Year Zero

VW ID3 – saviour or harbinger? 

(c) Autocar

At the Frankfurt motor show, those manufacturer-representatives in attendance, have it would appear, spent the obligatory press days smiling through clenched teeth. Boldly proffering their very latest in hybrid combustion and in a few notable cases, pure-EV offerings, the combined European, Far Eastern and in a few cases, North American carmakers are nevertheless casting anxious skywards glances towards a rapidly darkening vista.

Five years ago, at this same Frankfurt hall, Volkswagen senior management attempted to swat away allegations of systemic wrongdoing, only for the full and grubby story to burst forth, leading to one of the most expensive and reputationally damaging clean-up operations in automotive history. It’s a reckoning that has massively destabilised the unwieldy VW mothership over the intervening five years, but not VW alone. The entire industry is (some might say, justifyingly) now paying the price.

But we really have seen nothing yet. Next year is when the reckoning truly begins, with the implications of EU-wide emission regulation changes likely to see the biggest shift in the European auto-industry landscape in decades. From 2020, fleetwide CO2 emissions (across the carmaker’s entire offering) must be reduced to an average of 95 g/ km for 95% of a manufacturer’s car range. Full compliance is mandated from 2021.

Currently, this figure sits at 120.5 g/ km average, a figure which has worsened of late owing to the proportionally greater uptake of petrol engined vehicles, a legacy of the emissions debacle, not to mention carbuyers insatiable appetite for heavier and less fuel efficient crossovers and SUVs.

But with EU fines for non-compliance post-2020 (€95 per car, per excess gram of CO2) loom, rather than face ruinous fines, we can expect to witness an unprecedented cull of model lines and according to some industry observers, lay-offs or even plant shut-downs.

Simultaneously, carmakers are feverishly preparing hybrid and EV offerings with which they hope to entice a broadly ambivalent public, who in some cases are still smarting from the revelations of 2014, but more profoundly, remain reluctant to pay more for technology about which they remain unconvinced in cost / benefit terms. And if the customer won’t pony up, where does that leave everyone?

For the carmakers themselves, it suggests years haemorrhaging cash, since it would be naïve to expect that customers will be prepared to bear the full costs of this shift. Furthermore, having banked on a measured, incremental move towards electrification, to be forced prematurely to a full embrace has come as something of an existential jolt.

(c) Auto-Didakt

Which brings us back to Volkswagen, who at Frankfurt announced their much-anticipated electric car, the ID3 hatchback. Based closely on the 2016 Paris show concept, VW claim that its EV is a landmark product, at least as significant as the Beetle or Golf. The first product on VW’s new MEB platform, the ID3 is a broadly Golf-sized (only 3mm longer, 10mm wider and 60mm taller) hatch, aimed at the heart of the C-sector, where currently only Nissan really have any meaningful EV market traction.

To be offered in three battery sizes and with two power outputs from its rear-mounted electric motor, ID3 is fitted with a 45kWh battery giving a claimed range of 205 miles and 148bhp, and 58kWh and 77kWh batteries both with 201bhp, delivering 260 and 341 miles respectively. Repeat after me: Range, range, and furthermore, range.

But what of the product itself? It’s certainly a refreshingly spare shape, devoid of the fussy, over-decorated style of Wolfsburg’s current uninspired output. But what it lacks perhaps is much by way of surprise, to say nothing of delight. Speaking to Autocar, VW’s design chief, Klaus Bischoff reportedly said, “We’ve kept it simple and only used a few clear lines.

But photos only provide a limited palette of dimensions, so having a man at the IAA’s halls (Auto-Didakt’s Christopher Butt), we called upon his judgement. Here’s what he had to say about the ID3’s exterior.

A new icon this one isn’t, but it’s the best VW in a while. It’s excessively non-confrontational – [to some extent] the anti-i3. Only the wheels and those (silly) octagonal patterns pay lip service to futurism. It’s more like a pre-waku-doki Toyota” [in the manner that] “it’s non-styled.” Christopher, not a man to mince words, went on to describe the ID3’s exterior as “Wilfully bland, which I prefer to ‘Heidedesign 2.0‘, but hardly sets the pulse racing.”

Ah yes, but perhaps akin to the Mercedes concept featured yesterday, the cabin is the thing? It’s certainly less decorative than current fare, Bischoff outlining to journalists, “We’ve also made an internal revolution, with a new design that’s extra-simple and clear. We’ve added value by increasing the amount of space, making it airy and open.

(c) Autocar

Does our resident design critic concur? “The interior feels built down to a price; the doors in particular are very flimsy, which wouldn’t have been a problem if VW hadn’t spoiled us the way they did these past decades. The UX is almost completely touchscreen-based, and its got a head-up display too; that’s where they placed the ‘futuristic gimmick’ factor, rather than the styling. That’s okay, just not VW at all. It shows just how much the focus is shifting, away from tangible qualities to digital ones.

Our Frankfurt correspondent concluded by saying, “It should do the trick for its intended customer base, so it’s good enough.

It surely better had be, given the challenges facing its maker. CEO, Herbert Diess, told reporters at Frankfurt that VW was right to take this €80 billion leap to become the World’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles. But in the short term at least, the mountain VW and its rivals has to scale is forbidding. According to some analysts, in order to meet targets, VW will have to sell as many ID models as the entire 2018 European EV market combined by 2021, a figure which has been cited as 6% of the market. That’s a lot of cars.

(c) Auto-Didakt

Meanwhile, VW is also set to unveil the 8th generation of its bestselling Golf, which if pre-release images are any guide, appears to be a further Heidedesign regression, even if it is believed to be a technological tour-de force. But what the success of ID3 will do to Golf sales, or to its significance to the carmaker as a whole is for now at least, a matter of speculation. But could a day arrive when VW is forced to chose between ‘icons’?

With soothsayers predicting that carmakers like Volkswagen are facing years of heavy discounting to fleets in order to make the numbers, the medium-term prognosis for a large number of the industry looks at best to consist of heavy losses. How long can VW (or anyone else for that matter) sustain such a business model?

The ID3’s prospects then appear as binary as the code which underpins its cutting edge tech. Because embedded within it lies the potential to either become VW’s next landmark, or agent of death. The stakes really couldn’t be higher.

Datasource: Automotive News Europe / Autocar

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

27 thoughts on “Year Zero”

  1. Let me get this straight: the business options for VW was E80 billion for an electric platform to produce vehicles that no-one wants, or pay ~13,000 per vehicle in fines ?

    80 billion is approx E13,000 per vehicle at VW current annual production rate.

    Paying the fines has less risk. The losses stop when you exit the EU market.

    VW has more than 200 billion in debt. I don’t think these guys are going to survive the next big downturn.

    Are any manufacturers just going to flat out exit the EU market ?

    1. Taking above’s average numbers, I get to 2.422 € in fines per car. 25,5 excess grams of CO2 per vehicle, multiplied by 95€ fine per gram. Correct?

    2. My mistake , E2400. The fine is on excess carbon, not total carbon emissions.

      All the more reason to pay the fine, rather than risk 80 billion.

  2. This whole situation is absurd. EU regulation makers want to be seen as the heroes saving the Earth by reducing CO2 emissions and therefore create fuel consumption regulations that absurdly put preference to big and heavy plug in hybrid SUVs and at the same time exhaust pollution regulations are pushing small and frugal cars out of the market. The result is that car makers have to produce cars nobody wants because they are unsuitable for the intended use. It’s a safe bet that in consequence EU bureaucrats will release regulations forcing the buying public out of the cars they want because they meet the expectations. The question will be whether customers will buy cars for which they have no use at exaggerated prices.
    The electro VW is ten millimetres wider than an already too wide and sixty millimetres taller than an already very tall Golf. So it will be a huge car. VW also would do everybody a big favour if they could quote realistic values for the range of it instead of the wishful thinking quoted here.

    1. The Golf VII is roughly 30mm lower than its predecessor. So the ID3 is a bit taller than a Golf V, and approaching minivan proportions.

  3. More than ever, I am convinced that the true answer lies in tackling the industry’s chronic over supply issues.

    In the grand scheme of things, we are using up too many resources and creating too much pollution, particularly climate changing gases.

    The answer is to make new cars more expensive, mandate them to be more durable and more repairable. But the industry cannot countenance this: it is locked into ever more production, no matter the cost.

  4. Thoughts on the car itself:

    1. Aero! This is the most overt aero design that VAG have released since the Audi 100 of the early 80s. I am amazed there isn’t a drag co-efficient sticker on the side window.
    2. Hyper rational. In terms of its proportions and overall size, it is exactly what you would expect – a Golf, but with an electric ‘skate board’ powertrain.
    3. Weak graphics. The front is fine (no need for a fake grille, thankfully) but the rear three quarters are a bit…meh.
    4. The interior… VW have been warming us up for this with plummeting perceived quality on the Troc and others. Unless the software delivers surprise and delight, there is no surprise and delight. But the relatively large glass area is pleasing, even if the blind spots caused by those A pillars are a potential concern.
    5. Are they really not going to sell this in USA? Madness.

    1. No, they’re not going to sell the ID3 in the US because demand for that kind of car there is going rapidly away. Ford have given up (or are about to give up on) the Fiesta and Focus. The Americans just don’t do small hatches, or indeed any hatches, in big numbers. Instead they’ll get the ID equivalent of one of those crossovery things like the Cashcow.

    2. 5) They are going to sell it in the US, just lifted an inch or so with some extra black plastic bolted on to the wheelarches — because ‘crossover’

  5. VWs have always left me cold, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. The ID3 doesn’t change that. The interior (particularly the lower dashboard) looks surprisingly low-rent in a pre-Golf Mk IV kind of way, but I think the one pictured is a lower trim level. At least, there are nicer-looking ID3 interiors pictured on the Autocar website. If VW were to be really bold this would be the Golf’s replacement. Why have both model ranges?

    It seems clear to me that the days of mass personal transportation ownership are coming to an end. It’s just not sustainable in any sense of the word. It’ll take a decade or two as the current generation won’t be prised out of our cars. After that personal car ownership will revert to being a rich person’s game. It had a good run.

  6. From most angles the ID3 is, as others have said, a hyper-rational design and I rather like it for that quality at least. Things go a little bit wrong at the back, with those fussy Renault-like rear lights and the superfluous patterning on the C-pillar but, overall, it’s by far the cleanest and most convincing design from VW Group in quite some time (not that it had to face a great deal of competition in that regard).

    Isn’t it somewhat ironic that the profile is quite MPV-like, a format that is apparently dead in the water elsewhere?

    1. Further thoughts upon learning more about this car. The ID3 (or ID.3 as VW would have it*) is a strange mix of the hyper-rational and frivolous. Two examples of the latter are the dot motif on the E-posts (E!) and the play/pause icons on the accelerator and brake pedals respectively.

      * As someone who doesn’t follow VW too closely, I’m left wondering what happened to the ID.1 and ID.2.

    2. The ID.1 was the beetle. The ID.2 the Golf. Calling it ID.3 is supposed to make it an instant legend. (Not sure which “how to give birth to a legend”-playbook they took that from… Some (not so) clever consultants, I suppose.)

  7. A very good and much needed discussion.

    I politely but firmly object to the view that the “bureaucrats in Brussels” are mad and are willfully plunging the European car industry into desaster. Imho, that is a convenient, but inaccurate view of the world.

    Firstly, the intentions of the European Union car emissions regulation is good and right. Transport contributes about 30% of CO2 emissions, I don’t think the need for energy efficient cars can be called into doubt.

    Secondly, the notion of the policy process being driven by faceless (and potentially even ill-meaning, if not vicious) bureaucrats in some remote ivory tower is wrong. It is as much influenced by national (and democratically elected) governments as it is by industry interest groups. Policy making is very complex, and unfortunately doesn’t always produce the first best outcome. (As Winston Churchill is said to have put it: Democracy is the worst of all political systems. Except for all the other ones.)

    Thirdly then, I think the precarious situation car makers are now finding themselves in is largely of their own making. They clung on to their conventional combustion engine technology and the SUV trend for too long. They pushed for emissions and fuel consumption cycles that made their life easy in the lab but had nothing to do with the real world. Fuel consumption numbers have been a scam for a long time. If they expected to get away with it indefinitely, they foolishly overestimated their own power. They bet the farm and are now about to loose it. They have been digging up a neat and big grave for themselves for years.

    Fourthly, 2020 doesn’t come unexpectedly. It’s been clear for quite some time that the year 2020 would follow the year 2019 and that then the emissions regulations would bite exactly then. Had manufacturers not wasted their time cheating their way through strange fuel consumption cylces, creating fake engine noise and trying to come up with 256 or more different ambient light colours, they could be well prepared by now.

    Unfortunately European car makers appear to have been managed by an almost criminally short sighted (and arguably much overpaid) management. This is as much a crisis of the shareholder owned company, as it is of the car industry. Cynically, it’s the workers (and shareholders, poor them) who will eventually suffer from this the most.

    The one company that comes to mind that has seen it coming all along is Toyota. They have put their efforts into creating an outstandingly fuel efficient, clean and reliable hybrid fleet. Not only have they avoided the Diesel, they have even avoided the pure BEV and are betting their future (Japanese = Mirai) on Hydorgen, which to the author if these lines is the much more convincing approach.

    From this point of view then, the ID.3 and VAG alongside it, are (unfortunately!) bound to fail.

    1. Max, I think you are being quite kind to EU regulators here.

      They colluded in a system that looked progressive on paper but less so in real life. Yes, the car makers lobbied for it, and can have no complaints that life has suddenly become a lot tougher, but there has been a collective failure here.

      Secondly, I do not write off the EV so readily. The advantages are manifold. Here, the car makers can claw back some credit… it is the storage systems (the batteries) that are holding them back.

      A bigger culprit could be the oil and gas companies, who have ignored the call for change for decades. Why we are still pumping millions of gallons of crude oil out of the ground every day is the real scandal.

    2. Jacomo, you are right, I’m being kind to the EU-regulators.

      The ones I know personally have had quite compelling arguments that they had all the right intentions and compromised good ideas for pressure from governments (and lobby groups). This is not to say that they are faultless, which they surely are not, but I think they deserve credit for their very real effort to do the right thing.

      Or put differently: What plausible interest would the EU commission have to put in place a fuel consumption test standard that has little to do with reality? The public has nothing to gain from this. It’s the car companies that benefited hugely from it though (at least in the short term), because it’s a much smaller effort to make an engine efficient in the lab, than it is to make it efficient on the road.

      BEVs have their place. But in their current shape and form, as has been stated here before, their value proposition is not convincing. A car that does less (long distance trips not really conceivable, I personally despise the prospect of long charging stops and uninviting motorway rest areas) for a lot more money, I can’t blame anybody for not being convinced. I think this is inherent to the BEV and unless some unexpected quantum leap in battery and charging technology makes batteries lighter, increases their capacity and makes charging quicker all at the same time, I can’t conceive how this is going to change.

      For hydrogen it’s a different story. Refuelling is quick. Tanks and fuel cell are much lighter than batteries. Given the required infrastructure a hydrogen car can do what a petrol car can, with today’s technology, not with some miracle future tech. (I have had the opportunity to test drive a Toyota Mirai in Japan, it’s a very competent and capable car, I would have it over a Tesla pretty much any time of the day.)

      I really do wonder why the aforementioned mineral oil companies haven’t jumped on hydrogen bandwaggon with all of their weight and force. In a hydrogen future, gas stations and the supporting infrastructure will still be needed. In a BEV future they won’t be.

    3. “What plausible interest would the EU commission have to put in place a fuel consumption test standard that has little to do with reality? The public has nothing to gain from this.”
      The buying (and paying) public has nothing to gain but EU bureaucrats can boast about their (supposed) moral superiority that maybe eve might be testified by Bernadette Soubious, erm, Saint Greta.

    4. EU bureaucrats are not accountable to Saint Greta. They are also not directly accountable to the general public. They are accountable to the national governments who make or break EU regulations. Dave, you probably won’t believe me, but from all I have gathered after having spent quite some time in Brussels, trying to figure out how it all works, your conception of how the EU functions is inaccurate.

      Since I don’t think we can bridge or gap in world views, maybe let’s not get too deeply into this in this intermediated, anonymous way and leave the EU commission out of this for now.

      But maybe we can agree to this: as it stands, the world will not be saved.

  8. For those wondering about an ID.2 There will be such a model. Rumour was that there would be a concept version at Frankfurt but I suppose we will have to wait longer for that.

    As for the ID.3. I quite like it – though it’s definitely not as attractive as the concept. The main issue I have is that the nose is not as nicely sculpted on the production version. Of course this is likely due to a variety of real-world requirements.

  9. Now this is a darn fine article all around. Very good reporting and analysis, and the comments are great as well. I’ve read other mainstream car mag/website takes on Frankfurt, and they’re about as interesting as mud. This towers in competence over that frivolity and sets some context.

    Where all the EV buyers are supposed to magically emerge from is the question. Rabbit warrens would be my best guess. Furthermore, the WLTP “estimates” for EV range are about 20% higher than the US EPA ratings which most drivers can actually just match in the real world. I appreciate Max Ohnmacht’s writings, since he illustrates the problems both regulators and manufacturers face. But Dave gets down to earth – where are the potential customers to buy these highly expensively-developed Green vehicles?

    The investment gamble is huge if the market doesn’t respond. So, apparently, silly fuel consumption goals mislabelled as CO2 per km to misrepresent the point with high-falutin’ turns of phrase, are set to be put in place to swingeingly punish customers who don’t eat their porridge as ordered. Here, have a fork – it works if you don’t slather the thick gruel in milk and sugar. Protecting manufacturers’ investments and the national business interest come first over consumer preference, it seems to me, and is the current economic order of the day, neoliberalism.

    Next up, autonomous driving capability for 1.5 car width English hedge-rowed lanes. That challenge ought to keep the tech boys on their toes. Rather like making autonomous cars that work in snow storms. They’ll say it can be done, advertise it’s all good, get EU regs to support the, ahem, exaggerated Mk 1 AI capabilities, and just like all these EVs that really aren’t quite ready for prime time and cost a fortune, the whole mess will be foisted off on a resisting public. The hoi polloi’ll have to foot the bill for all this puffed-up very “iffy” investments which need a return like, right now, for those who condescend to let us have our little freedoms but really need our money to think up and invest in even better “get even richer more quickly” schemes. By then it’ll be two bobs-worth of greasy chips to eat each night that will be all the public can afford, having handed over their wealth to those who need it more than they do. It’ll be sold as green, as another commenter opines, and thus good for us, but mass car ownership will fade away. And we’ll be assured it was all done for us, while the rich swan around in bespoke million quid cars and can easily still afford organic carrots and a ribeye steak for dinner. Haha, we got taken. Again. And me, a retired establishment chartered engineer thinks this. Goodness knows how the radicals feel. Betrayed seems like a decent choice of word, but mass confusion reigns anyway.

  10. Quick question – if there are mandated maximum carbon emissions per vehicle, is carbon that’s generated making electricity to charge EVs counted? I can’t imagine that it’d be possible to figure it out. So maybe the manufacturers will just make more EVs to dilute the average across their model lines, and “hidden” carbon production will increase due to electricity demand?
    Regardless, developments which even hint at an end to the current obsession with creases and folds and macho grilles, and the plague of tubby, wasteful SUVs and crossovers, are very welcome.
    I can’t fathom the mindset which looks at the state of the world and says “let’s treat ourselves to the big car, we deserve it.”

    1. I can’t fathom the mindset which looks at the state of the world and says “let’s treat ourselves to the big car, we deserve it.”

      On the contrary, there are all kinds of giant hybrid SUVs and other pigmobiles which are well under the 95g limit.

      Cayenne, Ranger Rover, X5, 7 series, S class, Panamera… you name it.
      http://www.carpages.co.uk/co2/co2-0-to-100-16.asp

      If you have, $60K $80, 140, 160 to spend you can roll in style in a 5500 pound monster while being environmentally woke.

      Earth First !

  11. Today I talked to someone who’d been to a sales rep training for thr ID.3. VW are telling salesmen that an everyday real world range for the ID.3 would be around 320 kilometres if the car is driven with care for its electric nature (which for me translates to slowly). This is not the way to make friends withncustomers who simply want a car to replace their conventional one and not an object of religious worship.

    1. As they currently stand, electric cars are suitable for customers for whom the vehicle’s limitations (in everyday performance and range) are not compelling factors, or who are prepared to live with the strictures and completely different driving style imposed, for either early-adoptive, or ideological reasons. That currently represents a not significant subset of the motoring public. For the majority however, the mixture of deep ambivalence and outright suspicion is the prevailing mood music. People do not enjoy change, especially radical change and even less so, mandated radical change. Hence, I believe that resistance to EVs is likely to remain for a significant proportion of motorists.

      Personally, I am agnostic on the subject. I can see the appeal, and I certainly won’t shed many tears over the ultimate demise of the compression ignition car engine. It’s a loathsome device. (There are of course, like most things in life, exceptions to this). Having said that, a drive in a 2019-model EV from a major manufacturer earlier this year was, despite the car’s deeply impressive powertrain technology, a slightly deflating experience. To me, it simply wasn’t ‘driving’.

      But for those of us who like the platonic ideal of motoring, we may need to get on board, because it’s likely to be the only way we can cling to a semblance of personal powered transportation over the coming decade.

      What I do find unhelpful however is the increasingly polarised rhetoric when it comes to this (and so many other) subjects nowadays. There is a middle ground to be found. We’ll solve nothing if we remain in our foxholes, lobbing missiles at one another.

  12. There’s a series on YouTube called ‘Becoming ID.’ about its design. I must say that although I’m generally pretty keen on Volkswagens, this doesn’t do much for me. I find it a bit heavy and dull looking. Volkswagen own Italdesign – couldn’t they have got involved (he asks, naïvely). Pre orders for this are in the 30k region; the Tesla 3 managed not far off ten times that volume within in 24 hours of being on sale. Anyway, I wish them luck.

    I hope the ID.2 is more inspired – it should be here in 2023 or so, according to Autocar. They also say that there will be a performance version of the ID.3:

    https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/motor-shows-frankfurt-motor-show/volkswagen-launch-high-performance-id-3-r-2024

    I wonder where all of this leaves the e-Golf.

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