The secret plan, uncovered by Autocar earlier this year, has been hatched by VW brand boss Herbert Diess as a crucial pillar in the firm’s attempts to rebuild its reputation in the wake of the emissions scandal and is described as a watershed project similar in depth to the multi-billion-pound engineering undertaking that spawned the i3 at BMW, his former employer.
Diess has told Volkswagen’s engineering bosses to create “the Volkswagen for the digital age”, and the top engineering talent at the firm’s Braunschweig R&D centre is already working on the new car.
Diess has challenged his team to set new benchmarks for electric performance as well as developing cutting-edge connectivity and infotainment systems and style the car so it stands out as a statement of VW’s technical capabilities.
The hand-picked team of engineers is currently defining the packaging of the new zero-emissions model, which is understood to be around 4400mm in length. That compares with the Golf’s 4255mm and suggests that it will fight for sales in the same segment while offering a unique powertrain, interior environment and look.
“It will make a huge statement,” a senior engineer with knowledge of VW’s research and development plans revealed. “It’s planned to use cutting-edge technology but at a price that makes it attainable for the average motorist."
Autocar has been told the dedicated electric car will be the first to use the Volkswagen Group’s new MEB architecture, which has been developed specifically for electric cars.
The platform was showcased on the Budd-e MPV concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, with VW claiming the architecture “heralds a fundamental change in electric cars, and thus for the car in general, because the MEB throws all fossil fuel ballast of the present overboard, having been designed specifically for electric cars”.
As a result, Volkswagen says the body design, interior design, interior packaging and drive characteristics of electrically powered cars will change dramatically.
Changes compared with current car design are said to focus on the opportunity to have a far more spacious interior in a car with a much smaller footprint, greater agility and greater connectivity opportunities. In addition, Volkswagen has targeted a significant growth in electric range through the use of compact electric motors and high-performance batteries.
Plans for the all-electric model were confirmed by Matthias Müller, who added hat the vehicle would be cheaper than equivalent models with combustion engines.
“This is the future - nobody can say when it is a reality but we are working on it,” he said.
To date, with the exception of the ultra-high-tech XL1, Volkswagen has concentrated its electric car developments on existing models such as the Up and Golf. Prior to the emissions scandal, it had been taking a cautious approach to electric car sales.
While Volkswagen is banking on a range of up to 300km (186 miles) for the next-generation e-Golf due in 2018, the engineering parameters for the new electric call for the 310-mile-plus range range - the same distance claimed by Porsche for the production version of its Mission-E saloon.
Despite the apparent parallels between the Budd-e concept and the stand-alone electric car, a key source at Volkswagen’s R&D centre said they were being developed separately, albeit off the same MEB platform.
Müller has previously confirmed that there will be 20 electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles in the VW Group’s range by 2020.
“We are using the current crisis to fundamentally realign the group,” he said. “I feel we now have the chance to build a new and better Volkswagen.”