities to take only a passing interest in government mandates and policing. German car companies and German government officials enjoy a cozy relationship that surely has led VW and other German automakers to expect kid-glove treatment in the face of obvious corporate misconduct.
This explains why VW has been stunned by the harsh responses of governments outside of Germany – the various lawsuits by individual states in the U.S., not to mention the U.S. federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency. VW has suffered no such treatment in the home country.
Nonetheless, Dieselgate will cost VW perhaps as much as $40 billion (US) or more in fines and lawsuits. Shareholders will pay for management’s failures, including the Government of Lower Saxony which holds a 20 per cent stake in VW.
Reports now suggest VW will complete a comprehensive deal to compensate owners and governments, the broad strokes of which were announced in April. That leaves VW to fix its tattered image.
To do so, VW needs to turn the public’s attention away from all the lying and deceiving, and pivot to the future. What’s shocking is that even as VW has been managing this expensive crisis, the company’s long-range plan for plug-in hybrids and high-volume electric vehicles has been taking shape.
The VW Group already has nine plug-in cars in the market today. By 2020, VW will launch another 20. Remember, VW isn’t just the Beetle and the Golf. VW has many sub-brands, including Audi and Porsche, both of which have made big bets on plug-ins.
Canadians and American don’t get all of the VW models with a plug, such as the eUp and the Passat GTE, but eventually we surely will. For now, VW has those two and these seven others with a plug for sale somewhere in the world: eGolf, Golf GTE, Passat GTE Sportwagen, Audi A3 and Q7 e-tron, and Porsche Cayenne and Panamera PHEV.
Coming between now and the end of 2019: Porsche Mission E, Audi A6 e-tron, Audi e-tron Quattro (preliminary name), Volkswagen Tiguan GTE. The long-promised Audi R8 e-tron may yet find its way into the market, too.
Buyers can also expect the Group to make plug-in versions of the next re-engineered Jetta, Audi A8, and various VW SUVs (sport-utility vehicles). We can expect VW not only to offer hybrid and all-electric variants of existing models that run on gasoline or diesel, but also develop a range of dedicated all-electric vehicles. VW, then, no longer appears to be playing the game of electrification catch-up.
Nonetheless the competition is becoming fearsome. General Motors has a wide range of hybrids already, not to mention the excellent Chevrolet Volt plug-in now and the all-electric Bolt due at the end of the year. A completely new Nissan Leaf is expected to go on sale at the middle of next year. The October concept Nissan showed last fall had a 60 kWh battery that would suggest a range of more than 300 km, same as the Bolt.
Honda and Hyundai have also committed to a range of relatively affordable hybrids and plug-ins, as have Ford and Toyota – though Toyota remains fully committed to a long-range hydrogen strategy. Tesla has said the Model 3 is coming, too.
For months now, I have argued that VW needs to make its peace with authorities and owners, pay the fines, settle the lawsuits and compensate some 11 million owners around the world. VW will pay a big price to put Dieselgate to bed.
But the future needs to be all about positioning VW as the electrified automaker determined to project a green image. If VW is successful, by 2020 we will no longer think of VW as a cheater of global proportions.