This Touareg is not like the others.
The Volkswagen Group will show off its first hybrid in New York City next week, the 2011 Touareg, and in effect will usher itself into the new car market. Volkswagen is one of the few major car makers that doesn't already have a hybrid on the road. Stefan Jacoby, president of Volkswagen US, and Walter da Silva, who oversees design for the company, will preside over the event, which takes place Tuesday, March 30 at the IAC Building.
Volkswagen will also be one of the last to put an electric car on the market. The Volkswagen Group will come out with an all-electric Audi sports car, the E-Tron, in 2012, and will follow it up with the Volkswagen-branded E-Up!, an economy car with an electric scooter in the trunk, in 2013. (Audi also has a hybrid with lithium ion batteries coming.)
Nissan and General Motors plan to launch the Leaf and the Volt, respectively, later this year. The Leaf is all-electric vehicle while the Volt is a plug-in hybrid, but the Volt will mostly operate as an electric car, GM anticipates. Ford has a variety of plug-ins and all-electrics coming over the next 2.5 years. Toyota has a plug-in on the way, as well.
Why is Volkswagen bringing up the rear? The market is still in its infancy, for one thing. Even though Nissan and others will be earlier to market, none of these major manufacturers believe that their markets will be dominated by electric cars anytime soon. Renault-Nissan said that 10 percent of its cars will be all-electric by 2020. Ford says that 25 percent of cars sold by 2020 will be hybrids or electrics with the vast majority of that slice constituting standard hybrids. Ergo, a manufacturer can probably be a little late and still not get left behind.
Second, Volkswagen loves diesel. Last year, the company sold out of diesel Audis and Volkswagens in the U.S. "We think that diesel could grow to around 15 percent of the [U.S.] market," Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, told us last year. Why not lead with your strengths? (Similarly, most of Ford's efforts in energy efficiency are really wrapped around the efficient EcoBoost engine.) As a result, electrics sometimes sound like an afterthought at Volkswagen.
"We will be in the market with this car [the E-Up!] in 2013," Ulrich Hackenberg, a member of the VW board, told us last year at the Frankfurt Auto Show. "The reason we are looking at EVs is the American market. EVs will be necessary to sell cars in the USA."
Still, the company is intrigued by electric. It hired Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard (reported here first). Dr. Ferdinand Porsche built the first hybrid in 1902. Porsche became part of Volkswagen last year.