Volkswagen’s Plan: Lure ’em in With Sporty Plug-ins, Sell Them on EV Tech

If you’re a greenie who loves hauling your compostable tote to the grocery store in search of climate-conscious vegan food, Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup likely leaves a lot to be desired. For now, anyway. The automaker’s domestic offerings are pretty heavily skewed in favor of larger, gas-powered utility vehicles, with the promised lineup of electrics has yet to materialize.

Overseas, VW product news would have this hypothetical buyer up at night, unable to sleep due to all of the cortisol rushing through their bloodstream. Knowing the jump to EVs might be too wide a gap for some, the automaker is readying a range of performance plug-in hybrids to placate the nervous and sell them on the idea of electricity.

European buyers have access to a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid with 242 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque drawn from a turbocharged 1.4-liter/electric motor combo. That same powertrain is expected to find its way into the Tiguan GTE and Arteon GTE, both announced by VW earlier this month. In that market, VW also has a Passat GTE on offer, with a second-generation Tiguan R plug-in for those who like spending money. That model pairs a 2.9-liter V6 with its electric hardware.

“This is one means of making electrified cars attractive: they can combine pure electric driving capability with high performance if the driver wants to use it,” said Kia Philipp, VW’s electric powertrain manager, in an interview with Autocar. “With a plug-in hybrid system, that performance comes with no compromise in terms of torque or power, so we wanted to use the two components to make the car as attractive as possible.”

With a hotter version of the Arteon nixed for the U.S. market and importation of anything but the hottest (Mk. 8) Golf family members expected for the coming year, a plug-in product surge in the U.S. looks unlikely. Here, VW has a two sides-style strategy in mind: conventional gas-powered vehicles, and all-electric. That said, it’s not inconceivable that the company would introduce a PHEV in a popular segment where the expected take rate would make the operation worthwhile.

If one were to come, the Tiguan seems the most likely candidate. Look at its increasingly electrified compact CUV rivals for a reason why.

While plug-in hybrids remain a tough sell on this side of the pond, Volkswagen sees brighter days ahead for the powertrain type. “It’s my personal view that the peak for plug-in hybrid cars is still ahead of us and will come in the next 8-10 years,” Philipp said. “But it’s strongly dependent on the market success of pure electric cars.”

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC