The Volkswagen Golf at 45: Killing the Legend.

As I write this blog, the new Golf Mk8 is about to be unveiled with a launch date scheduled for early 2020. Already the world knows what to expect; a high quality, reliable car with conservative styling. In my last blog, I charted the Golf's evolution to this point and VW will not stray too far from what has come before. In a perfect world, it would be business as usual. The Golf would launch, be a success (especially in Europe) and allow Volkswagen to continue to grow and produce more SUVs and niche models across the vast VW Group. But this isn't a perfect world. The infamous "Dieselgate" emission scandal may not have killed Volkswagen but I believe it mortally wounded them and forced them to accelerate their e-mobility (electric car) strategy. Unfortunately for the Golf, this brave new world of electric cars does not appear to include it. Like the Beetle before it, the Golf could find itself suddenly replaced by an altogether more revolutionary vehicle.

Before I discuss the Golf's possible successor, let's take a closer look at what the Mk8 is shaping up to be. Under the skin it will ride on an evolution of the MQB platform. This will be lighter and more efficient than the previous versions. Specifically, it will accommodate a 48V "mild" hybrid system, which is already offered on the VW group premium brands such as Porsche and Bentley. But the Mk8 will make this expensive technology available to the masses. It will give the new Golf better efficiency, allowing it to recuperate energy on the move. The biggest stumbling block at the moment with the car is its ability to receive life updates via permanent internet connectivity. VW is taking a page out to TESLA's book and this has not been a simple feature to incorporate into the new platform. But connectivity and autonomous driving will definitely be highlights of this new generation. We can expect to see more digital technology on the interior of the car too. Rumour has it that very few buttons will remain in the Golf, with everything going touch screen. Here again, we can look to the Audi and Porsche ranges to get an idea what the Golf's interior will be. The number of model variants will also be reduced. We already know there will be no e-Golf and the three-door along with the estate models are expected to be axed. Finally, the sporty GTI and R models will survive into this generation without hybrid drivetrains as originally thought, rather they will soldier on with their current drivetrains intact and slightly enhanced.

There is no doubt that the eight generation Golf will be a great car. One that represents the past while embracing future technology. However, I have a fear that Volkswagen is getting ready to kill the Golf and replace it with the ID 3 electric car, which will be launching later this year. The Golf, for all it has achieved, is an internal combustion powered hatchback. The fact that it is the bestselling Volkswagen internal combustion powered hatchback makes things even more treacherous. To the buying public, Volkswagen cars are evil and electric is the only way to go.

Things are not that simple, but let's jump on the bandwagon here. Every car maker is going electric and to Volkswagen's credit, they are embracing it fully. Given the groups size and resources, it could ironically be Volkswagen that gets the world into electric cars before the likes of TESLA. Why? Simply put VW knows how to build a good car. TESLA is still struggling to mass produce their Model 3 to a consistent quality standard and affordable price. How is Volkswagen going to do this? They unveiled their MEB platform late last year. The "Modularer E-Antrisebs-Baukasten" or "Modular Electric Drive Matrix" is similar in philosophy to the MQB platform. It is a modular tool-kit of parts that can be used to manufacture various cars using the same basic building blocks. This, VW states, will result in cheaper electric cars for all.

This plan is ambitious and achievable. By 2025, Volkswagen aims to have 20 electric models on the market, accounting for  projected sales of 1 million cars. The company will do this by axing more slow selling vehicles along with shifting more "traditional" petrol powered car onto the MQB platform. In this context, the reduced Mk8 Golf range makes sense.

The car that represents this bright, new future for Volkswagen (at least initially) is the ID 3 electric car. It is a Golf-sized hatchback and is due to be unveiled at this year's Frankfurt motor show.

The new Mk8 Golf will follow the ID 3 to market. Currently Volkswagen is claiming a spring 2020 launch. Both of these cars will co-exist, offering customers the best of both worlds. The connective and self-driving technology will overlap, and as the world's electric car infrastructure develops, so too will electric car sales.

Will there be a Golf Mk9? I doubt it. There are already whispers that Golf sales in North America will be limited to the GTI and R variants. I think the writing is on the wall. As a car fan, it pains me to think of a world without the Golf in it. I do not like or want electric cars, yet they are the future, and this gives Volkswagen a chance to start again with a clean slate.

If the Golf dies after this generation, it's legacy will be secured as one of the best small cars ever made. It will also be the model that eases us all into this brave new electric age. All in all, it is a good way to pass the torch.

 

I.D. image from www.autocar.co.uk

Golf Mk8 image from www.autocar.co.uk

M.E.B platform image from www.autocar.co.uk