Volkswagen’s MEB for EVs: long electric range, open-platform, open-space, pricing for the volume market; “tablet on wheels”
Brands within the Volkswagen Group have been rolling out modular component matrices, or assembly toolkits, for their light-duty vehicles over the past few years. Until recently, the four main modular toolkits (modularen Baukästen) of the Group were: the MQB (transverse, driven by the Volkswagen brand); the MLB (longitudinal, driven by the Audi brand); the MSB (standard drive, driven by Porsche); and the NSF (New Small Family).
Development work on these continues; Audi, for example, is refining MLB evo—the second-generation of MLB and the foundation for the battery-electric e-tron quattro SUV due out in 2018. (Earlier post.) These four main kits are now joined by the all-new Modularer Elektrifizierungsbaukasten (“Modular Electric Drive kit”, or MEB), being developed by the Volkswagen brand. The MEB will be the foundation for an entirely new generation of battery-electric vehicles designed not only to be electric and feature extended range, but to be connected, autonomous, open and priced for the volume market as required by Volkswagen’s positioning.
The first production MEB vehicle, a version of the I.D. concept shown this year at the Paris show (earlier post), will—with a range of up to 373 miles and a market introduction in 2020—be priced approximately at the level of a diesel Golf—before any subsidies. The average Golf diesel in Europe currently is <€30,000 (US$33,500), according to Volkswagen.
Given its mission, the reach of the MEB is more ambitious in some aspects than that of its predecessors. The powertrain packaging decisions may be simpler (skateboard battery pack, motor drive unit, power electronics), but the complexity of the connectivity, HMI (human-machine interface) and autonomy technologies may be greater, given Volkswagen’s intent to deploy an open platform. Since January 2016, the MEB has been under the direction of Christian Senger, who was previously in charge of Automotive Systems and Technology at Continental AG.
At a media roundtable at the Paris Motor Show, Senger provided an overview of the role of the MEB, as well as some of the specific development efforts:
Driven by the CO2 regulations and driven by our own ambition, we want to be the leader in e-mobility. We want to be the first one to produce more than 1 million electric cars. The I.D. is in our mind the right answer for a volume manufacturer because it solves some core issues of electric cars today. It offers enough range (from 400 up to 600 km [249 - 373 miles]); it goes for an effective price point (the price of a Golf diesel); and it can offer even more than just an electric drivetrain. It will appear like a tablet on wheels. It is based on an operating system with open software and hardware making it possible to install applications from third parties. In order to bring this into an ecosystem of e-mobility services, [the I.D.] must be a device of choice from the software and hardware standpoints.
This is our core story of the MEB. It shows that we have four core innovations: smart sustainability, automated driving, intuitive interaction and personalized connectivity. I believe when we enter the market in 2020, this is exactly the time when e-mobility will accelerate out of its niche. Battery costs are making significant improvements. The charging will improve. There is no more range anxiety, the cost point is down, we will be able to serve the new customer demand.—Christian Senger
Senger said that part of the MEB is the creation of a full domain architecture for the vehicle electronics. As a general industry trend, the rapid proliferation of complex electronics is pushing automakers to have extremely powerful domain controllers in charge of the various major systems. (Earlier post.)
For example, there will be a powertrain domain, chassis domain, safety domain, driver assistance/autonomy domain, and cockpit domain. The domain controllers will be networked by gigabit Ethernet.
Automakers are in the process of developing different domain controllers and integrating them into their vehicles alongside legacy ECU systems. Audi, for example, is using its zFas as the domain controller for piloted driving.
However, starting with its clean slate, the MEB is developing and deploying a full domain architecture from the beginning. The operating system linking the various domain controllers is Linux, Senger said.
These controllers need an operating system. This is Linux-based, that’s an new automotive standard in progress. We will accelerate the implementation of this. We are clear that we also need to create a kind of Volkswagen app store where functionalities which are created from third parties are available for your car, or for your home. This is not only for electric cars, this comes for all cars, but it starts with the electric cars.
I believe strongly that there is a game changer behind e-mobility—the zero emissions. But the even bigger game changer is the switch from using a mechanical device into intelligent devices all around you. The car becomes intelligent as well. The experience people have today with updating their smartphones you need to translate into the cars. This is way more than MirrorLink. [MirrorLink is a third-party standard for the connection of smartphones to cars, and which is currently supported by Volkswagen’s Car-Net. -Ed.] We also see that functionalities which are implemented in the car can serve on a higher level, a better level than the functionalities contained in the smartphone—for example, cars have better sensors. This will provide support for an ecosystem of services.—Christian Senger
In his opening speech at the Volkswagen Group’s Media Night on the eve of the Paris Motor show, Group CEO Matthias Müller observed that:
The new automobile world that is currently taking shape also demands new competences. It will be a world of digital networking, zero-emission drives, a world marked by a different, integrated understanding of mobility, by a new, fresh mindset. We must and will convince our customers all over the world in this new age, too. It is clear that building excellent cars will not in itself be enough. But it is also clear that developing high-performance IT will in itself not be enough, either. This is about combining these two worlds—the automotive and the digital—so that customers, society and the economy benefit.
The new MEB platform, which will launch in 2020 along with its first vehicle, the production version of the I.D., is at the vanguard of the Group’s efforts in these areas. Although MEB is being driven by the Volkswagen brand, it will be able to be used cross-brand within the Group as well.
Open space. One immediate attribute of the MEB, given its use of the flat-floor battery, is the open space of the interior. The I.D., for example, essentially offers the roominess of a Passat within the shell of a Golf.
The interior offers more space and more flexible space than in a combustion-based car.—Christian Senger
The I.D. further emphasizes and leverages this openness by replacing switches and control stalks with new digital solutions. The MEB architecture and the digitalization of the display and control elements permit an entirely new interior layout for driver and passengers. The driver’s space blends in with the rest of the interior; the mobile space in the I.D. has been transformed into a multi-variable lounge, yet every driver will get to grips with it straight away as the I.D. is controlled with self-explanatory touch displays in the doors, capacitive keypads, and voice and gesture control.
The MEB-based I.D. offers an electrically adjustable and retractable multifunction steering wheel, a new Active Info Display, an electronic interior mirror (e-Mirror), an Augmented Reality (AR) Head-up Display and newly designed door panels. There is no central infotainment system in the middle of the dashboard; those menus are also available to everyone in the car, via four individual door panels.
Batteries. The MEB extends its open approach to batteries, as well. Senger observed that Volkswagen will need a global sourcing strategy for batteries, in collaboration with its suppliers. Because Volkswagen expects the main sales volume of MEB vehicles to be in China, the company will need to have suppliers in China.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has announced that that any plug-in vehicles applying for a Chinese government subsidy had to contain a battery manufactured by one of 25 Chinese-owned companies listed on MIIT’s so-called “White List.” LG Chem and Samsung are not on the list. Hence, Volkswagen will partner with a battery provider (or providers) that is (or are).
As well, particularly with its targeted sales volume of one million vehicles, Volkswagen will need other suppliers elsewhere. This will be facilitated, Senger said, by the design of the battery system within the MEB. The key, he said, is simplification.
When you look to the MQB vehicles we have today, the electric Golf has a super-complicated battery that is integrated into the existing car. This requires tremendous effort. We will have a simple box for the battery. This box allows us to use all cell formats. From a total vehicle perspective, there is really nothing we couldn’t use—there are limitations when it comes to how high and how long, that’s all. With that flexibility, we can use the total power of the market.
We can also differentiate between markets. This gives us the chance to reduce cost through less complexity and through stronger negotiating stance power with our suppliers.—Christian Senger
Rear-wheel drive standard. MEB specifies rear-wheel drive as standard, although it will eventually be prepared for 4-wheel drive, Senger said. As it is modular, the MEB can support vehicles of the size of the I.D. (and perhaps a little smaller) up to larger vehicles the size of the Passat or even the Tiguan compact SUV.
Volkswagen was rear-axle-driven with the Beetle, then went to the front axle. We have a strong front axle culture. Now we have rear-wheel drive again. The battery is the heaviest part of the car; there is no safe space for it but between the wheels. Once you have a large battery between the wheels, there is no chance to create 60% front axle weight.
We will have a weight distribution of 53% on the rear axle for the I.D.—there is no chance for having a better weight distribution. In terms of robust traction, there is no need for four wheel at all. It’s really an additional feature we can offer. We want to offer it for the US market, but there is no hard need. This is an advantage for us.—Christian Senger
Building toward I.D.: current R&D efforts preview possible functionality. In addition to being electric, I.D., and the underlying MEB emphasize several additional functionalities: autonomy, connectivity, and personalization. While all automakers are heading toward similar goals (for example, Mercedes-Benz with its newly announced Generation EQ, earlier post), Volkswagen is emerging with some distinctive approaches and implementations (which may end up part of the MEB).
As one example, Volkswagen is experimenting with an augmented-reality (AR) function for its heads-up display (HUD) systems. Along with the I.D. , Volkswagen also unveiled a virtual reality demonstration of a possible I.D. HUD system at the Paris show, complete with a driving simulation. A similar and more immediate use of AR can been seen in Volkswagen’s Race Trainer—an AR-augmented autonomous system deployed in a Golf R that teaches a driver how to drive a race course through the use of augmented reality HUD.
|Simulated AR-enhanced display in the I.D. Click to enlarge.|
Race Trainer. The Race Trainer is a driver assistant for highly dynamic driving on the racetrack. It uses visual-acoustic cues and active steering and braking interventions to guide drivers. The function can be adapted to suit the individual needs of the driver by selecting one of several assistance levels.
Race Trainer, a development project with a core team of five engineers, uses an Augmented Reality HUD display to train new drivers to follow the correct racing line for a course, when to brake, and when to accelerate by projecting driving instructions directly into the driver’s line of sight. The difference between Race Trainer’s AR HUD and a “conventional” HUD is that the instructions are displayed in the correct position on the road. The training is based on the vehicle’s own understanding of the correct way to drive the course autonomously.
|Race Trainer at Ehra. The trunk area is packed with multiple computers, routers, an accelerometer, an OxTS GPS unit, and a backup AGM battery. Click to enlarge.|
The Race Trainer provides an example of a potential future HMI for automated vehicles, said Dr. Helge Neuner from Volkswagen Research, Human Machine Interface.
Augmented reality head-up displays are a milestone in the field of human-machine interfaces and the Race Trainer is just one example of many possibilities. The Race Trainer demonstrates how the driver can be assisted very efficiently and with a minimum of driver distraction even in highly dynamic driving situations.—Dr. Helge Neuner
In a demonstration at Volkswagen’s Ehra proving ground (Prüfgelände Ehra), the largest test facility in the world, the Race Trainer had a small circuit to itself. With a journalist behind the wheel and two of the development team as watchful passengers, the autonomous Golf took a first pass around the race circuit, driving itself, as a demonstration of how to follow a line, how to enter a curve, when to brake, etc.
The HUD uses blue arrows to designate the racing line, red (combined with a sound alert) to designate the correct braking point. The system offers three levels of training. The first level takes it slower, and guides the driver more. Subsequent levels permit greater driver freedom and higher speeds, although the system will steer properly if it detects that the driver is failing to do so. The Golf R Race Trainer will also automatically brake if necessary.
|Two shots of the HUD in action: laying out the racing line (top), and indicating a turn into a curve (bottom). All Race Trainer photographs are supplied by Volkswagen; no third-party photography was allowed on the proving ground. Click to enlarge.|
Following a run, the Race Trainer system will provide an instant analysis of driver performance, displaying it on the nav screen.
The Race Trainer system, mainly programmed with MatLab, C and C++, controls the electromechanical steering column, accelerator and brake pedal positions, and sound output.
Car + X: the digitalization of mobility. Connectivity is one of the ineluctable trends of the automotive industry. Sources as diverse as PWC, IBM and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) suggest that 90% of coming automotive product innovations will occur in the field of electronics and electrical engineering. Market forecasts project that sales revenue for connected cars will quadruple to €110 billion (US$123 billion) between 2015 and 2020.
This is pushing all OEMs to re-examine their basic business models, forcing them into various stances of becoming, in Ford’s words, both an automotive company and a mobility company.
Put another way, the drive to connectivity is forcing automakers to transition from being mainly hardware manufacturers (the car) to focusing on software and services.
Volkswagen views mobile online services as the first step toward a user-centric offer to the customer, as envisioned by the MEB and I.D.
Beginning with the MQB-based Gen 7 of the Golf, introduced in 2012 (earlier post), Volkswagen began providing mobile online services and smartphone integration.
Today, Volkswagen’s Car-Net offering includes three basic service packages: Guide & Inform for navigation and infotainment; Security & Service for the thee-way connection of the customer, the car, and Volkswagen; and App-Connect: smartphone integration using Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink.
While Guide & Inform apps are relatively limited in number (nav, traffic updates, news, music, etc.) Security & Service apps represent a rapidly expanding opportunity for closer relationships with customers.
These can range from tried and true services such as emergency call, roadside assistance and crash notification to remote vehicle access, family guardian apps, maintenance, and e-mobility services such as checking battery levels, remote climatization and e-Golf Trip Data.
These services clearly represent an area for potential expansion into broader mobility service apps (think intermodal connections), as well as enhanced customer convenience.
In Berlin, as an example, Volkswagen showcased integration with DoorBird, a cloud-connected doorbell system that conventionally pushes alerts to a smartphone or tablet if someone pushes the doorbell button, and enables seeing and talking with the visitor in real time.
Volkswagen has integrated DoorBird with Car-Net, allowing the doorbell alert to appear on the screen in your car, and further allowing interaction with the visitor from the car. Volkswagen took this a step further and integrated access to Hörmann door openers from Car-Net.
A proposed use case thus is: a courier tries to deliver a package to a home when the owner is out. The DoorBird system sends the doorbell alert to the driver in the car; the driver “answers” the door via Car-Net, vets the delivery person, and if necessary opens the garage door remotely via Car-Net.
Despite the rapid development of this service ecosystem, and those being developed nay other automakers, there remain many areas for an improved customer experience—from the quality of the applications and services themselves, to the complexity of the HMI.
Volkswagen sees this as an opportunity it calls Car + X: the digitalization of mobility. The goal is to combine the car plus the service infrastructure for users to deliver an improved customer experience.
At the Group’s Media Night, CEO Matthia Müller announced that the new mobility services business field will become the 13th brand in the Volkswagen Group. By 2025, Müller said, this new brand is to rank among the top three providers of urban mobility services and become the market leader in Europe. The company has been founded; more details will come next month.
Emotion or e-motion. “E-mobility must be emotional,” Senger said, adding that Volkswagen wants to wipe out all the reasons why people currently do not just transfer over into an electric car. “Driving fun” is one of those reasons, he added. Similarly, during his Media Night address, Müller had said “In tomorrow’s world, mobility will still be about more than just getting from A to B. Mobility is freedom, emotion, joie de vivre. ”
However, the more traditional view of “driving fun” is changing, pressured by factors such as the trends toward autonomy and car sharing, and by congestion. Creeping forward in the gridlocked traffic increasingly common in urban areas (Paris’ Péripheriqué ring road providing a perfect real-world example for attendees struggling to drive to the Paris Motor Show) provides little opportunity for exercising vehicle dynamics—conventional or electric.
Michael Mauer, the Head of Volkswagen Group Design, tackled this question in his address at the Group Media Night.
Matthias Müller just talked about what the Volkswagen Group is doing to work toward the future. Cars are going to start driving silently by themselves and we might not even own them anymore. This raises the question of whether all the things that we find fascinating about cars today will continue to exist in the future. Are these things simply going to disappear? Will cars degenerate into an insignificant means of transport?
That doesn’t sound very exciting or tempting, but rest assured, the exact opposite is going to happen. We are going to use new technologies and identify new applications, but cars will never lose the fascination they exude. I am convinced that three terms will never ever lose their importance: beauty, innovation and emotion. Three key words. They determine the character, the originality and value of a product.
Innovation will only be tangible for people when combined with a well-thought-out design concept. Technology as a distinguishing feature works less and less for many people. The Volkswagen Group has initiated a number of activities to ensure the unique character of each brand. This is where our design criteria come in—the genetic code of each brand.
We are still limited by conventional technologies. A combustion engine is a massive block of metal. If we could just leave it out, eliminate it, and throw out the gearbox, the fuel tank, that would open up unbelievable possibilities. Now we have a technology of new possibilities. What is an EV at the end of the day? A skateboard with a central battery, a compact drive system either at the front or rear and four wheels at the corners. That’s something we can work with. It gives us a lot of leeway and room to maneuver.—Michael Mauer
Mauer referenced a number of advanced scenarios possible with an open space layout such as that provided by the MEB. The key in realizing all these possibilities, Mauer said, was to focus on people and their individual requirements. Volkswagen’s new Future Centers, located in Berlin, the San Francisco Bay Area, and China are key to adapting cars to the individual lifestyles and requirements of people, Mauer said.
In the Future Centers, we have the opportunity to rethink cars. Innovation, beauty and emotion will be ever more important. We are not going to see one size fits all cars. I am convinced that streets will be even more diverse, colorful and emotional. The Volkswagen Group is working flat out to make this future a reality. We are going to use the technology of possibilities intensively and very creatively.—Michael Mauer
For Volkswagen, the MEB is a critical step on that path.
Volkswagen hosted Green Car Congress for background briefings in Wolfsburg and Berlin, and at the Paris Motor Show.