Interview with Rory Lumsdon, Manager of Product Affairs at Volkswagen UK
Volkswagen is a manufacturer which seems to have come from nowhere to take the alternative fuel sector by storm. This year alone, the brand has a whole line-up of exciting EVs to launch, including some of the most hotly anticipated EV vehicles of 2014; VW e-up!, XL1, e-Golf and Golf GTE. Meanwhile as part of the wider Volkswagen Group, the car giant is also launching the Porsche Panamera and 918 Spyder plug-in hybrids and the Audi A3 e-tron. As the firm enters a new electrified and exciting era of its history, we chat to Rory Lumsdon, Manager of Product Affairs at Volkswagen UK, to find out what took the brand so long to join the EV club and what makes it the cool kid at the party for being fashionably late…
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TGCW: Volkswagen truly arrives into the field of electric motoring this year with the launch of the e-up!, e-Golf, XL1 and the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid this year. Although the brand is behind the likes of Nissan and Renault in launching EVs, what makes VW EVs worth the wait?
Rory: Volkswagen is seldom the first carmaker in a segment, but it is usually among the market leaders. We place great value on careful development of our models and technologies – and that is precisely what makes us so successful. It is also worth noting that we have been researching EVs for decades: in the 1970, 80s and 90s there were electric prototypes of the Golfs Mk1, 2 and 3; that latter was also commercially available in some markets.
TGCW: The next big launch following the arrival of the e-up! and e-Golf will be the Golf GTE this summer. Who do you expect will be the buyers for this model, which is expected to come at a premium over the standard Golf?
Rory: We expect the GTE to have a wide appeal, but especially, for example, to customers who either want or need to drive all-electrically in the city, but who also wish to cover long distances on country roads and motorways. The GTE’s 1.4-litre TSI and electric motor combine the dynamic performance of a sports car with high efficiency. While we expect it to command a premium over an entry-level Golf, it is more analogous to our GTI and GTD model in terms of looks, equipment, driving pleasure and also likely in price.
TGCW: What will make the GTE different from all the plug-in hybrids yet available on the market?
Rory: The GTE builds on the qualities award-winning Golf, so already it comes with all of its advantages in terms of design, space, handling and quality. The GTE also offers two cars in one through its combination of all-electric driving and sporty performance when the combustion engine is used – two drives in one powertrain.
TGCW: Hydrogen or battery electric cars?
Rory: It would be irresponsible of Volkswagen only to pursue one strategy. In the short term, battery electric vehicles have the greater real-world potential, but we are also investigating the possibilities of hydrogen. For example, the MQB platform that underpins the latest generation of Golf has been designed from the outside not only to accommodate its existing petrol, diesel, CNG, electric and hybrid drivetrains, but also hydrogen drivetrains.
TGCW: Volkswagen produces CNG vehicles for other markets including mainland Europe. What are the chances CNG models will eventually make it over here?
Rory: We’d be happy to offer CNG vehicles for sale in the UK – in Europe we already offer up!, Golf, Passat and Touran models powered by CNG. They offer a great mix of low emissions (79g/km in the case of the Eco up!) and practicality, not least as they can also operate on petrol.
The challenge in the UK is the lack of a refuelling infrastructure for CNG vehicles. We have in fact already sold CNG Caddy vans in the UK, as these were able to use a fleet operator’s own CNG refuelling station. We also operate a CNG Caddy at our UK headquarters.
TGCW: Volkswagen almost appears to have missed a step, largely by-passing hybrid technology (with the exception of the Touareg) to go straight to fully electric and plug-in hybrid. What influenced this decision?
Rory: It is almost always more efficient to use mains electricity to charge a vehicle’s battery than it is to use the vehicle’s engine. The benefits of plug-in vehicles are also more obvious than those of hybrid vehicles, depending on the market (though it is worth noting that as well as the Touareg Hybrid, we have offered a Jetta Hybrid for some time in certain markets).
TGCW: Although the XL1 plug-in hybrid is in series production, it is predominately a research vehicle designed to help Volkswagen learn how to make use of such technology as carbon fibre body panels. When will we start to see parts of the XL1 filter down into mass production models?
Rory: Elements of the XL1’s design will find their way into our production models soon. We’ve already shown the Twin up! concept, for example, which uses much of the XL1’s two-cylinder turbodiesel engine and electric hybrid drivetrain, but in the up!’s practical four-seat body, and returns a possible 256 mpg.
TGCW: Volkswagen has Think Blue environmental policy but was does this really mean to consumers?
Rory: Think Blue is a demonstration of our commitment to the environment. It encompasses everything we do, from how we operate our factories, to how we produce our cars, to the cars we produce and how they can be dealt with at the end of their lives. We are on the way to making Volkswagen the world’s greenest automaker. One confirmation of this is Volkswagen’s listing as the most sustainable automaker in the world’s leading sustainability ranking – the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI). One way our customers will readily see this is in our vehicles, which with every new generation are more efficient.