Why the VW ID.4 electric SUV is essentially the new VW Beetle

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A couple of months back VW released the much anticipated ID.3 hatchback. This wasn’t a replacement for the Golf but the beginning of a new product line for Volkswagen that is making a play for the future. 

That future is built upon the MEB platform, an architecture designed to facilitate a multitude of electric derivatives which has resulted thus far in the VW ID.3 and now the VW ID.4.

Some might suggest the ID.3 is the real future of Volkswagen and that it will help customers make the transition from their comfortable Golfs into a pure electric vehicle and buy into the ethos and modus operandi. It has the same hatch layout we are all familiar with, fantastic design and styling which to be honest, puts the latest Golf to shame. 

So why is it the new ID.4 is the real game changer for VW?

The answer is simple: SUV sales. 

According to Budget Direct, SUVs accounted for 45.5% of new car sales in 2019 in Australia, lead by Medium SUVs outpacing small cars followed by yet more SUVs in the Small and Large segments respectively.

In fact, the Tiguan is now Volkswagen’s most popular vehicle having sold over 6,000,000 units worldwide and is the most successful model in Volkswagen Group.

They have increased annual production from 120,000 from the first Tiguan launched in 2007, to just shy of 911,000 units today. 

Like it or not, this is what people now think of, when they think “car”. Quite literally, we will start to see more VW ID.4s than VW ID.3s making the ID.4 the more important vehicle for VW. 

Will the ID.4 be the car that changes the game, that gets people to cross over into the electric world, to start the revolution? 

Well in order to be a “people’s car” it needs to be cheap to buy, own, and run while being reliable and hugely practical. It also needs to have a personality.

Does the ID.4 have a personality? Without driving one I honestly don’t know. The Beetle had that air-cooled flat-four humming that distinctive rhythm and an iconic body design—what will the ID.4 offer besides a silent swish of modern technology that seems to be easily replicated by competitors?

One of the major hurdles for the ID.4 will be price. Economies of scale don’t seem to have taken hold just yet for electric powered vehicle production, at least when viewed from a purchase price point. VW may market the ID.4 as a premium offering within their brand but that defies the very brand essence and besides, isn’t that what the “R” range is for? 

Top Gear have reported the ID.4 will cost near enough to €50,000 in the UK, and at time of writing that equates to $82,721.21 Australian dollars, before all of our ridiculous taxes are added on. That may not be the price it ultimately sells for, if it indeed ends up selling here in Australia at all. US media have the price stated as a whisker under $40,000 USD which would peg it at around $56,915.20 AUD, comfortably under the 33% luxury car tax ($77,565 for ‘fuel-efficient vehicles’ for 2020-2021) although given our market size, that figure is very optimistic.

If it is going to reach the masses it needs to be financially viable for as many households as possible and that is well out of reach for most.

Questions about infrastructure start to arise also, especially when Tesla are thrown into the mix. 

So what about the new VW ID.4?

The new ID.4’s battery is positioned beneath the passenger compartment and is capable of storing up to 77 kWh of energy (net), enabling ranges of up to 520 km (WLTP).

It’s capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 160 km/h through an electric drive motor, positioned at the rear axle producing 150 kW (204 PS) of power. 

Inside, VW says “The colours and materials are contemporary while also being homely.” I say the colours make the interior look like a random assembly of LEGO pieces, but thankfully you don’t have to have quite the same multi-coloured selection as on the launch car.

Depending on the rear seat backrest’s position, the luggage compartment boasts a capacity from 543 litres and 1,575 litres with folded seats, which doesn’t quite best the VW Tiguan’s 615 litres and 1655L.

Of course the new product direction for any new electric vehicle seems to mandate the abolishment of physical controls in favour of touchscreens, and the ID.4 is no different. There’s VW’s “Hello ID.” natural voice control command system at your fingertips voice, while the two touchscreens, one measuring 12” (diagonally) caters for most functions. 

There are also the usual driver assistance functions with an optional head up display that projects arrows “onto” the road surface to aid in directing the driver. Software update can also now be made by simply downloading the update. 

Using direct currents in a time of around 30 minutes, the ID.4 can use a DC quick-charging station to give around 320 kms of distance (as per WLTP, at 125 kW) 

It’s quite telling that there aren’t any further details around the chassis, suspension, braking ability, or dynamic ability of the ID.4 at this stage giving the impression the vehicle is nothing more than a mode of transporting people in a sustainable way.

Maybe that’s all the ID.4 is meant to be, but it certainly doesn’t capture the imagination or show any kind of personality and that’s a risky strategy in the long term given every other vehicle manufacturer will be releasing their version of an electric SUV, potentially with more of those boxes ticked. 

Have VW pulled their billion dollar trigger too soon? They have invested at least as much in securing an electric future. Perhaps their strategy was never to create a people’s car in the first place, but to simply put one expensive foot forward. They’ve succeeded in that so far, let’s see how the market responds and the impacts that may have on successive iterations.

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