Volkswagen exec on ID.3, new electric cars: Tesla is for ‘innovators,’ VW for ‘early adopters’

A new interview with Volkswagen’s chief marketing officer reveals some of the reasoning behind the carmaker’s electric car strategy, including further details on the company’s new operating system and Automotive Cloud.

Volkswagen chief marketing officer Jochen Sengpiehl talked to Automotive News Europe about the company’s new marketing approach when it comes to EVs.

VW’s ID.3 electric hatchback has gone over 20,000 pre-orders, though the production version of the car won’t be introduced until mid-2020. There looks to be a reason for that, as the carmaker hopes to familiarize more potential buyers with electric cars, expressing a need to “provide information and break down prejudices,” Sengpiehl said.

Volkswagen is calling the target audience for the ID.3 “aspirational middle class,” and Sengpiehl talked about how it fits into the progression of widespread electric adoption:

The Golf appeals to the masses. Tesla appeals to innovators. After the innovators come the early adopters. We want to target those early adopters. That’s why our communication is more edgy than with our conventional cars. If you catch the early adopters, the others will follow.

While VW is focused on the rollout of ID.3 in Europe, in the U.S., the company’s new EV communication is already focused on ID. BUZZ — its Dieselgate-referencing “Hello Light” ad and “Drive Bigger” campaign both offer glimpses of the electric bus planned for 2022.

Sengpiehl also talked about the carmaker’s plans for its new vw.os operating system and Volkswagen Automotive Cloud. ID.3 will be the first VW vehicle to run on the new systems, and he said the electric hatchback, along with the eighth-generation Golf, “will be the first high-volume cars that will be updated and upgraded over their life cycles, either at the dealership or over the air.” Tesla does this, of course, but VW looks to do it at scale.

Sengpiehl said VW is working with external partners to implement its new digital ecosystem, including Microsoft. He did note that it’s “too early to say” whether having the car connected at all times would be included as standard, or if it would require an additional subscription fee.

Throughout the interview, Sengpiehl expressed the importance of data, including data-driven marketing through VW’s ID.Hub website. The company also plans to create Volkswagen ID, like an Apple ID or Google ID, for its customer data platform.

When asked about data privacy, Sengpiehl said VW would “fulfill all data protection requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation,” but he didn’t give a straight answer on whether or not the company would sell user data to third parties.

Electrek’s Take

While executives at other legacy automakers always seem to offer caveats and push back against their own efforts — sometimes at the very same event that focuses on electric car plans, as in the case of BMW — Volkswagen seems committed.

Whether that’s an admission of guilt for Dieselgate is still a fair question, but VW still doesn’t have to be so optimistic. It could temper expectations and fall back on “challenge” concerns like so many others — but it hasn’t.

Sengpiehl also seems to answer why VW is getting so far ahead of its production EVs in both pre-orders and advertising — it sees a need for familiarizing a larger audience with electric vehicles in general. Presumably, that’s one reason why U.S. audiences are seeing the ID. BUZZ concept now.

Sengpiehl danced around the data privacy questions, but it seems that VW is still figuring things out in that regard. We do hope the carmaker will provide more clarity on that front as we move closer to the introduction of its digital ecosystem.

As for Tesla, it is refreshing to see an acknowledgement of what Elon Musk’s company has accomplished, moving the industry forward in such a way that it isn’t clear that anyone would be doing battery electrics otherwise.

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