Volkswagen ID Concept preview: Electric atonement?
“What does the ID stand for?” “Isn’t Diesel’?!” shouted one lark across the Volkswagen stand at the Paris Motor Show.
Follow the auto industry and you’ll know the score by now about the pickle VW is in related to diesel emissions fixing. Yes, Volkswagen did some bad things. Volkswagen said sorry (but was a bit sorrier to American consumers than those in Europe).
And now Volkswagen has chastened, it’s re-inventing itself and going head-long into the electric car revolution. The ID, then, is our first look at this new future.
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Rather confusingly, Volkswagen seems to be telling us everything about its future and what it’s trying to do in one concept, so there’s quite a bit to get your head around. Its press conference talked about this representing a combination of a vision for 2020 (a car like the ID will be on the road by then) and 2025 (when the ID’s autonomous capabilities will be reality, Volkswagen says). But it also said something about Volkswagen being represented in three ways today: through Tiguan (with its guide and inform infotainment system), the e-Golf (with its 300km battery range), and ID Concept with it’s “think new” approach – autonomous driving and near 600km battery range. Confused yet? We were.
The reality is, the ID appears quite simple. It follows VW’s clean aesthetic. Where VWs recently have been sharp-edged, here we get a very soft front-end, moving towards a sharper rear with elements that recall a Golf’s C-pillar and an Up’s boot panel. But the ID is more interesting because its battery makes the floor flat – which means the designers have been able to give the ID the wheelbase of a Passat, and the interior cabin space of that car, but in a footprint that’s shorter than a Golf.
The seats in the rear fold up, the boot space is family car sized, but the elements that stops you in your tracks is the dashboard. It’s a super-plain, fabric covered element with no buttons at all. In normal mode, the ID’s steering wheel seems relatively normal – the hub’s directly fixed to the column, and the gear selector’s on the wheel which is unusual – but there’s just a single screen display which is in the usual place, behind the steering wheel, in the dash. This display is (3D) map-dominated.
But the magic happens when you place your hand on the steering wheel boss. The screen then blinks and the steering wheel pulls itself into the dash, neatly slotting around the screen and integrating seamlessly. The ID is now in autonomous mode. Place your hand back on the steering boss, and the wheel shuttles out again, so you’re back in charge of driving.
The ID is quite typical of a concept car: it features coach doors (opening from the centre), no B-pillar, lighting as a means of communication, and no grilles or gills as it’s electric aspects don’t need normal cooling. The tyres are blue, and the wheel design runs into the tyre (this won’t make production).
But it is based on VW’s forthcoming MEB (Modular electric) platform, which will underpin a production car which follows the ID by 2020 and then a wider range of EVs. These cars will have varying power outputs, a range which varies between 400-600km and should be cost competitive with today’s internal combustion engine cars.
For all that, we think the ID looks a little apologetic. VW says it’s friendly, but most of the time we were with it, it simply looked sad. The ultimate “sorry”? The designers say the EV powertrain allowed them to experiment and do radical things. But it looks nothing like as radical as a BMW i car, for instance.
Perhaps that’s the point. VW is trying to atone for its dieselgate, it’s trying to create itself a future which truly embraces electric drive, autonomy and software-heavy cars. It wants to create a get-able, and reasonably normal set of electric cars that people will want to buy.
You can’t necessarily judge much from a concept, but the basic ingredients for Volkswagen’s electric future seem fundamentally fine. But given a Tesla brand which is already the electric standard bearer and a slew of updated EVs you can buy today – like the Renault Zoe with its new 400km-range battery launched at this Paris show – quite what new-thinking the VW ID brings to the party, or what it’s unique selling point will be, we’re not sure. Roll on 2020, when we’ll hopefully find out.