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Electric Vehicles: Volkswagen Reinvents Itself With Electrify America

Although the Volkswagen brand currently offers no electric vehicles (EVs), the Volkswagen Group, including Audi, Porsche and others, does. Yet, VW isn’t often thought of when talk turns to electrification. Well, not until now, anyway.

Still smarting from Diesel-Gate, in which it was caught cheating on emission numbers, Volkswagen has turned its sights to electrification. Its own EV won’t reach market until 2020, but that isn’t stopping this German carmaker from making a huge splash in electric power. According to E&E News, VW Group announced it will spend $38 billion globally on electric drivetrains in the next four years, and offer at least 50 EVs by 2025. Moreover, VW is investing $2 billion to build a network of 1,000 fast-charging stations across the U.S.

These are aggressive goals by any standard, and a colossal change of direction for a company scandalized by emissions cheating a scant three years ago.

180-Degrees

Volkswagen’s change of heart wasn’t organic. It didn’t happen with a bolt of lightening or a visit by the Ghost of Christmas Past. The wake-up call came when some senior executives were jailed and VW was hit with a $14.7 billion settlement in the U.S. for its diesel-emissions deceptions.

The court earmarked $2 billion of that $14.7 billion settlement to establish a for-profit corporation to create a network of fast-charging stations throughout the U.S. The dust created by the final settlement of the court case last year had barely settled when VW announced Electrify America LLC (EA) to fulfill its charging-station mandate. It has been full-steam ahead, since.

800-Pound Gorilla

Landing squarely in the middle of the fast-charger arena with $2 billion dollars to spend, VW, through EA, has suddenly become the force with which every other player must reckon. It is virtually bulldozing its way to installing 650 community-based sites, like supermarkets and convenience stores, and 300 highway sites across the country. EA is also handing out money to established charging companies, like EV CONNECT that offers free on-site charging stations for commercial businesses. It’s an attack strategy that would make General George Patton smile.

Like a magnet attracting metal filings, EA is gathering support from traditional carmakers, like Tesla-challenging Audi, and electric-vehicle startups, like Lucid Motors, reported auto-blogger Roger Lanctot. Volkswagen will have the first carmaker-owned charging network in the country to provide fast-charging stations for all brands of electric vehicles.

A Major Disruptor

Although currently, EA has only installed fast-charging stations in around 40 locations, it is already impacting the industry. According to Lanctot, EA is bringing liquid-cooled cables to fast charging for the first time. These cables deliver the fastest, highest-capacity charge to date. They are so radical, however, their use affects software compatibility and the supporting electric grid. Updating both is a must.

Another issue Lanctot raises is, as the overall network of fast-charging stations expands, EV and plug-in hybrid drivers may become more aggressive in seeking them out. This could result in parking lots and garages taking reservations for the highly contested chargers.

The Outcome

Volkswagen increasing its electric footprint in the U.S. can only improve its fortunes here. Despite its issues in the U.S., VW remains the world’s largest carmaker. With the auto industry’s future becoming ever more electric, Volkswagen is positioning itself to be a chief beneficiary of the trend, not only with a vast stable of electric vehicles, but in also in carving out a huge chunk of the fast-charger business.

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