This weekend at the Paris Motor Show, Volkswagen unveiled its new all-electric, fully autonomous concept car, the I.D. (The Verge’s man in Paris, Amar Toor, got an early look last week.) The car will become the first Volkswagen built off the carmaker’s custom-built Modularer Elektrifizierungsbaukasten, aka Modular Electric Drive kit. It is due to go on sale in 2020, with a range of up to 373 miles — or about 158 miles further than Tesla says its soon-to-be-release Model 3 can travel on a single charge.
Volkswagen says the sleek silver-and-blue car is meant to harken back to the iconic Beetle and Golf, but most consumers and car enthusiasts will likely make a different association: this is Volkswagen’s high-stakes effort to put the emissions cheating scandal behind it, once and for all.
It won’t be easy. Bad headlines have continued to pile up since the EPA revealed a year ago that Volkswagen used special software in some 11 million diesel-powered vehicles to defeat emissions testing, making its cars seem far cleaner and safer for the environment than they actually were. Last month, a veteran Volkswagen engineer pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the American public about its vehicle emissions, marking the first criminal charge in the ongoing scandal. There will certainly be more.
Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen is avoiding making a direct correlation between the I.D. and Dieselgate. Spokespersons for the automaker did not respond to questions, but in a lengthy statement, Volkswagen makes it crystal clear that the "zero-emissions" I.D. is meant to serve as the first in the next generation of sustainable, clean vehicles. After all, zero emissions means zero chances to defraud regulators and consumers.
And there's no question the I.D. is a pretty rad-looking ride. In addition to its lithium-ion battery, the I.D. is Volkswagen's first stab at autonomous driving. "The driver can activate the fully automated ‘I.D. Pilot' mode just by touching the Volkswagen logo on the steering wheel," the company says in a statement. "With this, the electrically adjustable and retractable steering wheel disappears into the dashpad to form a single entity flush with the dashboard, boosting the lounge feel inside the car."
It's not clear whether regulations will allow for the sale of a car with a retractable steering wheel by 2020 — though policy makers are diligently at work on refining the rules of the road to better accommodate self-driving cars.
In other weird innovations, the I.D.'s trunk is setup to function as a de facto mailbox. Package delivery agents will be able to locate the car by GPS, where they will be granted temporary permission to open the trunk via an app and drop off parcels. The car's owner is then notified via an app or email as soon as the parcel has been delivered and the trunk is locked again. "Volkswagen is currently working with international logistics service providers to implement this innovative concept," the company says.
Will enough fancy bells and whistles be enough to distract consumers from the fact that the company deliberately set out to deceive them about the severity of its diesel emissions? Maybe not, but time will certainly help. And VW seems to be banking on short-term memory loss working in its favor. By 2020, the year Volkswagen plans on releasing the I.D., "we will have finished the hard work" of putting the scandal to rest, VW's head of brand management Herbert Diess said Thursday in a Bloomberg TVinterview at the Paris auto show. "We have three to four tough years ahead of us to really restructure the company and getting more profitable and more competitive."