Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ new boss must tread carefully in striking the right balance between old and new technologies, George Barrow reports.
On 1 September 2018, Dr Eckhard Scholz stepped down as CEO of VW Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) after more than four years in the role.
Despite inheriting a revitalised, and enormously successful, product line-up, his successor Dr Thomas Sedran, the former senior vice-president of group strategy for Volkswagen Group, has taken over the reins at a critical time for the future development of VW’s van division.
With hybrid and electric vehicles becoming a focus for manufacturers across the industry, Sedran, making his first public appearance as VWCV CEO, unveiled five new alternative-fuelled vehicles (AFVs) at the IAA Show in Hannover in September.
Electric production versions of the Caddy and Transporter were debuted as well as a hydrogen fuel-cell concept HyMotion Crafter, the autonomous driving ID Buzz Cargo concept, and an electric cargo bike.
Speaking exclusively to What Van?, Sedran was quick to emphasise the significance of the new models but underlined the balance AFVs play in the wider context of the industry.
“Electric powertrains are absolutely necessary for our offers in urban areas,” Sedran says, “but I personally think that for many applications diesel engines are still, from an economic and ecological aspect, the better powertrains.
“It’s a fact of life that some politicians believe we need to all go full-electric. I think the Volkswagen Group is working on bold plans to go full-electric, and there’s an opportunity for us to leverage those components for our [VWCV] offers.
“The ID Buzz Cargo is a brilliant example of leveraging the skills of the group in creating something truly valuable for the customers. We need these electric vehicles, because if you don’t sell a battery electric vehicle you don’t sell a combustion engine vehicle.”
Electrification is a growing concern as European-wide targets for manufacturers, due in 2021, will require product ranges to meet average CO2 targets, targets that will only be achieved through the widespread availability of zero-emissions vehicles. With the launch of its new AFVs, VW is already well on the way to meeting those targets, but could uptake be hampered by a widespread lack of investment in the charging or refuelling network for these vehicles?
“We have to think of renewable energies as just a contribution of reaching our parent company’s climate targets. I can’t imagine you will transport everything with a battery electric truck – this is insane.”
“[Charging] in the cities is a big question. I don’t blame anybody but right now there isn’t really a masterplan behind it, because if there was a masterplan you would also talk to utilities and be giving funding to create the infrastructure,” Sedran explains.
“I expect that to be really difficult, and all OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] across Europe will need to sell a lot of EVs going forward – 2020 onwards – very suddenly, and I’m concerned that the infrastructure is not there yet. Diesel is a must-have in commercial vehicles.”