Volkswagen is undergoing the most radical transition in its history, one focused not only on e-mobility, but also on software. Thomas Ulbrich, Member of the Board of Management for Development, and Klaus Zellmer, Board Member for Sales, Marketing and After Sales, share their vision for the future.
Developing two complex processes such as electrification and digitisation efficiently is a demanding mission. Volkswagen has already demonstrated its ability to do so with vehicles such as the ID.3, ID.4 and ID.6, the latter dedicated to the Chinese market.
“Our electric cars have had an excellent reception: we are aiming to sell around 450,000 electrified cars this year, including all-electric models and plug-in hybrids. At the same time, we are expanding to make software a core competency, because digital strengths are becoming more and more of a factor in customers’ purchasing decisions. Automotive manufacturers who don’t offer the same digital connectivity as consumer electronics have already lost out,” Zellmer explains.
Ulbrich continues: "In recent years we often said that Volkswagen will make e-mobility accessible to all; many people didn’t believe us at first, but now no one questions it. Digitisation will be an even longer, more ambitious challenge.”
Joining two worlds
In recent years, Volkswagen has been transitioning from a hardware company to an integrated provider of hardware, software and mobility services. The Volkswagen Group’s new software entity, CARIAD, is making the processes faster and drastically increasing in-house expertise.
And we’re changing in other areas as well – a good example of this is Technical Development in Wolfsburg, which is intensifying its use of agile approaches. “However, Volkswagen will not transform into a pure tech giant. That wouldn’t be good. Over the decades we have accumulated experience in producing safe, high-quality hardware in complex processes. We are combining the best of both worlds: safe automobile hardware and progressive software solutions,” Ulbrich explains.
The importance of software
“We respect our new competitors; however, the comparison is misleading. Companies such as Tesla started their businesses from scratch as it were, while the Volkswagen Group, as a volume manufacturer, has different strenghts. With our large volumes we are able to achieve tremendous cost benefits across the Group. The Volkswagen brand alone sells around 6 million cars to customers each year, and will increasingly shift this portfolio to electric cars in the next five to eight years, and in doing so change the market massively” Zellmer continues.
The ID.3 and ID.4 in particular use the most advanced software and electronics architecture at present. It is composed of two networked high-performance computers; along they perform functions that are distributed across many control units in other vehicles. That makes the electronic platform more powerful and cleverer, “and also enables us to make large-scale over-the-air updates for the first time at Volkswagen. Online, via a mobile network, which go far beyond the updates that were previously possible via the infotainment system,” Ulbrich adds.
This will enable users to keep their cars’ software up-to-date and even download completely new functions, just like with their smartphones. “We took the time needed to be able to provide maximum safety in this area as well. After all, updating a smartphone and updating a car are wildly different: if updating a smartphone goes wrong, the worst-case scenario is that it is no longer possible to make any calls. However, nothing is allowed to go wrong in the car, safety always has to be paramount,” Zellmer highlights.
Ulbrich looks to the future: “A focal point of the transition will be the Trinity in 2026. It will be a completely new high-tech electric vehicle, with long ranges, fast charging and a very high degree of digitisation. We have already laid the foundation for this: with a progressive software architecture that is constantly evolving.”
The car of the future
Greater software capacity will open the door to new vehicle uses in the near future. An increasing number of users will hire a vehicle for special occasions – a weekend getaway, a move or a journey. When changing cars it will be a matter of course to transfer personalised settings – for example, a customised seat position or a personalised playlist. We will reserve some software functions only when we need them – for example, a driving assistance system for a long journey to go on holiday.
For Volkswagen, these functions on demand offer enormous value-added potential. Differentiating ourselves will also be key in the mobility of the future. The ID.3 and ID.4 already have an augmented reality head-up display which sets them apart from the competition in their classes – it makes them more valuable, better, more modern, cooler, safer because drivers can see all the important information right in front of them.
Software and hardware
“Software will enable a totally new mobility experience – it’s communication, comfort, momentum and sustainability. In short: quality of life,” Zellmer concludes, before leaving the floor to Ulbrich: “Software has long being determining the character of our cars, personalising the steering, ambient lighting and engine sound. But despite everything, the hardware remains important: the MEB platform is one of the most cutting-edge electric car platforms in the world, and has enormous potential for scaling. Not just within the Volkswagen brand, but at the affiliated brands Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles as well. Thanks to these economies of scale, as a group we have the potential to make digital innovations affordable and suitable for the mass market.”
Source: Volkswagen Newsroom
Volkswagen ID.3: power consumption in kWh/100 km (NEDC): 15.4-13.1 (combined); combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+
Volkswagen ID.4: power consumption in kWh/100 km (NEDC): 16.9-15.5 (combined); CO2 emissions in g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+
Volkswagen ID.6: not available in Europe