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Coming Not-So-Soon: Volkswagen's Long-Range Electric Car

By John Rosevear - Sep 28, 2016 at 5:10PM

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VW says that its new electric car will have impressive range, but there's a catch: It won't arrive until 2020.

Volkswagen's "I.D." concept is a preview of an upcoming long-range battery-electric car. Image source: Volkswagen.

Earlier this month, Volkswagen (VWAGY 0.60%) said it would show off an electric car "as revolutionary as the Beetle" at the upcoming Paris Motor Show.

Now we have photos of that "revolutionary" car along with a little more information. For now, VW is calling it the "I.D." It's a concept version of what will be the VW brand's first vehicle designed from the ground up as a battery-electric car. And it comes with some big promises -- including a minimum of 400 kilometers (248 miles) of range.

Big range claims for VW's new electric 

The Paris Motor Show begins with media days on Thursday and Friday. It's extremely likely that we'll have a lot more information on the new battery-operated VW in a day or two, and many more photos. 

That said, VW did give us a few details on Wednesday, including this big one: It said that the production version of this car will have a range of "between 400 and 600 kilometers [372 miles] on a single battery charge."

Image source: Volkswagen.

That would be very impressive range, but note: The European testing standard for electric cars is different from the standard used in the United States, and it generally results in longer range ratings. For comparison, the 90D version of Tesla Motors' (TSLA 1.23%) Model S is rated at 557 km (356 miles) of range in Europe, but just 294 miles in the U.S.

Given that comparison, it seems likely that a VW rated at 600 km of range in Europe would come in at a little over 300 miles of range in U.S. testing. If VW can deliver that at a mass-market price, it'll be an impressive achievement.

But there's a catch: This car isn't around the corner.

The catch: You'll have to wait a while for it

VW said the production version of I.D. will "hit the road in 2020." That's a long way off, long enough that it's possible the I.D.'s range will be old news before it arrives.

But VW is serious about this electric-car thing. It said the I.D. is the first of "a new fleet of electric cars" that will be introduced under the mass-market VW brand. It's also the first VW Group product of any kind to be built on the company's brand new "Modular Electric Drive Kit" (abbreviated "MEB" in German.)

Image source: Volkswagen.

MEB is new VW Group architecture designed specifically for electric vehicles. It's expected to underpin a slew of new models from VW, Audi, and other Group brands.

The I.D. has distinctive styling that VW hopes will make it "immediately recognizable as a zero-emission vehicle." That styling will likely be shared with the other upcoming electric Volkswagens. And the concept version has features that "demonstrate" an eventual self-driving version that VW expects to release in 2025.

It sounds great now, but will it be competitive in 2020?

I have no doubt that VW will eventually have fully competitive battery-electric cars. But when looking at this one, remember that it's still four years away.

It looks impressive on paper, but General Motors (GM 1.05%) will begin shipping its affordable Chevrolet Bolt EV with 236 (U.S.) miles of range within weeks, not years from now. And if all goes well, Tesla will have its own mass market Model 3 established long before the VW arrives. Nissan is also likely to have an affordable long-range EV, the next-generation version of its Leaf, on the market before 2020 -- and there may be others.

VW doesn't need to be first to succeed. (It's too late anyway.) But it does need to be competitive when its electric car finally arrives at dealers. We'll find out more about how it plans to pull that off in the coming days.

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