Volkswagen stamps its ID onto future of autonomy and electrics

Volkswagen opened up 2016 by previewing an electric future with the Budd-e concept. Now it’s going back to the future with the all-new ID concept, an early sneak peek at a compact electric car that it plans to get to market by 2020. Positioned as a seminal concept, the ID also flashes a look ahead five years further, showing the ID Pilot autonomous driving system. Volkswagen believes the ID will be as important a design as the original Beetle. See if you agree.

Electric is the new diesel at Volkswagen, and at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, the ID stands in as the tangible manifestation of VW Group’s “Together – Strategy 2025” plan, which sets a goal of 30 new electric vehicles across group brands by 2025. Volkswagen also hopes to be selling a million EVs annually by that time.

The LED eyes are one of the distinctive features of the VW ID design

The ID-based production car will be the first of the Volkswagen brand’s new-generation electric vehicles based on Modularer Elektrifizierungsbaukasten (MEB), which VW translates to “Modular Electric Drive Kit.” That means the car rolls on the skateboard chassis with lithium-ion battery mounted flatly into the floor we saw on the Budd-e.

That battery powers a rear-mounted 168-hp (125 kW) electric motor for a robust range between 249 and 373 miles (400 and 600 km), surely enough to help quell range anxiety and make going electric a more appealing proposition for drivers, assuming a competitive price. The battery is charged via induction or hard cable.

The technology behind that level of range within a modest car like the ID isn’t here just yet, but we have seen EVs like the Chevy Bolt offering improved ranges within a more mainstream price point than the likes of the Tesla Model S.

“The breakthrough for e-mobility cannot be achieved without substantial progress in batteries and infrastructure,” VW CEO Matthias Müller says. “So we are working hard on a rapid-charging project spearheaded by Porsche.”

Volkswagen discussed an 800-volt rapid charging system when it introduced the Porsche Mission E concept a year ago. The system is designed to get the Mission E’s battery charged up to 80 percent in 15 minutes time, offering the lion’s share of the car’s 311-mile (500-km) range after a relatively quick, painless juice-up. For the ID, VW estimates 30 minutes for an 80 percent charge.

Volkswagen premieres the ID concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show

Beyond next-gen electric powertrain technology, the ID concept also previews Volkswagen’s plans for compact electric-vehicle design language. It takes a step away from the more traditional ICE-influenced styling of the Budd-e, losing the central front grille for a cleaner, Model S-like nose, with ventilation perforations down low. We like the idea of electric cars losing the unnecessary grille, but we think designers are going to have to figure out something more interesting than the white-out face with creased nose.

“The electric powertrain gives our designers far greater freedom,” explains VW design chief Klaus Bischoff. “We have shrunk the cooling grilles to a minimum, shifted the axles far outwards and created breathtaking proportions. We had the unique opportunity to guide Volkswagen into a new era, and with the ID we have taken this opportunity.”

Volkswagen strived to emphasize the headlight design, and it shows. The open, rounded trapezoid illuminated surrounds wrap the interactive interior LEDs. We’re used to the metaphor of headlights as eyes, but Volkswagen takes a more literal approach with the individual LEDs.

The LED eyes are one of the distinctive features of the VW ID design

The headlights are programmed to mimic the human eye, going into shut-eye sleep mode when parked, waking up into “bright eyed” morning mode when the car is turned on, and going so far as to watch the driver or pedestrians approach the vehicle – a little creepy, that last bit. The active lights also adjust during driving, for instance, providing a more dynamic look during spirited acceleration and “looking” in the direction of a forthcoming turn.

The other lights of the vehicle follow suit, offering different appearances at different times. When the car is charging, the blue light strips on the diffusers and side sills pulsate, as if breathing. During autonomous driving, the laser scanners on the roof and lights around the vehicle light up in blue.

Speaking of autonomy, Volkswagen calls the car its first vehicle ever capable of fully autonomous driving and refers to that option as “ID Pilot” mode. The driver need only press the illuminated VW logo on the steering wheel for three seconds and the car initiates the process, displaying an alert on the 10-in center and head-up displays when it is ready to commence auto-driving.

When the driver pulls back from the controls, the steering wheel retracts neatly into the dash and the car takes over. We find Volkswagen’s steering wheel retraction design a bit smoother and neater than those we’ve seen on other concept cars, like the Rinspeed Etos.

VW ID steering wheel retracted for autonomous Pilot ID mode

The ID relies on a combination of four extendable roof-mounted laser scanners, ultrasonic sensors, radar sensors, and side- and front-view cameras to detect its surroundings and navigate safely without human input. Volkswagen aims to bring ID Pilot-style autonomy to market by 2025.

Volkswagen hasn’t revealed many pictures of the interior, other than a few rough sketches, but it has dedicated some words to it. Framed as an “open space,” the four-seat cabin takes advantage of the flexibility provided by the floor-integrated battery and rear-mounted motor, lending an open, airy feel. The space is flexible, as the rear seats can fold up to the seat backs, like movie theater seating, and also retract into the floor to create a flat load floor.

Technology is paramount to the cabin design, the driver relying on a 10-in active information display and an augmented reality head-up display. The latter projects arrows and navigational images out at a perceived distance of 23 to 49 feet (7 to 15 m), in effect superimposing directions onto actual streets and intersections.

An e-mirror transmits images from the two side-view cameras and the rear-view camera. The driver controls the car through a combination of touch displays, capacitive keypads, voice and gesture control, including touch-enabled keypads around the steering wheel for selecting driving/parking mode and activating turn signals.

The Volkswagen ID concept is a preview of both 2020 and 2025

The three passengers also have access to tech of their own: touchscreens and capacitive sliders in the door panels that serve to control and view settings related to air conditioning, entertainment and interior lighting, along with basics like windows and locks. We assume the controls are for individual comfort and entertainment zones, so as not to set up wars and pranks between occupants, but Volkswagen is clear that the functions can be restricted by the driver, much like today’s child locks.

Volkswagen also packs in some other features that feel a little extraneous in a concept with so much primary technology and design to focus on. But things like smart car-smart home connectivity, smart package delivery acceptance, and yet more light show gimmickry are all there, too.

It’s way too early to try to pin down a price on a 2020 car that’s still but a kitchen sink of potential future features and technologies, but Volkswagen does mention that it intends to keep the price around that of a “comparably powerful and well-equipped Golf.” Today the Golf starts around US$20K, the e-Golf around $29K. More expensive trim levels and options quickly send those prices well into the $30s and higher.

Dr. Hans C. Mumm