VW aims to challenge Tesla with futuristic electric trucks

Hansesin Daum, the CEO of Volkswagen AG’s truck business Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said he wants to overtake Tesla Inc. in the marketplace with a more sustainable-battery strategy.

In order to do that, Diess wants to roll out more autonomy options in 2020, saying his customers haven’t warmed to battery-powered haulers because they don’t feel like they have a benefit. That’s where Tesla comes in.

“There will come a day when customers recognize this platform as the equal of the ICE [internal combustion engine] platforms,” he said in an interview at the Frankfurt Motor Show, pointing to Tesla as a prime example. “That will happen sooner or later.”

Hansesin Daum. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The adage “if you build it, they will come” also applies to trucking, Diess said. Through the use of weight-sensing systems, a 3D-printed frame and vehicle-to-everything communication, Volkswagen can bring commercial vehicles in between electric vehicles, which must still charge overnight, and internal combustion engines, which are fully charged before they start working.

As Diess puts it, Volkswagen Truck & Bus has the potential to be the “next Tesla,” a name that he finds non-believable. “We may have to keep working.”

Asked about his opinion of Elon Musk’s electric-car venture, Diess isn’t as enthusiastic as many observers of the space — an unexpected for someone who grew up in Germany, where the maker of the original VW Beetle would often run down the Autobahn laughing at motorists who accidentally got busted by an illegal U-turn. “The Tesla platform is not the product I like, but this kind of company isn’t my cup of tea,” he said.

Europe’s largest carmaker recently moved one step closer to competition with Tesla when its luxury commercial vehicle, the Amarok XD pickup, made its first appearance at the Frankfurt show. Diess sees potential for fleets of electric vehicles, but he won’t say when.

“With Tesla, the problems have already been solved,” he said. “A fleet of trucks is not in my immediate future.”

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