September 25, 2007

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Auto industry pundits are frothing over Volkswagen’s promise to roll out hybrid technology across its entire vehicle lineup. In an interview with German auto industry weekly Automobilwoche, Ulrich Hackenberg, VW’s development head, explained that “future VW models will also be constructed with hybrid concepts.” Few details were provided about VW’s plans, but Hackenberg indicated that both full and mild hybrid versions of the company’s new small car platform would be developed.

It’s exciting to see Volkswagen take a page from the Toyota playbook and plan for hybrid versions of all of its models. But seeing is believing, and so far we haven’t seen much from VW.

Volkswagen collaborated with Porsche and Audi in the development of its hybrid powertrain, but is the last to announce when and where the technology will be deployed. (Audi plans to launch a hybrid version of its Q7 SUV in early 2009, and Porsche says a hybrid Cayenne SUV will be available the following year.)

VW has been a leader in diesel technology, but is quickly becoming a laggard in the diesel-hybrid field as both Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot announce plans to sell diesel-hybrid cars in 2010.

Hackenberg’s comments resemble Chrysler’s announcement about ENVI, a new subsidiary focused on developing electric drive and other advanced powertrains. Both are steps in the right direction, but neither includes much detail about products or launch timelines. If VW is serious about hybrids, it will need to issue more than press releases. The company will need to prove that it can build a hybrid vehicle that people want to buy.

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