First Look: Every Upcoming Small VW Electric Vehicle
February 11, 2019  Aaron Gold


Without body panels or a real interior, anyway.

Volkswagen gave us our first look at an undisguised prototype of its future
electric cars—sort of. This is the MEB (Modular Elektrobaukasten) platform
which will underpin the VW Group’s future compact and subcompact
battery-powered EVs, including the production versions of the
Volkswagen-brand concepts we’ve seen so far: I.D., I.D. Crozz, I.D. Vizzion,
and I.D. Buzz.

For those familiar with modern battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), there’s
nothing radical here: The battery pack is under the floor, the mechanical
bits are ahead of the firewall, and the control hardware is spread
throughout the chassis. With no need to support an internal-combustion
powertrain, the MEB platform features short overhangs, no driveline/exhaust
tunnel, and a low cargo-area floor.

During the presentation, Volkswagen touted the benefits of a dedicated EV
architecture versus making a BEV out of the MQB platform that underpins the
e-Golf—primarily that there’s no need to stuff batteries and other equipment
into whichever nook or cranny will fit them. Volkswagen blames the
petrol-first layout for the electric Golf’s 125-mile range, and while we’re
a bit skeptical—Hyundai gets 258 miles out of the Kona Electric, which
shares its structure with variants that have internal-combustion
engines—it’s obvious MEB has plenty of space for a large battery. We have no
reason to doubt VW’s estimate of 200 to 300 miles of range, and with the
rapid advances being made in battery chemistry, we’d hope those numbers are

We did learn additional interesting bits about the MEB platform. First,
although BEVs can have their motors pretty much any place the engineers
please, MEB-based cars will offer either rear- or all-wheel-drive. VW is
looking for rear-drive performance benefits, which we applaud; still, we
have to wonder what fate will befall Snow Belt buyers want a budget-friendly
electric car but might be uncomfortable with rear-drive. If they want a VW,
they’ll have to pony up for the extra-cost all-wheel-drive system. (Or get
winter tires, which can make the drive wheels somewhat less of an issue.)
With so much flexibility in powertrain placement, we can’t help but wonder
why Volkswagen wouldn’t make front-drive BEVs as well.

Another curiosity: The rear brakes are drums. We assumed this was primarily
a cost-cutting move; after all, modern BEVs rely heavily on regenerative
braking (using the motors as generators to charge the battery, which creates
resistance that slows the car), to the point that friction brakes do only a
fraction of the work. VW tells us that drums have less rolling resistance
when the brakes are released. Rear-wheel drive and disc/drum brakes? It’s
the 1970s all over again!

The point Volkswagen was looking to make—and the one we see as most
important—is that the electric cars it promised in the wake of Dieselgate
are well on their way, and that it won’t be staking its future on cars that
offer myriad powertrain options. The MEB platform shows that it is
approaching EVs as it would gasoline or diesel cars, creating an
architecture that can underpin a family of products designed to suit every
purse and purpose. Considering that VW is the world’s largest automaker, MEB
could signal a sea change in the availability and acceptance of BEVs.

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