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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Electrify America: Volkswagen's New Plug-In Hybrid is Hot!

By Alisha Fowler, Breakthrough Generation Fellow

This post is part of our week-long Special Issue exploring ways to sever the link between transportation and oil by electrifying transportation. Stay tuned for more...

Last week, Volkswagen announced it will roll out a demonstration test fleet of 20 plug-in hybrids by 2010, with plans for mass production soon after. The most exciting part about their announcement is that this electric-diesel beauty will debut in a familiar form: the fast, fun, one might even say flirty, VW Golf.

Finally! Function AND fashion. Now that is something that I feel most consumers can really get behind, and a tactic we must employ in order to create scalable solutions for our energy challenge.

VW says it will debut 20 plug-in hybrids in 2010. They will be outfitted with VW's new drivetrain, the Twin Drive, in a Golf fitted with a 122-horsepower diesel engine and an 82-horsepower electric motor. VW says the car will use lithium-ion batteries and have an all-electric range of 31 miles, after which the diesel engine will kick in. Americans currently make 3.4 vehicle trips per day, many of them less than one mile. For around-town errands, this electric power will suffice and take a huge bite out of total transportation emissions -- and trips to the gas station!

The German government, so enamored with VW’s plan, is also offering the company $23.5 million to help make this electric dream a reality by 2010. Germany's environmental minister, Sigmar Gabriel, says there could be 1 million hybrids on the road in Germany by 2020 and 10 million a decade after that.

VW also recently signed a deal with Sanyo to develop improved lithium-ion batteries, which hopefully means they will not have to be replaced every few years at a relatively high cost to consumers. Sanyo plans to begin production of the batteries next year and says it will spend $769 million on the effort during the next seven years.

I feel that Volkswagen’s efforts are very exciting and they will reward handsomely both in terms of consumer buy-in and emissions reductions. Producing an attractive plug-in hybrid vehicle, one that at least resembles the other cars on the road, is an incredible way to appeal to a broad base of consumers. Not everyone deeply cares about reducing their emissions, but everyone does want to cut down on costs at the pump. And they usually want to look good doing it. We must foster the production of both highly functioning and attractive consumer goods as we look to break our addiction to oil and transform our energy system.

The head of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, says gas and diesel engines will be around for a long time to come, but "the future belongs to all-electric cars." I hope he’s right, and that they come in forms that will appeal to the typical American consumer.


Unknown said...

While miles-per-charge ("MPC"?) is an important metric, equally so will be time-to-charge ("TTC", let's call it). For those of us (and there are a lot) who live 10-20 miles from a town where we do our daily trade, send our kids to school, etc., MPC is important, but we will need a very short TTC in order to support multiple, frequent, short trips without essentially getting the first electrically and then doing the rest on diesel power.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that electricity is the future of our transportation. More likely another form of fuel or energy maybe but not electricity. Regular cars would still exist in the future because those electric cars are not that affordable and even if they become inexpensive in the future, electricity would not be.