As a group, German automakers have not been at the front of the move toward plug-in electric cars.
Nonetheless, Volkswagen Group will be the world leader in electric and hybrid cars by 2018.
The bold claim came not from an offhand comment by an executive at this week's Frankfurt Auto Show, but in a press release announcing that the VW Group had set its "sights on market leadership in electric mobility by 2018."
“We are starting at exactly the right time," said Group CEO Martin Winterkorn before the show.
"We are electrifying all vehicle classes, and therefore have everything we need to make the Volkswagen Group the top automaker in all respects, including electric mobility, by 2018."
2014 Volkswagen Jetta HybridEnlarge Photo
14 hybrids, electrics next year
And, he noted, the company will sell 14 hybrid and electric models by the end of next year.
For the U.S. market, those include the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid and Touareg Hybrid, the Audi Q5 Hybrid, the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid and Panamera S Hybrid, and the upcoming Panamera S E-Hybrid, the company's first plug-in hybrid.
Some U.S. markets--California and perhaps others--will also receive small numbers of the Volkswagen e-Golf introduced at Frankfurt.
Covering all bases
As one of the world's three largest automakers--Toyota and GM are the others--Volkswagen must invest in every form of powertrain technology.
It has long offered diesel engines in a wide range of its products globally (and its Audi brand is urging U.S. regulators to give them the same incentives as zero-emission vehicles). It also sells natural-gas powered cars in Germany and other markets.
2014 Porsche Panamera S E-HybridEnlarge Photo
After a decade of watching Toyota dominate hybrid-electric vehicle technology, the company now offers a handful of hybrids--somewhat reluctantly, it seems.
But fans of German engineering and roadholding will be pleased to hear Winterkorn state unequivocally, “The electric car cannot be a compromise on wheels, it must convince customers in every respect.”
Plug-in hybrids: the sweet spot
The VW CEO's next statement may not be as inspiring; he goes on to declaim that the main reasons to buy an electrified car--whether hybrid or plug-in electric--were "environmental compatibility and sustainability."
But green concerns are only one of several motivations to buy a plug-in car. It may be that Winterkorn was speaking largely of the company's European buyers, who as a group are more concerned about issues of climate change and the environmental impact of autos.
Winterkorn also said the plug-in hybrid had the greatest market potential.
2013 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
Nissan, Toyota may differ?
We suspect that another CEO, Carlos Ghosn of the Nissan-Renault Alliance, might have different views.
The Nissan Leaf was the world's first modern battery-electric car produced in volume when it went on sale in December 2010, and Nissan has invested heavily in fully electric vehicles.
While sales have been slower than predicted, Nissan and its partner, the French maker Renault, have now sold more than 100,000 battery-electric vehicles globally.
And the two companies show no signs of stopping, with plants in Japan, the U.S., and Europe both for vehicle assembly and lithium-ion cell production.
During the Frankfurt show, the Renault-Nissan Alliance tweeted a quote from Ghosn: "I welcome Germany joining the club of countries supporting electric cars."
Similarly, Toyota has now built more than 5 million hybrid vehicles since 1997, giving it about two-thirds of the world market for this technology.
Can Volkswagen catch up? Is its goal of dominating hybrid and electric vehicle production by 2018 more than a pipe dream?
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