Martin Eberhard, one of the key figures in bringing back the electric car, is consulting with Volkswagen Group on its electric cars, according to various sources. Can't confirm it, but figured you might want to know.
Volkswagen formally announced its interest in electric cars at last fall's Frankfurt Auto Show. At the show, Audi (one of Volkswagen's primary brands) formally unveiled the E-Tron, an all-electric sports car with hub motors coming in 2012 while Volkswagen showed off the E-Up!, an economy car coming to the states in 2013 with an electric scooter in the trunk. That's the E-Tron in the photo with Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler.
How excited is Volkswagen about electric cars? It depends whom you ask. Ulrich Hackenberg, a member of VW's board and the exec who oversees technical development, said that Volkswagen will release the E-Up!in part to meet fleet emissions regulations.
"The reason we are looking at EVs is the American market. EVs will be necessary to sell cars in the USA," he told me. There's enthusiasm for you. (Hackenberg further added that VW will not engage in battery swapping.)
By contrast, Stadler and Michael Dick who oversees Audi's technological development, seemed more upbeat. Diesel and gas engines will remain Volkswagen's stock in trade, but electrics will inevitably grow.
"When we think about limited resources, this (electric) will be the way to go, but nobody knows the return on investment," said Stadler. "We will see gas and diesel cars for the next 30 years."
Hackenberg and Stadler have been rumored to be two of the three candidates in line to become the overall head of the conglomerate in the next few years.
Serving as an advisor would also seem a natural role for Eberhard. Eberhard gets kudos for being a visionary--he started an electronic book company back in the 90s. However, his track record for scaling up ideas into full-fledged companies is spotty. The electric book company got bought by a company that effectively specializes in patent licensing. The books disappeared. Tesla underwent several delays while he served as CEO. If Audi wants to talk to someone well versed in how to build an electric car and source it, he's your guy.
We saw him in May and he said he was working on some secretive project.
I can't confirm this--Tesla declined to comment and Audi did not call back. But I've now heard it from a number of independent sources so I figured I'd publish it and maybe some publicity will help shed more light. I give it a greater than 50 percent chance of being true.