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Meet the VW ID electric car: 300-plus mile range in 2020, self-driving by 2025

The 2016 Paris Auto Show is heavy on electric vehicle announcements. Volkswagen had one of the most intriguing concept car debuts Thursday, unveiling the Volkswagen ID battery electric vehicle. Depending on the drive system (that is, battery and motor), the car would go 249 to 373 miles (400-600 kilometers) on a single charge when it ships in 2020, Volkswagen says.

By 2025, the VW ID will be self-driving, the company says. That makes VW more conservative than others such as Ford, which says it will have a self-drive car within five years, or by 2021. Volkswagen’s goal is to sell 1 million electric cars a year by 2025, or 10% of of sales.

The VW ID motor configuration will be arranged like the BMW i3 (and unlike the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt), with the engine driving the rear, not front, wheels. The lithium-ion battery pack will be mounted under the passenger compartment, lowering the center of gravity.

You might think putting something heavy up front, such as the motor, is good for crash protection, like having more armor on the glacis plate and turret face of a tank. The opposite is true. With nothing in front (other than your sacrificial luggage), engineers are freer to create a crumple zone on a vehicle just 13 feet (157 inches) long. It also means the wheel wells can be wider, allowing for a city-friendly 32.5-foot turning circle.

This will be VW’s first use of its MEB, modular electric drive kit, or Modularer Elektrifizierungsbaukasten. (And you thought fahrvergnügen was a long word.) This means the chassis configuration can be scaled up or down to build bigger EVs — for the US, perhaps — and even smaller vehicles for space-constrained mega-cities.

In Paris, Volkswagen brand CEO Herbert Diess said, “In 2020 we will begin to introduce an entire family of electric vehicles on the market. All of them will be based on a new vehicle architecture [MEB], which was specially and exclusively developed for all-electric vehicles. Not for combustion engine or plug-in hybrid vehicles. The I.D. stands for this new era of all-electric vehicles, for a new automotive era: electrical, connected and autonomously driving.”

Volkswagen sees the ID EV as the company’s next major car: “For Volkswagen, the world premiere of the iconic I.D. in Paris marks a watershed. This car is as revolutionary as the Beetle was seven decades ago and the first Golf was 40 years ago, vehicles that went on to become two of the world’s most successful cars of all time.”

VW, perhaps more than any other automaker, wants to make a splash with EVs because it got burned so badly selling millions of diesel cars that were purposely built to skirt emissions regulations. The ID is a fresh start.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen is also bumping up the range of its current e-Golf to 186 miles on the more lenient European test cycle. Using the EPA test cycle, it would probably get 110-130 miles. Most affordable, non-Tesla EVs in the US, such as Nissan Leaf and e-Golf, are now trying to move past “almost 100 miles” range to 125 miles or so. That translates to a range improvement of about 25%. The next benchmark is 200 miles, give or take, from the Chevrolet Bolt (due late this year) and the Tesla Model 3 (due late 2017).

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Five years after the first MEB EVs from VW in 2020, there will be self-driving EVs. The ID’s steering wheel will retract into the dashboard by pressing firmly on the center of the wheel. That will make the car more spacious for the front-seat passengers. That means the self-driving car can be driven, by humans, on roads that aren’t 3D-mapped. That is how most experts see the early years of self-drive cars playing: The cars will work from an exacting map of streets, signs, traffic signals, median berms, driveway cutouts, railroad crossings, and bridges. The car’s lidar and radar sensors will position the car relative to the map data and track other cars, cyclists, pedestrians, and animals. That’s how, for instance, the autonomous Ford Fusion shown last month in Dearborn, Michigan, was able to navigate public roads.

VW may use the ID to showcase its commitment to connections between the car, driver, and home. Any VW driver would get a personal Volkswagen ID that knows the person’s seat settings, HVAC preferences, song lists, and navigation configuration (such as 2D North up versus 3D birds-eye view). The profile would be accessed through the cloud, securely, of course. The user would use his or her phone to perform authentication. Once under way, the car would connect to cameras within the home, so you could be assured all is in order.

VW envisions its cars having mailboxes — physical mailboxes — in the car. This way a package delivery could be made to the car, not home, if it’s more convenient. When away from the car, the driver would grant temporary access to UPS or DHL to insert a package; then the slot would be locked again, so the car didn’t become a repository for litter or letter bombs.

VW sees the side mirrors replaced by rear-facing cameras. As long as battery charge is good, the car will uses LED headlamps to mimic the human eye. The lights would be dimmed or off when you’re away (the car is sleeping), then greet your return with “an all-new 360-degree light show: The transparent Volkswagen logos at the front and in the trunk lid light up in white. This is then followed by blue lighting in the front bumper diffuser, the side sills, and the rear diffuser. In the final stage of this light show, the ID opens its “eyes” and, last but not least, white light shines in the four door handles.”

VW sees the car using cable-free inductive charging, if it’s ready by 2020, with a fallback to traditional plug-in chargers.

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