The Fast Track to E-Mobility

by the Example of Volkswagen

E-mobility - a catchphrase widely talked about - is rapidly becoming more important and relevant. Bernhard Soltermann, COO of AMAG Import, member of the AMAG Executive Team, as well as person in charge for e-mobility, Digital Sales & Services and Future Sales, answers the most pertinent questions.

Electric cars and e-mobility are no longer a curiosity on the road. They have long been part of the AMAG Group's product portfolio as well. Mr. Soltermann, as an e-mobility expert, you know the subject particularly well. What is the current level of acceptance and where is the demand for e-cars heading?

As Herbert Diess pointedly remarked on the occasion of the VW PowerDay on the 15th of March: "e-mobility has won the race". What does he mean by this? Almost all investments in the billions are going towards e-vehicles (car and battery) and e-mobility in general (infrastructure, peripheral measures). The elimination of the combustion engine has been declared and not just "assumed" as in previous years. The trend in the market supports this: e-cars are gaining ground, clearly measurable by the rising number of registrations, but also by the fact that there is much less need for objections to the "myths surrounding e-mobility" than before. The e-vehicle has definitely evolved from a niche to a mass product and those who have tasted "the sweet fruit of an e-vehicle" usually won't return to the old ways: the advantages are too great and too convincing! However, demands are currently rising faster than production capacities, and manufacturers urgently need to upgrade, but this has been recognised and investments have been made on a large scale.

Volkswagen is regarded as a pioneer as well as a promoter of e-mobility in the automotive industry. What distinguishes VW in detail from other car manufacturers? Volkswagen is regarded as a frontrunner and driver amongst the traditional car manufacturers. Various analyses and studies have recently confirmed this.This assessment is based on the consistency with which the VW Group approaches the issue. It applies not only to vehicle development, but above all to investments in battery development and their production, as well as the ecosystems surrounding e-mobility, which, together with the brand, represent the most important aspects in the holistic planning of e-mobility. The VW Group, in its strategic plans, outlines a comprehensive understanding of the challenges in everyday electric life.

VW has developed an innovative "modular e-drive system" - called MEB. How much potential do you see in the new platform, which is to serve as the basis for further VW E-models?

The modularity of the construction kit, which was consistently developed for e-vehicles, is enormously important and allows the implementation of our ambitious plans. The scalability and almost unlimited implementation of a wide variety of vehicle concepts is a key talent of the MEB system. All-wheel drive, which is very popular in Switzerland, is also possible with this technology, as seen in VW ID.4 and Skoda Enyaq, and soon Audi Q4 e-tron quattro. E-vehicles are emotional cars: the body design and especially the interior experience is an additional asset of the MEB, not least with regard to future autonomous driving: there is a great deal of creative freedom for designers here because the body with its "skateboard" construction base allows an almost infinite number of solutions.

Charging issues such as the number and location of charging stations, charging times and ranges are a barrier for many potential buyers. Are these concerns still justified or are they actually outdated?

In Switzerland, we are in a comfortable position, with a public fast-charging network, already very well developed today: very few people know that since 2019, there are, in fact, more publicly accessible charging stations in Switzerland than petrol/diesel pumps. The expansion of the fast-charging network along the most important transport routes is also progressing very quickly, thanks to players like GoFast. An important aspect: being able to charge a vehicle where it is parked (for a longer period) is a significant advantage of the electric vehicle over the combustion engine. So in this respect, Charge@Home is at the forefront, as cars are parked for several hours throughout the night and in some cases - especially in the case of second cars - also during the day, and thus can benefit perfectly from electricity directly generated from photovoltaic systems. Charge@Work is also important, because here, cars are potentially parked for several hours and do not need a fast-charging infrastructure. The expansion of Charge@Home and Charge@Work still faces challenges in Switzerland, but if all stakeholders work closely together and also cooperate with the public sector, Switzerland can move forward quickly and answer to the high demand.

In addition to fully electric models, hybrid vehicles are also available. Which concept is suitable for which user and what trends in sales can be seen here?

In this transition period, hybrid vehicles totally hold their justified value and can make sense, especially for commuters with short daily distances in combination with longer journeys at the weekend. It is simply incredibly charming to glide into a city centre or a parking garage without noise or emissions, and that is also possible with a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV). Switzerland here is also predestined for hybrid vehicles because of its rather short daily distances. The average Swiss commuter covers around 40 km a day, which can also be done purely electrically with a modern plug-in hybrid. In addition, a "fallback" factor plays a role that should not be underestimated: if you run out of electricity on a longer trip (e.g. on the way to the mountains or abroad) and want to continue driving without recharging, you can fall back on the second drive concept. So the hybrid can do both, and that's why many buyers in Switzerland go for a model with two built-in drives. In the long run, however, the purely electric drive (Battery Electric Vehicle, BEV for short) will account for the largest volume in absolute terms. This is due to falling battery prices, longer ranges of pure e-cars, increasing fast-charging capability, a rapidly growing and thus very dense charging network, as well as a broad range of vehicles in all price and vehicle segments.

VW is advertising exciting concept vehicles. From an insider's point of view - which vehicles can we look forward to and what will remain just a concept for the time being?

VW has revealed a lot of exciting concepts and we know already through clear strategy and communication that they are all on their way.
VW with the Trinity and Audi with the Artemis, will launch a completely new vehicle architecture, both of which are already fully designed for autonomous driving and look more like a lounge inside. These concepts will be groundbreaking for the driving experience and the possible uses of a car. A little more within reach is the ID.Buzz, an electric reincarnation of the good old "Bulli" that is due to be launched as early as the end of next year. It is ideal in size, has an airy, fully variable interior, while retaining typical design features reminiscent of its famous predecessor. Many have been waiting for such an e-car, not only families, but sportsmen, or others with active leisure activities, as well as taxi drivers, hotels, other shuttle services - the list of potential target groups is long.

E-mobility is a clear trend and demand is growing. But what about ownership in general? Is the need of car drivers developing towards car sharing and leasing concepts or is the desire for car ownership still dominant?

We sense the desire for subscription models and car sharing and are already providing answers. Car sharing has suffered somewhat from the pandemic, but subscription models are showing high growth rates.
Through electrification, individual mobility, which is best accomplished in a car, is experiencing a real renaissance, fuelled by the circumstances of the pandemic, which has naturally increased the desire for the "rolling home". Looking a little further into the future, however, car sharing in smaller communities, e.g. for residential developments, will also rapidly gain importance, provided that the interconnected use of mobility in general is rapidly advanced. Here, the process of rethinking and action in society has only just started and it offers an enormous potential for the development of cities and agglomerations in the future. Small-scale Switzerland is predestined for this, and we are convinced that e-mobility will play a very central role in these new, modern living concepts.

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