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From concept to reality: the next-generation of EVs

At Europe’s biggest car show, Europe’s biggest OEM made the industry’s biggest commitment to EVs. VW isn’t alone in promoting electrification, however: in 2017, almost every OEM committed to an EV programme. Michael Nash looks at some of the industry’s big EV projects

Go EV or go home – that’s the only way to do business in the world’s largest car market. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s the only way to do business in the major vehicle markets other than China, too, with a growing number of city authorities, and national and regional governments openly considering restricting or banning vehicles with internal combustion engines. Couple that with the mainstream media’s newfound interest in powertrain technology and a growing public acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs), and the scene is set for a new generation of vehicle electrification.

With a relatively limited range of plug-in product on dealer forecourts, and very little in the way of readily available plug-in cars at the 2017 Frankfurt international motor show (IAA), one of the world’s largest car shows, it is to the concept cars that one must look to understand what vehicle manufacturers have planned to back up their EV pronouncements.

No longer the outrageous headline grabbing designs they once were, concept cars now are built primarily to gauge public and media reaction. They’re produced to a budget, launched like production cars, and backed up by technical specifications and performance data. It’s common for the concept to appear one or two years later as a production model, and indeed some manufacturers have begun adopting terms such as ‘preproduction car’ to indicate how close to launch a concept car – or at least its underlying technology – might be.

And the significance of all this? Simple: 2017 will go down as the year of the near production-ready electric concept car, ahead of a new generation of EVs that will appear from 2019.

VW IAA 2017

Dr. Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand, presents the new I.D. CROZZ and I.D. BUZZ at the 2017 IAA

German concepts

In September 2015, just a fortnight or so before he would be forced to step down as Chief Executive of the Volkswagen Group in the wake of the Dieselgate revelations, Martin Winterkorn stood on stage at the IAA and announced a commitment to launch 20 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2020.

Fast forward two years, to the 2017 IAA, and the change that the company has been forced to undergo is clear and on-going, at Group level and across its broad portfolio of brands. Executives at the Group have outlined their intentions to plough more money into e-mobility, and while the brands haven’t launched many new production models since the scandal broke, numerous concept cars have been unveiled with electric propulsion systems at the core.

Apt, then, that the I.D. Crozz should take centre stage on the VW’s 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show stand. An SUV concept expected to reach production in 2020, the I.D. Crozz has an estimated range of 311 miles (500km) – a figure based on tests using the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC).

VW RoadmapE

At the 2017 IAA, VW Group committed to launching 80 new EVs by 2025

VW Chief Executive Herbert Diess told press that the I.D. Crozz would be an important part of the company’s investment in electrification: “The Volkswagen Brand will be investing €6bn (US$7.18bn) in electric mobility over the next five years. Our task is to make modern technology available to many people.”

Under ‘Roadmap E’, the VW Group will launch 80 new electric vehicles by 2025, invest over €20bn ‘for the industrialization of e-mobility’, and begin a €50bn sourcing strategy to support what it anticipates to be an annual demand for 150 gigawatt hours of Li-ion battery capacity for its own fleet alone.

Audi Elaine and Aicon concept cars

Audi’s Rupert Stadler with the Elaine and Aicon concept cars at the 2017 IAA

Audi’s close-to-production Elaine electric SUV has a 311 mile range; the OEM has also developed the Aicon, a futuristic autonomous EV concept that boasts a 497 mile range and can be charged to 80% in 30 minutes.

Skoda unveiled its first electric concept car at the 2017 Shanghai show. The Vision E is an all-wheel drive (AWD) model that uses two electric motors to produce 225kWh; it has a range of 310 miles, and like the Aicon, can be charged to 80% in 30 minutes. The model is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform, which is also used for the I.D. Crozz concept. The similarities between the Skoda and VW concepts, and the unconcealed platform sharing employed for two close-to-production concepts is highly indicative of plans for production cars based on these concepts.

Skoda Vision E concept

Skoda’s Vision E concept uses Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform, which also underpins the VW I.D. Crozz concept

With the VW Group making so much noise about electrification, it’s easy to lose sight of what the other German OEMs have planned.

The EQA concept offers a strong hint at what Mercedes-Benz has in mind as it works towards offering electrified versions of all of its cars by 2022. The EQA concept has a 250-mile range and comes equipped with two electric motors, one positioned on the front axle and one on the rear, powered by lithium-ion batteries with pouch cells supplied by Daimler subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive.

EQA premiere at the 2017 IAA

Daimler will launch 10 new EQ-branded EVs by 2022. The first model, EQC, is due to go into production at Mercedes-Benz Bremen in 2019. Pictured: EQA premiere at the 2017 IAA

BMW, which already has a dedicated BEV in the form of the i3, along with other electrified offerings, debuted a design concept for its electric Mini at Frankfurt, with a production model due in 2019. BMW also unveiled the i Vision Dynamics concept – another electric concept equipped with autonomous driving technology. Positioned between the i3 and i8, the four-door i Vision Dynamics concept is widely believed to be the precursor to the i5.

BMW i Vision Dynamics concept

Is the BMW i Vision Dynamics concept the precursor to the i5?

Making a statement

The changes forced upon VW have impacted the industry as a whole, globally as well as in Europe.

One of the biggest surprises at the IAA and in the wider electrification story was Honda’s showstopping Urban EV concept. Ikuo Takeishi, Operating Officer and Head of Functional Development in Powertrains at Honda, told Megatrends that the Urban EV concept would be the basis for a production car arriving in Europe in 2019. The OEM expects electrified vehicles to account for two thirds of its European sales by 2025, and two thirds of its global sales by 2030.

Honda Urban EV concept

Honda’s Urban EV concept hints at a production car for Europe in 2019

Renault was also eager to make a statement with its Symbioz concept car and demo car. Although similar in appearance, the demo car “foreshadows a vehicle” that is set to reach production in 2023, while the concept looks further ahead to the 2030 timeframe.

The demo car has a range of 311 miles in real-world driving conditions on highways, and the French OEM has promised that it can be charged to 80% in just 20 minutes. “Performance, range and charging times will be improved by 2030 when a car like Symbioz will take to the roads.”

Renault Symbioz concept

By 2022, Groupe Renault will offer eight pure electric vehicles and 12 electrified models. Pictured: Renault Symbioz concept

Edging to production

As OEMs seek to place EV product within a wide open and immature market, it is unsurprising that they should focus on specific segments – and with compact SUVs proving so lucrative in most major markets, it’s an obvious segment to target.

Jaguar will launch its I-Pace electric SUV in 2018. With a range of 310 miles and a zero to 60mph time of around four seconds, the I-Pace has been described as an important competitor for Tesla and its Model X.

The Jaguar will pounce into a crowd: the aforementioned VW Group and Mercedes offerings are likely to be joined by BMW, Hyundai and Volvo e-SUVs, and Ford has promised it will launch an all-new electric SUV by 2020 as part of a US$5.2bn investment in electrified vehicles. Details are yet to emerge, but the model will be built at the company’s Flat Rock plant in Michigan and sold across North America, Europe and Asia. The OEM has also reportedly trademarked the Energi moniker for electrified versions of its Explorer, Kuga and Transit models.

Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV concept

The Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV concept hits the market as a production vehicle in 2018

Out of gas?

With almost every global vehicle manufacturer now committed to electrification, Mazda is a rare exception. Ahead of a Frankfurt show heavy on EVs, Mazda chose to reveal details of its next-generation SKYACTIV-X engine, a gasoline engine which delivers diesel-like fuel economy. Speaking to Megatrends from the floor of the Frankfurt Motor Show, Jeff Guyton, President and Chief Executive of Mazda Motor Europe, suggested that EVs will only make sense when energy from the grid comes from a green source, with vehicle emissions considered on a well-to-wheel basis.

Guyton believes the internal combustion engine (ICE) has ahead of it a long and prosperous future. Mazda’s current absence in the EV area might be unusual, but there’s a strong sense of agreement across the automotive industry that while electrification is necessary and inevitable, the ICE will continue to play a key role for many years to come.

Shortly after the IAA, however, Mazda issued a joint press release with Toyota and Denso announcing that the three companies intend “to jointly develop basic structural technologies for EVs capable of covering a wide variety of vehicle segments and types to ensure flexible and rapid response to market trends”.

Rosy expectations

Numerous forecasts all point in one direction – to growth and a bright future for EVs. A new report by AlixPartners suggests that EV and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales have increased by 168% over the past two years. These two segments could account for around 40% of all European vehicles sold each year by 2030, and between 2020 and 2030, the number of EVs on public roads is set to rise at a CAGR of 46%.

AlixPartners chart

Similarly, a paper published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that the global electric car stock surpassed two million units in 2016 – a figure that it expects will grow to somewhere between nine million and 20 million by 2020, and between 40 million and 70 million by 2025. “In the next ten to 20 years the electric car market will likely transition from early deployment to mass market adoption,” it reads.

To meet these expectations, much work needs to be done, from sales and marketing to charging infrastructure and battery technology. The few concept cars mentioned in this article offer a glimpse of the EV market of the future, but they alone will barely scratch the surface. Launched as well executed production cars, however, they could go a long way to influencing consumers as they make their way into the market.

This article appeared in the Q4 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine.