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Why the Volkswagen I.D. concept matters

More info on VW's all-new, all-electric hatch scheduled for 2020

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This is, bar the details, pretty much the electric VW you’ll be seeing on a road near you from 2020. VW people are talking of the I.D. concept, or rather the production car it’ll spawn, as a reboot for the whole company. And not just because, like the original Beetle, it has its motor in the rear.

It sits on the VW Group’s new electric platform. The I.D. has a rear motor, and a steering wheel. But significantly the platform is designed for all-wheel-drive, much higher performance, all sorts of bodyshells and also much bigger sizes. And, from 2025 or so, fully autonomous driving. That’s why the I.D concept has a steering wheel that retracts into the dash when it’s not being used.

Like most purpose-designed electric cars, the motor and battery lie flat under the floor. So you’ve basically got a skateboard onto which all manner of bodies can sit. And those electronic components are very compact. Chucking out the existing driveline – engine, gearbox, exhaust, radiator and a whole lot more – leaves extra space for people.

“It has the space of a Passat on a footprint smaller than a Golf,” VW’s design head Klaus Bischoff told Top Gear. “The dashboard is 200mm further forward than a Golf. We can push the air-conditioner and other stuff out into the space where the engine was.

“This is a rolling lounge. The interior materials and bands of lights are like a bionic sculpture around you, not like a living room with rectangular walls. All the knobs are gone. Why have a windscreen wiper-stalk when the car learns from the cars up ahead exactly when it will start raining?

“The 2020 car will have a steering wheel and a few buttons. But later, with autonomy, we will really open things out. When the car takes over your hands and feet, at that moment things are a lot more free. You can discuss the seating position, swing the seats around, put the furniture where you want. This platform is prepared for that.”

The exterior is a long way from a Golf too. “This new package is paradise for designers. We can move the wheels right to the corners. Because there’s no engine, the demand for cooling is limited. So the statement for our EVs is we will be grille-less. The facial expression is the headlights and the badge.”

Bischoff said the job of the front lights is going to change dramatically with autonomous cars. At the moment manufacturers are making a big deal of ‘signature’ running lights to identify their brands. But the I.D. “will change to a much more functional approach”.

That’s because if the car is in autonomous mode the driver probably won’t be looking out of the windows. So the car itself has to make some sort of contact with pedestrians and other road users. “If the sensors identify a pedestrian, the eyes look at him.” Huh? The I.D.’s headlights swivel to point in their direction.  This after all is what happens now if you see someone at a zebra crossing. Then your expression tells them to cross. The I.D. does the same: a sweep of green lights plays across the car’s face.

Most European manufacturers make a big deal of hitting a 500km range, which is 312 miles. The I.D. goes one better, at 600km, or 375 miles. How do they do that? Many many detail tweaks to the battery and managing its heat and current, I’m told by an engineer. But as well as storing energy better, it uses less.

“The tasks are to reduce weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag,” said Bischoff. “It’s not easy. For aerodynamics, glazing is flush and there are no mirrors but cameras instead. Taking the mirror off gives 20 or 25 miles more range. The front is totally closed with just active holes that open when needed for cooling [the battery, electronics and people]. Ideally we would get to a teardrop shape but no-one would buy a teardrop.”

The I.D. when it goes on sale will augment rather than replace the Golf. Do the two share parts? “Only a few screws and the badge. This is really all new.” A fresh start for sure.

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