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VW Group head of research says it’s time for electrification, but progress has been extremely low; “We need more

In the keynote address at the 4th Symposium on Energy Storage: Beyond Lithium-ion, hosted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, Jürgen Leohold, head of Volkswagen Group research (and 2009 EUCAR chairman), said that one of his key messages was that although the automotive industry is really at a turn in time toward electric mobility, the progress compared to other technologies made in the 111 years since Ferdinand Porsche introduced an electric vehicle at the world exposition in Paris has been extremely low.

That car, Leohold noted, had a lead-acid battery pack with about 24 kWh of energy, was propelled by wheel hub motors and had a range of about 50 km—“not that much different than today. We definitely need more for electromobility to become established in the market.

In the 1970s Volkswagen had put two electric cars on the market, but sales figures were in the two-digit numbers, Leohold said.

So what has changed? What has changed the business mainly is that Li-ion batteries have come around and finally supported an energy density that allows you to build a halfway decent car.

—Jürgen Leohold

Leohold cited a number of drivers for the current movement to electromobility (that were largely echoed by other speakers during this first day of the symposium):

  • Climate change and emissions;
  • Urbanization and megacities; and
  • Shortage of fossil fuels.

For an industry like ours, where products are dependent for more than 90% on oil derivatives, this is a very critical situation. We are very much convinced that we must initiate a change. Any change in the drivetrains will take a long time, so we have to start now to address these issues.

—Jürgen Leohold

To limit warming to 2 °C, the annual emissions reduction has to move from a 20% target in 2020 to a 2050 target of up to a 95% reduction in developed countries. It will not be enough to improve the efficiency of conventional engines or to launch alternative fuel concepts, Leohold said. To fill the gap to sustainable and zero emission mobility, clean drive technologies, such as the electrification of the drivetrain, will be required. However, he stressed that “new forms of mobility cannot be separated from the question of where the energy is coming from”—a reference to the need to widely deploy low-carbon sources of electricity.

Electricity used to charge plug-in vehicles should come exclusively from renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power, he suggested—otherwise, there is no greenhouse gas emission advantage over a conventional vehicle with optimized fuel consumption.

Volkswagen is taking a three-step approach to address these challenges, he said.

  • Increasing the efficiency of existing drivetrains, usually the fastest approach and a very effective approach.
  • Convert to new types of fuels that are fairly CO2 neutral such as biofuels, although Volkswagen thinks the potential of biofuels worldwide is limited to 10–20%. “But nevertheless, that’s something.
  • New technologies, and electromobility part of this.

Based on well-to-wheel projections factoring in improved conventional technology and electricity sources over the next 9 years, Leohold noted that:

The electric vehicle is not really that big an improvement compared to conventional engines if you consider technical progress. The only way to get real drastic improvements in terms of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions is if you change the energy supply. Meaning that either with fossil fuels you go to biofuels, but that potential is limited as I mentioned already, or we go to renewable resources...with the electric drivetrain.

...This is not enough. If you look at 2050 and 2 degrees, this cannot be reached by any fossil fuel approach or conventional drivetrains. It requires electrification of the drivetrain. Since the ideal battery is not around yet, we have to introduce hybrids.

—Jürgen Leohold

The range issue. The biggest challenge for electric vehicles, reaching back to 1900, is the limited range. Today, actual range could be as low as 80 km out of a theoretical 150 km given cold temperatures or other adverse conditions or behavior, he noted. By contrast, the Golf diesel BlueMotion has a 1,447 km range.

The big question is how will the customer react to this change in performance? Will they accept cars with this limitation? We think many will change, especially those with second cars.

—Jürgen Leohold

While vehicle-level approaches such as lightweighting can squeeze out some additional range—dropping 100kg could increase the range by 3.5% on an EV, Leohold said—modifications such as that are “not really significant. The main challenge is the battery.

Requirements for future electrical energy storage system. Leohold said that Volkswagen was confident that by the end of the decade, there be commercially available Li-ion batteries with an energy capacity in the range of 200 Wh/kg, perhaps a little bit more, up from the approximate 120 Wh/kg of today.

However, the industry needs a technology change to deliver the next stage of batteries, with capacity on the order for 400-600 Wh/kg. And “to build a decent type car”, the industry needs capacity on the order of 1,000 Wh/kg.

There may a 150-mile range in a regular [electric] car by the end of the decade, but we doubt we will reach more as long as we are limited to Li-ion...A mass market [for EVs] depends on the range of these cars. This is where we put much hope on future technologies.

—Jürgen Leohold



"by the end of the decade.... there will be commercially available Li-ion batteries with an energy capacity in the range of 200 Wh/kg"

Tesla are already using 180 Wh/kg LiIon cells from Panasonic in their roadsters. The cells they intend to use in the Model S are existing Panasonic 280 Wh/kg cells.

For 400-500 Wh/kg, this has already been demonstrated for lithium-sulphur batteries, albeit still with the poor cycle life problem.

For >1,000 Wh/kg, this is readily achievable with lithium-air (theoretical energy density 11,600 Wh/kg), which can actually be of a rechargeable form in situ. Metal-air is where Toyota is going in their battery research.

Freddy Harold Torres

Mr. Jürgen Leohold may want to surf the net more often and go to the Teslamotors website. They have been building a very decent car called "Tesla Roadster". This car has a very decent range of 245 miles per charge and it can go 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. What is not decent about this car is the price tag of well over $100,000. For Mr. Jürgen Leohold to say: ..."to build a decent type car”, the industry needs capacity on the order of 1,000 Wh/kg is simply not true. Perhaps Mr. Jürgen Leohold should quit his job at VW as the head of Volkswagen Group research and get an entry job at Tesla Motors working under the thumb of Elon Musk... I'm sure he will suddenly find a way to make a great car with battery energy densities of only 300 W*hr/Kg.


Battery energy density of 300 Wh/Kg is good for city vehicles but not enough for long range vehicles. Batteries with 1000 Wh/Kg may be ideal for many and/or most types of vehicles but does the world need the ideal battery before it starts mass producing electrified vehicles?

Step 1: The world could mass produce improved city e-vehicles with current 275 to 300 Wh/Kg batteries.

A battery rental system could ease the high initial cost and make EVs as cheap as current equivalent ICE vehicles. Everybody could pay $50/week in battery rental instead of $50/week at the gas pump. One EV per family could reduce oil imports by 25% or so.

Step 2: The world will mass produce long range e-vehicles with future 400 to 1000 Wh/Kg batteries by 2020+.

Meanwhile, PHEVs are a good interim solution. One city EV + one PHEV per family could reduce oil imports by 50% or so, specially if commercial vehicles do the same.

Germany will probably be one of the first country to promote a decent plan to transition from dirty ICE to clean electrified vehicles using clean electricity. China will not be far behind. Don't expect USA/Canada to be in the lead because we will build more oil pipelines and tar sands extraction plants to extend ICE vehicles age by another 5 decades or so.


Is Leohold business to speculate concerning carbon footprint? Is he marketing guy? what means comparison of electric car BEV range to VW golf? Why not EREV comparison to VW golf? Is WV sticking to the diesel?

As far as I understand VW is not going to participate in drivertrain electrification.....


Perhaps the key phrase is "commercially available".

Are Tesla's batteries commercially available enough to produce 1 million cars per year - which is nothing in terms of marketing share, even in America?


Likewise, it's not just making said batteries commercially available, it's making them commercially available at a pricing point that can lead to real change.

Thus, today Mr. Leohold is largely correct and numerous battery experts have made similar statements. Even Argonne pegs 2020 - 2025 for such mass production.

And that highlights one of Leohold's most important assertions. The time it takes to change. The legacy effect in the US is 20+ years. Consequently, pretending that plug-in vehicles are the key solution is counterproductive to real change, especially if timeliness is important.

We need to make massive changes today and tomorrow as batteries are improved. In the short term mild hybrid powertrains, for instance, offer far more potential than a singular focus on plug-ins.

None of that means we should slow our efforts towards electrification, but selling tens of thousands of plug-ins per year while selling millions of gas-guzzling pickup trucks is not a winning formula. Again, far more would be gained by focusing on those pickup trucks with things like EcoBoost, mild hybridization, etc.

Ten more years of the status quo and a niche plug-in market simply isn't productive. Plug-is are coming, but it is going to take time - time we don't have.

And regarding tar sands, isn't China one of the major investors in Canadian sands? Likewise, China is tapping into methanol already and considering new studies suggest large amounts of gas shale there, I'll bet they'll become big fracking fans as well. China will ultimately do what makes the most cost-effective sense.


@ Darius

"As far as I understand VW is not going to participate in drivetrain electrification..."

Then you don't really have much of an understanding. VW has an active vehicle electrification program, and will be offering BEVs in the next few years, just like the other major marques.

Perhaps you overlooked the headline:

"VW Group head of research says it’s time for electrification..."

Account Deleted

When Tesla launches their 300 miles range Model S next year then everybody including VW’s head of R&D will understand that it is possible to build a decent EV with space, performance and range on par with gasoline vehicles. After that launch the key remaining problem with EVs is not the energy density of their batteries but their high price.



My idea is that actually article heading is not true.

Is it funny statement "and will be offering BEVs in the next few years" - the first Leaf would be three years old. It means that VW may be forced to do something as well polticaly.

Another thing is that only plug-in (electric drivertrain) mass practical solution could be EREV (Chevy Volt) or PHEV (Prius). No single word about that.



I think that in long term target mild hybrids have no sense. Better go for ICE efficiency improvement, diesel, DME, CNG or other things instead on waisting your time on electric drivertrain. VW golf diesel is way cheaper and more energy efficient than Prius. IMO this is Leohold's main idea as well.


Mr. Jürgen Leohold is an old school automaker unable to see ahead. Which is exactly what automakers must have today - vision. Mr. Freddy Torres is correct - Leohold needs to spend some apprentice time at Tesla.

On a recent talk with Tesla sales team they were heavily promoting the E-Highway on the North American West coast. There are now Level II charging stations allowing the Roadster to travel from San Diego to Whistler BC. The Roadster has proven the viability of EVs albeit at a premium cost.

And as Henrik points out, the Tesla Model S will make every automotive executive tremble in fear. If they are not actively building a good quality EV. Tesla is the Apple Computer of EVs. They have the very best technology available. And Chevy Volt is not far behind.

Auto-execs like Leohold will be left in the dust with acres of unsold combustion vehicles simply because he is not exercising vision. 2M Prii sold worldwide is the iceberg tip.

Andy Smith

"There may a 150-mile range in a regular [electric] car by the end of the decade, but we doubt we will reach more as long as we are limited to Li-ion...A mass market [for EVs] depends on the range of these cars. This is where we put much hope on future technologies"

The renault Zoe has a 120 mile range and is due for 2012. It's safe to say there WILL be an 'average' 150 mile range car by 2020 and as many have mentioned there's also the 2012 model S 300 mile range strikes me that this guy doesn't really know that much about any of his competition


The claimed 300 miles per charge for the Tesla S may not materialize or may be on flat roads, down wind drives, at low 50 mph or less.

However, 300 miles and even more will be achieved before the end of the current decade. Will Tesla be the one to do it? May be so.

The next step (500+ miles) will be for the end of the next decade or so.


The question Leohold leaves begging is "do we need a BEV with 250 km range, or is something else good enough to get the job done?" I think that answer has been answered by the Volt.


The Volt is a good interim solution for a combined city and highway partially electrified vehicle. However, it is too complex and too expensive for a city, restricted range, electrified vehicle. The Leaf is a better solution for city use or limited range operations.

PHEVs make technical and economical sense as interim long range solution or until such time as higher performance lower cost batteries are available.


The problems right now...

1 people dont have the money..

2 People who both have the money and live close enough to work... now are moving to where they dont need a car at all...

3 resale value

4 People are FAR more conservative with 20-30k of thier OWN money then others so .. they wait and watch.

5 Its STILL cheaper to own a paid off hummer then it is to buy an ev.


It's likely this fellow is defending his commitment to ICE technology instead of turning VW down the EV road. However, his note that founder Ferdinand Porsche invented an EV 111 years ago and not much has changed - should be an embarrassment. Why has Porsche or VW not picked up the EV ball?

Why has it been left to a bunch of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs? Because they are the people who actually DO NEW THINGS! Tesla's range is 235 miles TODAY! Simple economy of scale could easily halve the pack cost in three years - provided automakers with vision built passenger cars.

One thing for sure... Price of gas will not be decreasing anytime soon. $5/gal gas is here this year. $6 next year. When people start driving past gas stations never having to fill up - fueling their cars for $0.71/GALe (Fisker Karma) - car buyers will start buying EVs in bigger numbers.


I wouldn't just focus on the wh/kg energy density, equally or more important is wh/$, battery life both time and cycle, temperature performance, charging time, safety, level of environmental friendliness.

While I don't think we will ever see mass market BEVs that have the range of gas cars I not discouraged- because it is well within our grasp to replace 90% of our hydrocarbon powered driving with electricity and most of the remaining 10% can be powered with biofuels.

The Volt is the baby-step in the right direction, what people have to remember is while their batteries have a claimed 100wh/kg energy density the effective energy density is around 65wh/kg because the Volt doesn't fully charge or discharge the batteries to prolong battery life. Imagine a Volt that had batteries with an effective energy density of 200wh/kg- then you could triple the electric only range or reduce the battery pack size and weight by 2/3 for more space and better performance or more likely do a little of both.


Jürgen Leohold is a realist.

After 10 years, the Prius and EV1 and eRav4 and Tesla and Insight and Volt and Leaf have proven that all the world (except China) knows how to build EVs - and WHEN batteries improve, many will build decent (affordable) EVs.


A realist maybe... not a leader.


He is not a leader, nor should he be; that is not his job.

Nor is our leader - but that IS his job.

C Muhlestein

HarveyD said "A battery rental system could ease the high initial cost and make EVs as cheap as current equivalent ICE vehicles. Everybody could pay $50/week in battery rental instead of $50/week at the gas pump. One EV per family could reduce oil imports by 25% or so."

Why would I want to pay $50/week for battery rental when Tesla says that their Roadster uses only about $45 a month in electricity. (see:


Or why would anybody rent out batteries, charged or uncharged, for less that it costs them to own, and charge them?

No wonder so many people on this site believe businesses are ignorant?

Stan Peterson

Harvey D,

Ther are none so blind as will not see. If you really believe that China will arrive at electrification and a clean environment before North America finishes its job, I suggest you emigrate to the Land of Central planning.

Fact: the US uses just under 20% of the World's energy but produces 24% of the World's GDP with that Energy. China consumes 20% of the World's energy, and produces a mere 7% of the World's GDP. North American Air and Waters are now essentially clean. China's Air and Waters are pollution cesspools, just like all the old East Bloc, and getting worse, all the time.

We build no factories or power plants without the World's best pollution controls, by Law; China has no such mandates. Our industry is as efficient as can be economically made; the Chinese model awards no gain for efficient use of resources. It is not surprising it gets little efficiency for its energy investments.



GDP is not an acceptable yardstick to measure pollution. You could put all white collar workers in one country creating almost zero pollution and all factories in another country creating all the pollution. That's what has been happening between USA and China in the last 30+ years. We exported polluting manufacturing jobs and facilities to China and retained Banks, Insurances, Wall Streets, Microsoft etc.

Comparative growth for the last 10+ years has been in favor of China. Look at what is happening with the car-truck-bus-train-ship-furniture-appliances-electrical-tools-machinery-computer-phone and clothing industries. We are shrinking and China is expanding fast. Many other industries have followed the same path. The next industries to go may be large commercial aircraft. Banking-Insurances, Wall Street and Software may not be far behind.

If the current trend continues, we may be back on the farms before the end of the current century. We can't transfer farms...


Correction: first line should measure pollution and energy consumption.

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