First Drive: Volkswagen to enter US electric market with e-Golf – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2014

For several years, Volkswagen has been watching the race to develop viable electric cars from the sidelines.

But this fall, the German automaker will bring its first all-electric vehicle to the U.S., a battery-powered version of the venerable Golf, the hatchback that has sold more than 30 million copies globally over six generations.

Dubbed the e-Golf, this model uses the same platform and body as gas- and diesel-powered Golfs, which have all been redesigned for the 2015 model year.

The electric effort is overdue. Nearly every other U.S. automaker (Honda, Toyota, GM, Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz) offers a zero-emission vehicle in California. This is to meet a mandate by the California Air Resources Board requiring that each brand either sell such a vehicle or buy credits from automakers that do.

Automakers typically lose money on electric cars, despite generous state and federal subsidies to buyers. But it’s the price of entry to the nation’s largest auto market — and key to building brand awareness and engineering prowess amid growing consumer demand for clean, efficient cars.

The late arrival doesn’t bother VW.

“We’d rather do it right the first time,” said Lars Menge, general manager of product strategy for VW of America.

Many automakers quickly churned out electric cars with subpar powertrains or build quality, he said.

“We came up with a much better car, so now all others have to stretch to follow us,” Menge added.

That’s a bold claim, considering the strengths of competitors such as the Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500e and Honda Fit EV. But a day darting around San Francisco shows that VW’s first electric vehicle lives up to the big talk.

Though its technology and driving range break no new ground, the 2015 e-Golf has the efficiency and smooth driving habits that appeal to electric-car fans. And it comes in a classic design, packed with useful features needed to lure buyers who have yet to consider a plug-in car.

The new Golf platform also underpins a wide range of small cars across Volkswagen Group’s global brands, including VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda.

Rather than retrofit the outgoing platform for an electric vehicle, VW wanted to wait until it could use this setup — dubbed MQB — since it was designed with an all-electric option in mind. This was another reason for VW’s late arrival.

The e-Golf gives up no interior space for people or cargo because the 700-pound lithium-ion battery pack is built into the floor and the tunnel between the passengers.

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