Why VW’s remarkable I.D. Crozz EV is only the the start of its electric plans

At the L.A. Auto Show earlier this month, Volkswagen announced that they are going to build a VW electric car based on their striking I.D. CROZZ concept. The German automaker plans to have the electric crossover available for U.S. sales in 2020, ahead of an electric reboot of the iconic VW microbus based on the I.D. Buzz concept. The Bus EV is expected in 2022.

“The I.D. Crozz-based electric vehicle will be an affordable and stylish electric SUV, and there is more to come,” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “The I.D. Crozz and the I.D. Buzz will help Volkswagen to kick off an EV revolution in the United States.”

Looking for clues in the I.D. Crozz

VW unveiled the I.D. Crozz at the Shanghai Auto Show last April and updated it for the the Frankfurt show in the fall of 2017. Essentially, the more the actual production vehicle resembles the concept, the better it will be. The Crozz features voice-activated doors and, and it’s touted as having VW’s most advanced self-driving technology.

The more the actual production vehicle resembles the concept, the better it will be.

VW calls its autonomous system the I.D. Pilot, and expects to have it ready for prime time by 2025. The I.D. Pilot system relies on four laser scanners that pop up from the roof, as well as ultrasonic and radar sensors, side area view cameras and a front camera. The concept even includes a steering wheel that retracts into the dash when the autopilot is active.

The I.D. Crozz is compact, about the size of a 2018 VW Tiguan in a four-door coupe form, but it offers about the same interior passenger and cargo volume of a mid-size SUV, due to the efficiencies possible with a pure EV design.

There’s also a performance play, because the I.D. Crozz carries an 83-kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the floor. Motion comes from a pair of electric motors mounted front and rear. The front motor is rated at 101 horsepower and the rear gives you 201 more ponies, for a combined system output of 302 HP. The concept I.D. Crozz has a range of up to 300 miles, challenging the Tesla Model X for range, if not in raw performance.

VW is sticking with the 4MOTION label with the I.D. Crozz AWD system, even though it bears no relation to the existing systems. The EV uses the rear motor as the default drive motor, and uses the front motor to engage only when needed for traction. However, the driver will be able to manually engage the front motor for off-pavement or snow and ice conditions.

Why the I.D. Crozz works

The I.D. Crozz and the I.D. Buzz look great, as concept cars should, but the real work that makes these concepts important for the future of both VW and the EV world is under the skin. The I.D. series has a whole new modular chassis, called MEB (for Modular Electric Toolkit), that is designed from scratch as an EV platform, and that will allow VW to produce a wide variety of electric vehicles – potentially 15 different EV bodies for the global market by 2025.

vw electric car meb
MEB Concept (dramatization)
MEB Concept (dramatization)

The main thing to know about the new EV platform is that it’s essentially a thick slab. It’s flat, unlike the unibody stampings that have dominated the industry for the last several decades. The batteries live inside the slab under the driver’s feet. That low position of the battery pack helps to improve handling by giving the I.D. series a low center of gravity. It also gives the engineers a lot of control over the front-rear weight distribution.

But the real benefit is that you can put just about any kind of body on top of the slab, from a sedan or SUV to a microbus or pickup truck to a commercial delivery van. That gives VW options in a diverse market like the United States.

A deep dive on the I.D. platform with Matthias Erb

While we were at the L.A. Auto Show, I caught a chance to sit down with VW’s Matthias Erb, Executive Vice President and Chief Engineering Officer for VW’s North American Region, and talk about why the I.D. platform is significant.

You can put just about any kind of body on top of the slab, from a sedan to a microbus or delivery van.

“All of our tradition Volkswagen cars and all the cars we see outside [in VW’s auto show display] will fit in the MEB platform,” he said. “We start with the I.D. Crozz in 2020. Then we plan for a sedan.”

With the continuing rise in SUV sales and sagging sedan sales, that sounded odd, so I asked Erb to elaborate.

“We’re convinced that sedans will not go away,” he insisted. “Why won’t they go away? Because they are more efficient. We’re not going to focus solely on SUVs. We’re still convinced that an attractive sedan also makes perfect sense.”

But with a blank slate, consumers can expect a variety of options on the I.D. platform.

“We have such a long heritage in this company. You can basically bring everything on a rolling chassis,” Erb said. “We will look for a second SUV, of course. Because as you can see, the I.D. Crozz is like a compact, so why not go for a mid-size? Then there will be two versions of the Buzz. There will be a commercial version and let’s say a recreational version.

Commercial electric vehicles are a huge potential market, and VW would be competing with models like Ford’s Transit Connect and the Mercedes Sprinter series.

“I cannot speak for our commercial side because they are still not here in the U.S., but I can actually confirm that there will be [commercial] conversions of the bus,” Erb revealed. “The commercial guys are planning a full electrical line-up. So these are the things that we can currently confirm and as you might imagine, these are the benefits of the platform. You can now start to discuss a lot more things.”

Through the discussion, Erb was insistent that the transition to the I.D. platform is incremental and evolutionary, not a clean break from the cars we drive today.

“We’re not totally reinventing the car, in my opinion,” Erb said. “This is not as if all the cars are flying. We have to extend our cars. Perhaps in a better way, in a more entertaining way, or whatsoever. But nevertheless, these are still vehicles. We have to make cars more safe, more convenient to drive in circumstances where you do not want to drive. But at the end of the day, it’s still individual transportation.”

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