Preparing for a future of electric-powered mobility, German automaker Volkswagen Group is not only working hard in the lab, but also with the public.
Over the past weekend, the company’s China operation backed popular science media, Guokr.com, hosted a science workshop in Beijing with science devotees to discuss the development of electric vehicles as well as future possibilities in intelligent urban transportation.
In a surprise to most spectators, Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann, Volkswagen Group China president and CEO, showed up on the stage riding the company’s E-Scooter.
The battery-powered two-wheeler is an example of Volkswagen’s determination to offer clean and affordable mobility solutions in big cities, the company said.
An expert in electric vehicle technologies himself, Neumann then talked about the “yesterday, today and tomorrow of electric vehicles”. He also joined with two professors from Beijing Jiaotong University to answer questions from the spectators.
The weekend workshop follows Volkswagen’s “museum hopping” initiative that began in April to provide Golf blue-e-motion and Touareg hybrid SUV as free shuttle vehicles for visitors to the National Museum of China and neighboring museums. The fleet will be in service until August.
In September Volkswagen will start a road trip showing its new-energy vehicles in the cities across the country, including Changchun in the northeast, Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the south, Chengdu in the west and Hangzhou in the east.
Yet the electric vehicle is not something new – battery powered cars have been built since before the turn of the 20th century.
In the 1970s, Volkswagen rolled out its first electric vehicle, the T2 microbus. The company produced about 70 electric T2s for government or companies.
In 1973, Volkswagen also made the City Taxi, a hybrid version of its T2 bus.
Three years later the first electric Golf was born. The automaker put it through continuous road tests in the following decade. The car could reach a maximum range of 70 km on one charge, with maximum speed of 80 km/hr.
The Golf CityStromer, a volume production electric car based on the Golf, was first built in 1981. In its third generation, electric model could reach a maximum speed of 100 km/hr. About 100 of the models were built for energy companies in Germany.
At the 25th World Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium & Exhibition last year, Volkswagen displayed its latest achievements in electric vehicles: the Golf blue-e-motion and Touareg hybrid.
Dr Neumann also re-emphasized Volkswagen’s commitment to making “attractive and affordable electric vehicles for Chinese customers”.
Neumann said in his speech that the company has mapped out a three-phase plan for its electric car strategy in China.
The first phase from 2010 to 2013 is for field tests of its pure electric and hybrid models. Almost all people who have driven or ridden in an electric Golf have said it is a “great experience” and a majority has said they are willing to buy such a car, Neumann said.
The second phase from 2013 to 2018 will be when the company begins small volume production of electric vehicles at its China joint ventures.
And as the market takes off, when it will enter the final phase, Neumann said, noting that the company may then design a new car, with all new architecture optimized for the electric powertrain.
At present, however, the biggest challenge is the high cost of batteries that make electric cars significantly more expensive than conventionally powered vehicles, Neumann said.
Also, unlike Europe and the US, most car owners in China don’t have their own garages, so it’s more difficult for them to charge the electric cars at home, he said.
But the company said it is convinced progress in battery technology and charging infrastructure will enable China to enter the era of electric vehicles – and may even become the world’s largest electric vehicle market in which Volkswagen plans to have a leading position.
“The heart of the brand will soon be running on electricity – our goal is to be the market leader in e-mobility by 2018,” Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen AG, said previously.
By Han Tianyang (China Daily)