If the all-electric Volkswagen ID.3 were to go on sale here right now, it would definitely be priced well below the R600 000 mark. That statement was made to us by Steffen Knapp, Head of the Volkswagen Passenger Car brand in South Africa, at a special media preview to drive the ID.3 at the Zwartkops Raceway outside Pretoria.
The event was part of the second phase of VWSA’s electric mobility strategy for South Africa, which saw the earlier e-Golf being exposed to hundreds of VW customers, and quite a number of media people from 2020 onwards.
According to Knapp, the two main factors regarding the introduction of electric cars here are range and price. Currently the least-expensive all-electric car on sale here is the BMW i3, with pricing for this model ranging between R750 000 and just over R900 000. Since the i3 went on sale here in 2015, monthly sales have been numbered in the single-digit range, and the same pretty much applies to the much pricier Jaguar i-Pace at around R2 million, and the Porsche Taycan, which is a stratospheric R4 million.
The Volkswagen ID.3 is in a different league compared to the all-electric cars already on sale here. The big difference is that it is pretty much a run-of-the-mill Volkswagen that just happens to be powered exclusively by an electric motor.
At Zwartkops, journalists had just a handful of laps to try out the ID.3. Normally this would be too short-an-experience. But what this short ID.3 sampler clearly illustrated was that from a driving point of view, the transition to electric cars in the next decade or so is going to be a pretty painless affair.
To get mobile in the Volkswagen ID.3 you put your right foot on the brake pedal, flip a little switch on the right side of the steering column forward, and that engages “Drive”. Ease off the brake, ease onto the accelerator pedal, and you are mobile!
Being a full production model that went on sale in Europe in September 2019, the Volkswagen ID.3 has an interior similar to that which would be expected in a modern, petrol or diesel-fueled Golf. Except that it is considerably bigger.
There is almost zero in the way of noise from the electric motor, and there isn’t much transmission to speak of either, as the rear-mounted motor drives the rear-wheels directly, without any gearbox to complicate matters. Speed builds quickly from take-off-, as is typical of any electric car, which produces its maximum torque from zero rpm.
VW says that the ID.3 will in fact accelerate to 60 km/h more quickly than the eighth-generation Golf GTi, but after that, acceleration tapers off somewhat. Officially the Volkswagen ID.3 that we drove, in so-called Pro S spec, is rated with a 0-100 km/h in 7,9 seconds. It develops 160 kW and 310 N.m of torque, and when accelerating you can actually feel this impressive torque at low revs, and then power gradually tapers off.
Affecting the equation is the weight of the ID.3 Like any electric car, part of the package is a heavy battery pack, and this car weighs in at around 1 900 kg, which is not inconsiderable. By way of comparison, a latest generation Golf GTI comes in at around 1 400 kg, so lugging 500 kg of extra weight around is like packing in an extra six rather large adults.
Talking of accommodation, the Volkswagen ID.3 offers really good interior space, thanks to the engine and drive wheels being at the rear of the car, and the absence if a transmission tunnel. As Steffen Knapp is keen to point out, it is not much longer than Golf, but has the passenger space of a Passat (except, we found, in rear-headroom where things are a bit snug) and the turning circle of a Polo, thanks to short overhangs.
Getting back to the extra weight, though, you can really feel that heft, that “momentum from the rear, as you brake for a corner. You have to keep this in mind when approaching a corner at speed, because ultimately, despite ABS braking and traction control, there is no arguing with the laws of physics. Extra weight means getting the corner speed down to below the point where traction is likely to be compromised. On the plus side, all that extra weight is located low down in the new MEB chassis platform, which will cater for a whole range of electric Volkswagen vehicles. So body-roll is not much of a factor in hard cornering.
As far as range goes, the specs quote a maximum figure of up to 550 km, depending on the spec of the Volkswagen ID.3 ordered. A similar range is quoted for the ID.4 SUV, which won for Volkswagen the coveted World Car of the Year award in 2021. Quick charging at a roadside 125 kW DC charger can offer a range of about 290 km with a 30 minute charge. VWSA plans to bring in a fleet of ID.4s next year to test the acceptance of electric vehicles in an SUV package. The ID.4 is already a top seller in the electric market in Europe.
Driving the ID.3 his week could well be a landmark moment as far as experiencing Volkswagen mobility. In the launch presentation VW cited the Beetle as bringing mobility to the masses, then the Golf Mk1 bringing a type of upwards mobility for the average man, and now, the same quantum leap is cited for the new-generation of ID VWs with electric-only power.
The over-riding impression of the Volkswagen ID.3 is that it is a “proper” car. This is not an idiosyncrasy like the i3, which was introduced here before a decent all-electric battery-capacity range was available (in 2015). Not a super-luxury conveyance for the rich, like the Jaguar i-Pace, and not a “sooper-dooper” hypercar like the Porsche Taycan for the super-rich.
The ID range of VWs is intended for the mass market, and although in South Africa today only a small percentage of the population can afford a new car, Volkswagen is embarking on an accelerated strategy of electrification here largely because it is so reliant on its export program. Legislation will see demand in Europe and the UK for cars like its best-selling Polo disappear by 2030. And many other companies with reliance on exports to Europe and, to an extent, America, will enforce this switch to electric motors much sooner than we thought just 12 months ago.
When Volkswagen takes the leap and introduces its first electric car here in the next year or so, Steffan Knapp says that the target for local sales will be in the region of 500 units a month. Lots of work is being done at Government level, to make this revolution viable in terms of costs, and this will include lower import tariffs. The first electric VWs for sale here will be fully-imported vehicles
VW has stated that the third phase of Volkswagen’s electric mobility strategy for South Africa will be electric cars going on sale here, and if the current roll-out is an indication that could well be in late 2022 or early 2023. Then the next step will be to re-jig the plant in Uitenhage to begin building electric cars, for local and world-wide sale.
By Stuart Johnson