Volkswagen’s next generation of combustion engines will roll out starting in 2026. It will be VW’s final generation as well. VW will modify those engines through their lifetime of a decade, maybe two, but that’s it: no more new generations of combustion engines. Volkswagen is convinced the future of cars is the electric car. The shift also may end the front-wheel-drive car.
This was not an overnight decision. VW began to shift its strategic thinking in the wake of 2015’s diesel emissions scandal. Volkswagen tampered with the engine control software on its diesels so they would use their pollution controls only when the software sensed a condition that indicated the car was being emissions testing. VW wound up paying $31 billion (27 billion euros) in fines along with public shaming and dropoffs in sales in many markets.
“[The] year 2026 will be the last product start on a combustion engine platform,” VW chief of strategy Michael Jost said at the Handelsblatt automotive summit conference near the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. “Our colleagues are working on the last platform for vehicles that aren’t CO2 neutral. We’re gradually fading out combustion engines to the absolute minimum.”
At the LA show last week, VW’s Matthew Renna, head of e-mobility for North America, said the shift to electric vehicles also will likely mean shifting the engine to the rear of the car, sort of VW Beetle-style. In a roundtable interview reported by Motor Trend, Renna said gas engine cars are most efficient when the engine, transmission, and drive wheels are all at the same end, meaning front-wheel-drive for most vehicles. With an EV, it’s cost-neutral to put the engine in the back and drive the rear wheels. Want front-wheel drive? Just put a second motor up front.
Volkswagen AG is a consortium of a dozen brands, including Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti. VW has a lineup of 300-plus cars, vans, trucks, and motorbikes. It will launch fully or partly electric versions across the lineup by 2030. Many automakers have made similar pledges that all or most of its line will have electrified variants in the 2020s. That promise can be met by anything from a hybrid electric motor booster driven by a 1-kWh battery through full-on EVs with batteries of 100 kWh. Last week, VW showed several EVs on its stand at the LA Auto Show, including the ID Buzz Cargo concept.
Jost said VW will continue its internal combustion engine technology after the next-and-last generation rolls out over a period of a decade. Volkswagen envisions a role for gasoline and diesel vehicles in remote areas lacking sufficient charging stations.
Automakers may have been able to lick the air pollution problem. But it has been harder to get past the simple math of carbon emissions: The more fuel burned by internal combustion engines, the more carbon dioxide produced. Burning petroleum fuel at a power plant is about twice as efficient, and there’s also the promise of solar, wind and water power.
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