Volkswagen Plug In ComingEnlarge Photo
It's often said that plug-in hybrids are the "gateway drug" to pure battery-electric vehicles, exposing drivers to the electric-car experience without looming range anxiety.
Now it appears that a member of the powerful board of global automaker Volkswagen Group agrees.
In an interview with the Australian outlet CarAdvice, VW board member and head of powertrain development Heinz-Jakob Neusser called plug-in hybrids just a "bridging technology."
The ultimate goal, he suggested, remains entirely battery-electric vehicles that can benefit from ubiquitous fast-charging capability for trips beyond their range.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (Euro spec) - Driven, Portland OR, July 2014 (credit: NWAPA)Enlarge Photo
"We have two bridging technologies, on one hand is a plug-in hybrid technology and the other one is fuel cells," Neusser told CarAdvice.
"Both enlarge your operating range of the car when you have no recharging system available,” he explained.
While the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf battery-electric vehicle will go on sale in limited U.S. markets next month, the bulk of VW Group's efforts today are focused on plug-in hybrids.
The company has said it expects to offer plug-in hybrid powertrains on every volume model it sells, even including the next generation of the low-production Audi R8 supercar.
The group's first two plug-in hybrids are the Volkswagen Golf GTE (not sold in the U.S.) and the 2016 Audi A3 SportBack e-tron, which will go on sale roughly a year from now.
2016 Audi A3 e-tron - First DriveEnlarge Photo
With battery cost historically falling at a rate of 7 percent a year, most analysts expect full electric cars to be price-competitive with gasoline cars--which will get more expensive--sometime between 2018 and 2025.
The cost reductions will be used to extend range, lower purchase price, and most likely offer a range of battery-pack sizes and prices.
And anything that gives drivers a taste of electric propulsion--full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or electric cars themselves--is bound to have a lasting impact.
Looking at how to meet emissions and fuel-economy regulations of 2025 and beyond, VW Group's chief powertrain executive clearly sees that battery-electric cars are the long-term goal.
We also note he views hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as only a transitory step in that direction as well.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf Vs. 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDIEnlarge Photo
As recently as five years ago, VW insisted that plug-in vehicles wouldn't sell and that high-efficiency diesels were the appropriate green alternative.
That's quite a change in a short time. Maybe there's something to those electric cars after all.