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Volkswagen launches electric car pilot program

VW E-Golf San Francisco largeFollowing the lead of corporate sibling Audi, Volkswagen is launching an electric vehicle (EV) pilot program in the United States. Cars will be distributed in specific markets and driven over a nine-month period to gather data for future electric Volkswagens.

Like Audi and other companies, VW modified an existing model for its EV pilot program. In this case, it’s the Golf, known to most Americans as the Jetta hatchback. The 20 test cars will be five-door Golfs, with electric powertrains in place of the standard hardware. The E-Golf is powered by an electric motor that makes 199 lb-ft of torque; VW did not say how much horsepower it makes.

The motor gets its energy from a 26.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Volkswagen did not quote an estimated range, but it did say the E-Golf was designed with energy-saving features. These include three different driving modes and regenerative braking, which are standard features on many other electric cars, and hybrids. The E-Golf can also coast when the driver takes their foot off the throttle.

Twelve of the E-Golf test vehicles will be given to Volkswagen employees, the rest will be distributed in Detroit, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. beginning in April. Volkswagen hopes to acquire data on the effects of climate conditions and driving patterns in the different regions.

Volkswagen will also test charging hardware. The 12 employees in the E-Golf program will get 220-volt charging stations installed at their houses. Every E-Golf will come with an iPhone that, through an app, lets drivers check the status of charging, adjust the air conditioning, and remotely charge the car (if it’s plugged-in). “For a successful market launch of electric vehicles, the way that home chargers are handled is very important, along with easy access to public charging infrastructure,” said Dr. Rudolf Krebs, head of Volkswagen Group E-Traction.

Testing EVs is a significant change of course for Volkswagen, whose previous eco-car efforts were focused on diesels. However, VW isn’t the first company to try an EV pilot program. BMW built an electric Mini, the Mini E, and is now testing electric versions of its 1 Series. Honda loaned a few Fit EVs to Google and Stanford University for testing. Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, is testing its A3 e-tron with a similar pilot program.

So far, no production models have come out of any of these programs. Audi has discussed building an electric sports car along the lines of its e-tron concepts, while Volkswagen is talking about electrifying some existing vehicles. The company said it plans to build an electric version of its Up! city car, and showed the E-Bugster, an electric Beetle, at the Detroit Auto Show. A production version of the E-Golf could compete against Ford’s electric Focus. Will the pilot program result in any of these cars getting built? We’ll know in nine months.

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