What were Volkswagen's (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY) best headlines in 2015?
There were a lot of not-so-good headlines for VW this past year. 2015 will be remembered as the year in which VW was caught after years of cheating on emissions tests.
But while the bad news (rightly) dominated the headlines, there was good news, too, for VW this past year. There was even some good news that came out of the diesel-emissions scandal, starting with this: VW is doubling down on electric cars.
Volkswagen's electric-car push starts to take shape
It has been clear for a while that several of VW's brands were planning to bring battery-electric vehicles to market between now and the end of the decade. But until recently, we didn't have much in the way of specifics.
Now we do. At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, Audi unveiled what it calls the "e-tron quattro concept," shown above. It's an all-electric luxury SUV that appears to be aimed squarely at Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) new Model X.
The new SUV is expected to be called the Audi Q6 when it enters production in early 2018. We don't have any details of the production model's capabilities yet; it may depend on how far battery technology can be advanced between now and then.
But Audi's goals for the project are clearly ambitious. It said that the e-tron quattro concept has three electric motors (one in front, two in the back) that together provide 320 kilowatts of output. That, Audi says, is enough power to push the SUV from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 4.6 seconds.
That won't threaten a Tesla in "insane mode," of course. But its range might: Audi is claiming a range of "over 500 kilometers," or 311 miles. That, along with a new fast-charging system that promises a full recharge in just 50 minutes, might make a difference. And, of course, Audi's usual superb interiors and precise construction will likely win some buyers as well.
It's likely good enough to tempt Audi fans who are interested in "going electric," as well as buyers who might not be willing to invest in a vehicle from an upstart automaker.
Porsche is also jumping into the electric-car mix
Audi's sister brand Porsche got into the act a day later. It showed off its own battery-electric concept, a sports car called the Mission E Concept that also looks to be aimed in Tesla's neighborhood.
Porsche claims that the concept has over 600 horsepower available from its 800-volt drive system, along with (again) a claimed range of "over 500 kilometers." The Porsche has its own fast-charging system, a new 800-volt unit that will be able to add a claimed 270 km of range in "about 30 minutes."
The Mission E concept also incorporates traditional Porsche strengths: advanced lightweight construction, superb brakes, and handling good enough to lap the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack in under eight minutes, Porsche said. It's definitely being positioned as a more nimble sports-car alternative to the fast-but-heavy Tesla Model S.
In other words, it'll be a legitimate no-excuses Porsche sports car that happens to be electric -- if the company can deliver on its claims when the production version arrives about a year after the Audi.
The appointment of VW's new CEO could turn out to be the best news of the year
These two models were planned before the huge upheaval triggered by VW's emissions-cheating scandal. But new VW CEO Matthias Mueller has made it clear that both models will make it to production, along with (eventually) a slew of more affordable battery-electrics.
It's still very early in his tenure, but Mueller has gotten off to an impressive start.
A plain-spoken executive with an informal style, he's a big change from the formal, autocratic leaders that VW has had for years. Already, he is talking about pushing VW through a cultural shift that is strongly reminiscent of the changes Alan Mulally brought about after he became Ford's (NYSE:F) CEO in 2006.
Also like Mulally, Mueller has cleaned house, bringing in a mostly new senior management team that (presumably) consists of executives who have bought into his plans for change.
Can Mueller transform Volkswagen from an autocratic company dependent on diesel sales to a nimble one that's at the forefront of battery-electric technology? That remains to be seen. But if it happens, his appointment might turn out to be the best news of all for VW in 2015.