Volkswagen Revives the Spirit of the Beetle With the Electric ID.4
The new SUV hopes to win over Americans by being too practical to ignore
“For us, psychologically, we’re thinking about the ID.4 as our next Beetle.”
Sure, it doesn’t look like a Beetle or sound like a Beetle, and it certainly isn’t powered like the air-cooled, rear-engine original, but according to Matthew Renna, vice president of e-mobility and innovation at Volkswagen of America, the company’s new electric SUV achieves the same goal as the automaker’s most iconic car: practicality.
With that goal in mind — and the ID.4 released on Wednesday and available to preorder now — Volkswagen is hoping to convince Americans to finally make the switch to electric.
“I can’t confirm that we won’t bring [the Beetle] body shape back in an electric car, I can’t confirm that we will, but I think what the Beetle represented culturally and practically to consumers when it was launched was an everyday, accessible family car,” Renna tells InsideHook. “When we think about what that looks like today, it doesn’t look the same as it did back then when the Beetle was launched.”
Instead, Volkswagen thinks the ideal family car is a compact SUV that seats five, features ample storage space and offers inoffensive design, which is what you get with the new ID.4. While “inoffensive” may sound like a dis, it’s more about how Volkswagen’s first vehicle in its new electric era in the States falls squarely between the space-age design of Elon Musk’s Tesla (the spartan, touchscreen-focused interior is sometimes off-putting to mainstream drivers) and the if ain’t broke don’t fix it ethos of previous mainstream offerings like the Chevrolet Bolt or Nissan Leaf.
In terms of performance and price, it also finds itself in the middle ground of the current electric market, despite Volkswagen’s attempt to frame the ID.4 as unique in its appeal “to millions, not just the millionaires.” It offers an estimated 250 miles of range, which is solid even for people who won’t have a charger at home — as Renna notes, that’s about how many miles the average American drives in a week, and probably lower because of the pandemic — even if that’s about the same as the Bolt or base Tesla Model 3.
Meanwhile, the MSRP of $39,995 for the ID.4 Pro may not sound super affordable at first glance, but that figure is only $1,300 over the average new vehicle price in the U.S., according to Kelley Blue Book, and the federal electric car tax credit of $7,500 has the potential to put it in competition with other compact SUVs, not just electric ones.
“We prefer to look at ourselves competing against the internal combustion counterparts,” says Renna. “When I stack this up next to the ICE counterparts, the highest-volume in the segment, the [Toyota] RAV4s, the [Honda] CR-Vs, I think we have a really tremendous package that will start to pull buyers from the traditional powertrains into electric.”
The keyword there is “start.” Not only is the ID.4 just the opening shot of Volkswagen’s planned electric-vehicle army, but this individual model will come in waves. First, there’s the limited-run ID.4 1st Edition, which will be available later this year, starts at $43,995 and will feature some unique badging and other styling upgrades for VW diehards. Then there’s the aforementioned ID.4 Pro, the base model which will be available sometime in the first quarter of 2021. Both of those are only available in rear-wheel drive; the first ID.4 AWD Pro, starting at $43,695, will be coming to dealers in late 2021. Like we said, waves.
One of the big selling points touted for the ID.4 is that people who buy or lease the vehicle will get three years of free charging from Electrify America’s network. This wasn’t altogether unexpected; after all, Volkswagen itself started the charging company as part of its penance for their Dieselgate emissions scandal. Add to that the fact that most EV owners do most of their charging at home, not on the road, and it sort of dampens the excitement.
On the other hand, for people who maybe didn’t buy an electric car before because of range anxiety, or because they thought they couldn’t go on road trips, the ID.4 pretty much solves that. Again, while it may not be top-of-the-line fast in terms of charging, at a DC fast-charging station with 125kW charging, you can juice the SUV from a five-percent charge to 80 percent in an estimated 38 minutes. That’s not five minutes at a gas pump, but it’s not bad.
When asked about Volkswagen’s decision to offer a relatively staid, rear-wheel drive car in order to keep the price point low (in the grand scheme of electric vehicles, especially considering this is on their brand-new, state-of-the-art MEB platform), Renna says it’s due to their focus on the mass market.
“Volkswagen’s always represented the people’s car,” he explains. “I think that’s an important brand trademark that we have globally. We have some high-end cars in our lineup, for sure, you could point to some of the cars we’ve had in the U.S. like the Touareg … but the majority of what we sell are really aimed towards the average person.”
Right now, even with the $7,500 federal tax credit, the ID.4 is on the high end of Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup, and not quite at the price parity mark where experts expect electric vehicles to finally overtake fossil fuel cars. But if the driving experience lives up to the promises when these hit dealerships, if the rollout is smoother than the European ID.3 and if people see something of the Beetle in the ID.4, then more Americans may find themselves switching to electric earlier than they expected.
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