Flat, fast, and flexible, Volkswagen’s new electric platform can power any car

vw i.d. vizzion concept
VW

Volkswagen is betting its company on electric vehicles in the next decade. In the wake of legal troubles with diesel engines, the company’s new management has decided to go all-in with green cars, SUVs, and vans. VW’s new EV architecture is called MEB, for Modular Electric Toolkit. It makes more sense in German as Modularer Elektrobaukasten. The new vehicle platform is scalable, flexible, and usable only for EVs.

“As early as 2020 we intend to sell 150,000 e-cars, of which 100,000 will be the ID and ID SUV,” stated VW brand board member Thomas Ulbrich. “Speeding up the shift to e-mobility will help us to meet the extraordinarily ambitious CO2 targets that have been set in Europe, China, and the USA.”

VW recently invited Digital Trends to tour it Transparent Factory in Dresden, Germany for a deep dive into the MEB architecture, the new battery pack that will power MEB vehicles, and its plans for affordable charging.

What’s Different About MEB?

MEB is an entirely new vehicle chassis platform, developed from first principles and optimized to be exclusively an EV architecture. The central fact about MEB is that it’s based on a thick, flat foundation with the wheels moved almost out to the four corners of the vehicle.

Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The MEB’s slab design allows the batteries to be placed underneath the passenger compartment in the center of the vehicle. Placing the heavy batteries in the floor keeps the center of gravity low and in the middle of the vehicle. Moving the wheels to the corners helps with overall stability and handling.

VW can place the electric drive motors in the front, in the rear, or at both ends of the vehicle for AWD.

Perhaps the best thing about the MEB is that VW can place the electric drive motors in the front, in the rear, or at both ends of the vehicle for AWD. VW’s engineers told Digital Trends that the primary configuration is expected to be rear-wheel-drive, with all-wheel-drive available as an option. That’s good news for performance driving enthusiasts.

Another advantage of the MEB platform is its adaptability. Because all MEB vehicles will be based on a flat platform with nothing but batteries in the middle, VW can scale the overall size up or down easily, and mount any kind of bodywork on the platform. This allows the company to produce anything from a sports car to a cargo van. Vehicle interior configuration is also adaptable, with a flat floor to build on. VW engineers emphasized that this design also looks forward to increased autonomous capability, when a driver-oriented layout may not be required.

Advanced Battery Tech

Key to the MEB platform transition for VW is the scalable battery pack. With the entire floor area of the vehicle available for battery,VW says the MEB platform will have a base range of about 175 to 300 miles of range, though the battery engineers emphasized that the MEB platform could achieve ranges up to 350 miles. VW used much of the same technology to conquer the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with an EV race car earlier this year.

Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The batteries planned for the MEB are to be made in VW’s plant in Braunschweig, Germany, to keep the supply chain under the company’s control. The battery cells can be made as prismatic (in a rectangular case) or in a pouch format. Either design may be used in the MEB battery pack, which is an aluminum case with plug ends at the perimeter. VW engineers stated that the range of any given ID vehicle could be selected by simply placing more or fewer battery cells into the battery pack, offering consumers an easy choice of ranges.

VW’s engineers told Digital Trends that current technology yields about 650 Watt-hours per liter in a lithium-ion battery, but that by 2030 they expect to achieve 1000 Wh/l from a solid-state battery. That will enable greater ranges as Volkswagen believes EVs will become mainstream.

The People’s Wallbox

One key factor in VW’s electrification plan is charging infrastructure. As EV sales grow, existing charging solutions will need to be expanded, and home charging stations will become commonplace. Towards that end, VW unveiled a home charging station it calls the People’s Wallbox. The wallbox connects to common household 240-volt circuits like any charger, but VW expects it to carry a price of around €300 or $350. VW’s basic wallbox will charge at 11kW, which will fully charge an ID vehicle in 5-8 hours. A 22kW Comfort Wallbox will also be available, capable of charging an ID vehicle in 3-4 hours.

vw meb wallbox
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

VW estimates that 50% of charging will take place at the vehicle owner’s home, with 25% happening at public charging stations and 20% at workplaces. The final 5% of charging is likely to take place at specialized charging stations along major highways, according to VW’s predictions. The company is partnering with numerous third-party companies, including Ionity in Europe and Electrify America in the United States.

MEB Production Plans

Current production plans include a subcompact VW ID hatchback car for the European market in 2019, followed by the U.S. introduction of the ID Crozz compact crossover in 2020, and the retro-looking ID Buzz in 2022. The full size ID Vizzion sedan is also planned for 2022.

By 2020 VW’s facility in Zwickau will produce up to 330,000 MEB vehicles per year.

As one of the world’s largest automakers, VW will offer MEB-based vehicles under several of its brands, naming Audi, SEAT, and Skoda as likely companies to produce MEB models. VW stated plans to invest up to €34 billion in 16 different MEB production facilities in Europe, China, and the United States.

VW’s facility in Zwickau – which used to build the infamous Trabant – will be refitted for MEB production in 2019, and by 2020 it will produce up to 330,000 MEB-based vehicles per year. W will include up to 50 EVs and 30 PHEV options throughout its brand family by 2025. The company plans to launch 27 new electric and plug-in hybrid models worldwide by 2022.

When Can You Buy One?

VW plans to offer the ID Crozz SUV in the United States for the 2020 model year with the ID Buzz following in 2022. Digital Trends asked for pricing information relative to current VW options, and board member Ulbrich responded that the company expects ID vehicles will be sold at about the same price premium that diesel vehicles have commanded above comparable gasoline-fueled cars and SUVs. Based on VW’s price differences in 2015 (the last year for U.S. diesel sales), motorists should expect to pay a premium of anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000 for an ID electric vehicle. Having sold comparatively few EVs up to now, VW’s ID line will be eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit and state-based tax credits as they are currently implemented.

VW’s consistent message was that it views the MEB platform and EV production generally as the future of its brand family, and its vision is that MEB-based EVs will become mainstream volume sellers in the next 10 years. “The MEB is one of the most important projects in the history of Volkswagen,” Ulbrich said. “A technological milestone similar to the transition from the Beetle to the Golf.”

Cars

Peloton’s tech lets truckers play follow the leader to boost fuel economy

Peloton Technology can help semi trucks save fuel by running close together on the highway. Using short-range wireless communications, the trucks get a kind of super cruise control.
Cars

Nissan IMs concept teases a future long-range, autonomous electric car

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Nissan IMs is an electric car with a 380-mile range, autonomous-driving capability, and a backseat designed for being chauffeured. Too bad it's just a concept car.
Cars

Some of Volkswagen’s electric models will wear a ‘Made in the USA’ label

Confirming earlier rumors, Volkswagen has announced it will build electric cars in its Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. The facility currently produces the Passat and the Atlas. Production will start in 2023, Digital Trends can reveal.
Cars

Self-driving, electric, and connected, the cars of CES 2019 hint at the future

Car companies remained surprisingly quiet during CES 2018. But they spoke up in 2019. From electric hatchbacks you can buy in 2019 to super-futuristic mood-detecting technology, here are the major announcements we covered during the event.
Cars

Bosch cautiously moving full-speed ahead with self-driving car tech

The automotive industry's brightest minds are working on making self-driving cars a reality in the not-too-distant future. Digital Trends talked to a self-driving car expert at CES 2019 to gain insight on how the technology is progressing.
Cars

With 341 horsepower, the WRX STI S209 is the most powerful Subaru ever

The Subaru WRX STI S209 is the latest in a series of special editions that have never been sold in the United States before. The 341-horsepower pocket rocket debuts at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.
Cars

China’s GAC Motor cruises into Detroit with all-electric Entranze concept

Chinese automaker GAC Motor brought its all-electric Entranze concept to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. This is the third straight year that GAC has appeared in Detroit, and the company has established a design center in California.
Cars

2020 Ford Explorer branches out with sporty ST, efficiency-focused hybrid models

The 2020 Ford Explorer gets two variants never before seen on Ford's stalwart family hauler. The ST focuses on performance, while the hybrid aims for decent gas mileage. Both models will debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.
Cars

Infiniti previews its leap into one of the hottest industry segments

Infiniti will unveil the QX Inspiration concept at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The design study is an electric crossover shaped by Infiniti's newest design language that may point to a future production model.
Cars

Hyundai’s Veloster N hot hatchback will prove its mettle on the track

The Hyundai Veloster N will go racing to prove the credibility of Hyundai's new N performance division. Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Veloster N race car will compete in a class with other small cars.
Cars

The 2020 Lexus RC F goes on a diet to run faster and hit harder

The Lexus RC F has been one of the heavier cars in its competitive set since its introduction. The Japanese firm's engineers set out to shed weight as they gave the model a mid-cycle update.
Cars

Lexus LC convertible concept teases a new open-air flagship

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Lexus LC convertible concept adds open-air motoring to the sleek LC's resume. But Lexus won't commit to a production version of the car just yet.
Cars

Fast and Furious fans get revved up: Toyota’s Supra sports car is back

The 2020 Toyota Supra made its long-awaited debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The resurrected sports car, famous for a role in The Fast and the Furious, goes on sale in the U.S. this summer.
Cars

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.