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Fans of the German automaker Volkswagen experienced a serious letdown almost exactly four years ago, when the company was forced to admit it had doctored the results of U.S. emissions tests for its diesel cars. Well, that was then. Now, the company is banking on zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs) to restore its brand reputation, and it is not cutting any corners.

A fresh start for a tarnished brand

Since last Friday, Volkswagen has rolled out a series of three announcements aimed at cementing its position as a global leader in the EV revolution.

The most recent announcement appeared on Monday, on the eve of the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, to introduce the company’s new ID.3 electric vehicle.

In the announcement, Volkswagen made it clear that the new car signals a fresh start in terms of the company’s corporate culture, right down to a new logo:

“This vehicle is the symbol of a new era for the brand," a company statement reads. "The ID.3 extends the Volkswagen offering as the first model of a completely new generation of pure electric vehicles—featuring zero local emissions, outstanding efficiency, and full connectivity. At the same time, the ID.3 reflects the realignment of the Volkswagen brand, and is also the first model with the new Volkswagen logo.”

It's also noteworthy that Volkswagen is focused on EV affordability. Though the ID.3 is not particularly cheap at a starting price of just under 30,000 euros (around US$33,000 at the current exchange rate), that is lower than the current average cost of a new car in the U.S., which hovers around the $36,000 mark.

The prospect of lower fuel and maintenance costs compared to diesel- and gas-powered vehicles can also help take the sting out of the sticker price, regardless of whether or not tax incentives are available.

Emissions transparency is part of the Volkswagen reboot

To round out its brand reputation do-over, Volkswagen was also careful to note that the ID.3 has “zero local emissions.” By specifying “local,” Volkswagen makes an important distinction between zero tailpipe emissions and emissions involved elsewhere in the EV supply chain. That includes emissions from power plants as well as emissions related to manufacturing and shipping.

By referencing the difference, Volkswagen could contribute to a broader public understanding of mobility’s carbon footprint. That transparency is a far cry from the company’s self-inflicted wounds as “dieselgate” unspooled in the fall of 2015. Though Volkswagen was far from the only company to be accused of tampering with emissions test results, it bore the brunt of public wrath from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Kickstarting the EV revolution

Volkswagen expects the ID.3 to launch in Europe in limited quantities next year. In the meantime, the company is building a new high-volume EV battery factory in Salzgitter, Germany, to help scale up production in the years to follow.

Last Friday, Volkswagen announced that the new mobile energy storage venture will involve a partnership with the Swedish battery manufacturer NorthvoltThe choice of Northvolt dovetails with Volkswagen’s decision to distinguish between local emissions and the rest of the EV footprint. Northvolt bills its lithium-ion energy storage platform as “the world’s greenest battery,” with a low manufacturing carbon footprint and “the highest ambitions” for recycling.

The new factory is expected to launch by the beginning of 2024.

Volkswagen preps for the EV revolution

A third announcement in the series, also released last Friday, covered Volkswagen’s soup to nuts, efficiency-based conversion of its existing Zwickau manufacturing facility from an all-internal combustion lineup to an EV-only lineup.

The conversion began in 2018 and is expected to be completed before 2021. With other production lines in addition to the ID.3, Volkswagen is billing Zwickau as Europe’s “largest and most efficient electric vehicle plant,” partly due to a high degree of automation.

The Zwickau location also supports Volkswagen’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint beyond vehicle emissions. The Marienthal sector of Zwickau has been selected for an energy transition study involving heat pumps, energy storage and solar power, as well as EV charging.

As further evidence that Volkswagen is shedding its diesel past, the company anticipates that 33 models based on its new EV platform will commence production in the next three years, as the first group in a wave that will eventually total 70 EV models over 10 years. That will add up to 22 million new EVs on the road from Volkswagen alone.

Those scaled-up numbers are badly needed if the global transportation sector is to decarbonize. Last November, for example, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) estimated that there were only 1 million EVs operating on U.S roads in 2018. The organization also anticipates that EVs will still account for only 7 percent of cars and light trucks in the U.S. by 2030.

In light of the new Volkswagen announcement, it looks like EEI and other industry watchers may need to revise their outlook in a more optimistic direction.

Image credit: Volkswagen

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Volkswagen is banking on zero-emission electric vehicles to restore its brand reputation following the "dieselgate" scandal of 2015, and the German automaker is not cutting any corners.
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