Volkswagen, along with other European auto companies, has long proclaimed diesels as a better green strategy than hybridization. True, diesels are efficient and practical, but in the U.S., they have a reputation of being noisy and smelly. VW has worked hard to overcome that image with cars like the Jetta TDI but now are apparently changing direction (although they still like diesels).
During a press conference last week at its Electronics Research Lab in Palo Alto, California, Volkswagen chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn repeated the company’s electrified slogan: “In the future, the heart of Volkswagen will also beat with electricity.” And in an opaque reference to the original Beetle, Winterkorn told the gathered media that “Volkswagen is working on the electric car for everyone.” (We’ll report on VW’s electric car strategy on PluginCars.com later today.) He added that hybrid and electric vehicles will account for three percent of the German carmaker’s global sales by 2018.
Winterkorn concluded his remarks by laying out the company’s roadmap for hybrid and electric vehicle introductions into the United States. First up is the 2011 Touareg Hybrid, which launches later this year.
The Touareg Hybrid pairs a 333 horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged direct injection V6 gasoline engine with a 34-kilowatt (47 horsepower) electric motor. Completing the powertrain is an eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive setup.
Drawing juice from a 145 pound, 1.7-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack tucked into the spare-tire well, the Touareg Hybrid can do some cool tricks—like traveling on electric power up to 31 mph for up to a mile or so. Also, VW engineers cleverly positioned a clutch between the engine and transmission that can shut down the V6 at speeds up to 99 mph. The company refers to this as “sailing” and results in incremental increases in fuel economy. Real-world combined mileage will be around 20 mpg. That’s a nice jump from the conventional version, but not exactly the ultimate green SUV.
Like all full hybrids, the Touareg Hybrid shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a stop and starts up again in electric mode. Under deceleration or braking, the electric motor acts as a generator and sends electricity to the battery pack. The Touareg’s hybrid system will be shared with the Audi Q5 Hybrid and Porsche S Cayenne Hybrid that are set to arrive later this year. Porsche will also build a limited number of the hybrid 918 Spyder hypercar.
Pricing has not been released for the Touareg Hybrid, but expect around $5,000 to $6,000 more than the base V6 gas engine model, which starts at about $41,000.
The VW hybrid sales volume leader will be the 2012 Jetta Hybrid. Wrapped in the sheetmetal of the newly introduced 2011 Jetta, this gas-electric model will be a full hybrid. Surprisingly, the Jetta Hybrid’s gasoline engine will be the U.S. debut of VW’s twincharger TSI in-line four cylinder.
Not to be confused with the TwinDrive plug-in hybrid shown in 2008, the twincharger TSI incorporates both a supercharger and a turbocharger, and has been available in Europe since 2006 in the VW Golf. The supercharger provides boost at low rpm with the turbo kicking in for top-end power. It’s a novel use of forced induction, with the supercharger blowing through the turbo’s compressor before heading to the intercooler, then the intake manifold.
Combined with direct injection, the forced induction gives the 1.4-liter four nearly the same performance as the 2.0-liter turbo, but is more efficient and therefore delivers higher fuel mileage and fewer emissions.
It’s not confirmed that the 2012 Jetta Hybrid will use the 1.4-liter twincharger engine. Volkswagen is developing 1.2- and 1.6-liter versions and either are possibilities.
Again, pricing has not been revealed, but expect a $3,000 to $5,000 premium over the Jetta’s base price of $15,995.
But wait, there’s more. The VW Passat will be offered with a hybrid powertrain in 2013 followed by the Golf, but it’s not a given they will be offered in the U.S. Audi is working to hybridize the A8 sedan, but no introduction was given.
Why this emphasis on hybrid and electric vehicles by Volkswagen? Simple. Governments are tightening rules to cut emissions. VW’s ambitions are to nearly triple its share in the U.S., the world’s second-biggest auto market, to six percent by 2018 and increase sales to one million cars, including 200,000 Audi vehicles. To meet the California dictate, and similar eco-rules around the world, the automaker will indeed have to make the “electric car for everyone” and put some electricity into the cars everyone is already buying.