Volkswagen invested US$12.7bn (€11.5bn) in research and development last year, more than ever before and more than any other company worldwide. Speaking on the eve of the Geneva International Motor Show, Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen, underscored the company’s commitment: “Volkswagen is an innovation think tank. We develop technologies that point the way well into the future.”
As Winterkorn illustrated, Volkswagen now employs 46,000 researchers and developers as well as over 10,000 IT experts, all of whom are working on the mobility of the future – such as alternative drive concepts or the digitization of vehicles and factories. He went on to say that the car manufacturer is positioning itself at the forefront of automotive change with its forward-looking Future Tracks program. To remain a strong contender in competition with Asia and the USA, Winterkorn called on industry in Europe to “show even more courage and even greater innovative strength. But there is also a need for greater openness and stronger backing from politics and society.”
Winterkorn stressed that “at Volkswagen, technology is never an end in itself. All these technologies serve people, our customers. Because they make driving safer and more comfortable, because they conserve resources and protect the environment, and because they bring together the mobile and the digital worlds.” That is why Winterkorn would like to see “in Europe in particular, a climate where new technologies are not eyed with suspicion right from the outset”, but rather a climate “where innovations are truly welcome.” As a center of automotive engineering and manufacturing, Europe must, for example, drive forward core technologies such as piloted driving with determination and speed.
“It may come as a surprise for you, but I highly welcome the interest of Apple, Google and others in the automobile,” Winterkorn added. “Because that means the car will gain more acceptance from ‘Digital Natives’.”
Volkswagen is paying very close attention to the issues of the future for the automotive industry such as electromobility, the digitization of vehicles, factories and retail, or social change, which is altering, and to a certain extent redefining, the role of the automobile. “Our forward-looking Future Tracks program is the umbrella for all of these activities,” Winterkorn said. He pointed out that, thanks to sensor technology and connectivity, the Group already has the largest networked fleet in the world on the road, adding that the automaker also has the world’s largest low-carbon dioxide fleet, with the present lineup including 57 model variants that already meet the 95g/km target. The company already offers the widest range of electromobility solutions in the automotive industry as well, with nine electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
Winterkorn also reiterated that “Volkswagen is committed to its environmental goals”, commenting that the present low level of oil prices would not change that: “Oil will not be as cheap as it is at the moment for ever. The CO2 limits apply irrespective of fuel prices. And, more importantly, this is about our responsibility for protecting the climate. That is why our approach to drive diversity is the right one.” He stated that ever more efficient petrol and diesel engines are indispensable. “Let me be very clear about one point: those who talk down diesel are jeopardizing CO2 targets.”
Winterkorn explained that Volkswagen is well ahead of schedule with its most important environmental targets. For example, emissions by the EU new vehicle fleet were brought down to approximately 125g/km of CO2 last year. That is 13% less than 2010 and 31% less than 1995. This means the Group is already well below the legal limit for 2015. Production processes have already been made 19% more environmentally compatible within the space of four years, well on the way to the target of 25%. According to Winterkorn: “The second half will be tougher than the first. Every additional gram and percent we save will be a hard-fought battle.”