Volkswagen ships first electric Golf to California

Volkswagen begins testing its electric vehicles this year, with a program involving 500 models of its eGolf, 20 of which will make it to the United States.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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An initiative by the German government calls for 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2020. To meet that goal, Volkswagen began a development program for its own electric vehicle, the eGolf. CNET looked at the first eGolf to be shipped to Volkswagen's Electronic Research Laboratory in Belmont, Calif.

This eGolf is the first of 20 that will be used for testing in the United States. Overall, Volkswagen will build 500 of the vehicles for testing its new electric powertrain. This drive system is fairly conventional by today's standards. It uses an electric motor to drive the front wheels and a lithium-ion battery to store energy. Along with plugging into the grid, the car recharges through regenerative braking.

The battery pack holds 26.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and the drive system output rates at 85 kilowatts. Volkswagen puts the car's range at 93 miles, and cites a 60 mph acceleration time of 11.8 seconds. Top speed is 87 mph.

Volkswagen eGolf electric car (photos)

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When asked why Volkswagen went with an existing model instead of building a new electric car from the ground up, Volkswagen Senior Engineer Jerry LeBlanc responded that it was more efficient to manufacture, as the Golf and eGolf share a considerable number of parts. He cited the example of Ford, which can build both its gasoline and electric Focus models on the same line.

The cabin of the eGolf has a very finished feeling, gained from the fact that most of the components are from the gasoline Golf. Volkswagen added power consumption screens for the head unit, put power gauges into the instrument cluster, and added a drive mode button near the shifter.

Although it only has a one-speed reduction gear, Volkswagen retained the shifter for drive mode selection. But instead of a low range, Volkswagen gave it a mode labeled B, which stands for braking regeneration. When engaged, the eGolf slows down quickly when the driver lets off the accelerator. Volkswagen also maintained paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which lets the driver choose among three intensities for the B mode.

A button in front of the shifter also lets the driver select different energy consumption programs, such as Eco or Range. In Range mode, the car does everything it can to maximize driving range, reducing all other electricity usage. Other programs reduce range, but let the driver use the air conditioning and other comfort components.

Volkswagen has not said when it will put the eGolf into production. But with 500 cars on the road to gather data, it seems the company could start manufacturing on a moment's notice.