VW’s futuristic all-electric dune buggy embraces its 1960s’ roots

Volkswagen has added another member to its ever-expanding I.D. line of concept electric vehicles that’s meant to showcase the automaker’s electric future. This time it’s the I.D. Buggy, an all-electric dune buggy with some 1960s California subculture flair.

The I.D. Buggy, which made its global debut Monday at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show, is meant to show the versatility of the automaker’s modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

For instance, the two-seater buggy can be converted to a 2+2-seater and an additional electric motor can be added to the front axle in order to make four-wheel drive possible, the company said. The modular design allows for the composite upper body to be detached from the MEB chassis, which VW argues will open up a “world of possibilities for third-party manufacturers, as the original Meyers Manx kit did for the first buggies.” The Meyers Manx kit was the creation of California engineer, boat builder and surfer Bruce Meyers who modified the original Volkswagen Beetle to make it suitable for desert racing. 

The I.D. Buggy is equipped with a a 62kWh lithium-ion battery and a 201-horsepower electric motor in the rear to give it an expected range of 155 miles on the WLTP cycle, the company said. There are no doors or a roof in the two-seater, which VW says gives drivers the “purest experience of classic beach cruising.”

The vehicle has three-dimensional oval LED headlights and taillights and an LED VW logo. The automaker also touts the buggy’s body that seems to “float above the chassis,” an effect achieved by how its painted.

Volkswagen has been showing off its I.D. line of concept electric vehicles for several years now.  And some of them are even going into production. There is the electric all-wheel drive microbus called I.D. Buzz, a futuristic take on the family camper van that VW introduced as a concept in 2017, the I.D. Vizzion self-driving sedan concept, and of course, the I.D. Crozz SUV concept that was first shown at the North American International Auto Show  last year.

The I.D. Crozz and I.D. Buzz are going into production. It’s not clear if the I.D. Buggy will ever be anything more than concept.

Earlier this year, VW announced plans to spend $800 million to expand a U.S. factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., that will produce the automaker’s next generation of electric vehicles.

VW’s Chattanooga expansion is just a piece of the automaker’s broader plan to move away from diesel in the wake of the emissions cheating scandal that erupted in 2015. The company is also building a European facility in Zwickau, Germany, set to begin EV production in 2019 and adding EV-production at facilities in Anting and Foshan, in China, in 2020, and in the German cities of Emden and Hanover by 2022.

The Tennessee factory (along with the other new facilities) will produce EVs using Volkswagen’s MEB chassis. Volkswagen of America says it will offer the first EV based on the MEB platform to customers in 2020. Electric vehicle production at the Tennessee site will begin in 2022.

Cadillac’s first electric vehicle will be a crossover

Cadillac revealed Sunday what will likely be the first electric vehicle in the luxury brand’s portfolio. And surprise, it’s a crossover.

The images of the full-size crossover SUV, which was unveiled during a debut party for the 2020 Cadillac XT6 in Detroit, kicks off a transformation of GM’s luxury brand. On Friday, GM announced plans to turn Cadillac into its lead electric vehicle brand in a bid to compete against Tesla as well as a host of other automakers bringing EVs onto the market.

Cadillac first electric crossover

Not much is known about this crossover yet. Cadillac said the name of the electric crossover and additional details about the vehicle will be revealed closer to launch.

This vehicle will not be based on the electric architecture found on GM’s Chevrolet models, the Volt or the Bolt EV. GM is starting with a clean slate and developing a new battery electric architecture, which Cadillac will be the first to use.

The most advanced components within the platform are the drive units and battery cells, which will be used throughout GM vehicle lineups in different countries, according to the automaker. The EVs can be configured in front-, rear- or all-wheel drive, and the output of their battery systems will be adjustable based on vehicle and customer needs, GM said.

The battery system also will be adjustable, based on vehicle and customer requirements.

This appears to be the beginning of an  aggressive product acceleration for Cadillac. Fresh off of the XT6 crossover reveal, Cadillac also hinted at both a future Escalade and an upcoming performance sedan. Cadillac said it plans to introduce new models at the rate of roughly one every six months through 2021.

China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand.

The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report. The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager.

The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.)

Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.”

Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business.

Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans.

Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers.

The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

Didi also went on the record with some financial data. The company claimed that annualized GMV for Xiaoju has jumped from 37 billion RMB ($5.4 billion) in April 2018 to 60 billion RMB ($8.76 billion) as of today. That’s impressive growth of 62 percent, and the forecast is that it will easily pass its previous goal of 90 billion RMB ($13.15 billion) for 2018 before this year is finished.

GMV, in this case, refers to the total value of goods and services crossing the Xiaoju platform. That help gives an idea of how active it is, but it doesn’t translate to revenue or profit/loss for Didi. The company didn’t provide information for either revenue or profitability for Xiaoju.

This year has been a notable one as the company has expanded its horizons for the first time by venturing outside of China.

Last year, Didi raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Beyond that massive $4 billion raise, Didi recently landed a $500 million investment from Booking Holdings that’s aimed at providing strategic alliances between the Didi and the travel giant’s range of services. The company has raised over $17 billion from investors to date and it was last valued at $56 billion.