Research and Development

The Volkswagen Group’s research and development activities in fiscal year 2015 concentrated on expanding our product portfolio and improving the functionality, quality, safety and environmental compatibility of our products.

A central challenge for Volkswagen is to recognize new developments in society, politics, technology, the environment and the economy at an early stage. These form an important basis for innovations and thus our business success. The Volkswagen Group’s research constantly addresses the latest trends and has established research offices in the key global automotive markets – including in China, Japan and the United States. They monitor technological areas relevant to the automotive industry, conduct cooperative projects with research institutions and local companies, thereby gaining enlightening new insights for the Volkswagen Group.

in grams per kilometer

* Subject to official publication by the European Commission in the annual CO2 fleet monitoring.

Fuel and drivetrain strategy

The Volkswagen Group invested €11.9 billion in research and development in fiscal year 2015. The majority of this was spent on efficiency-increasing technologies. After reviewing the CO2 issue, the vehicles’ emissions figures of only a very limited number of engine-transmission variants have to be adjusted in the course of normal processes. The Volkswagen Group’s new passenger car fleet in the EU (excluding Lamborghini and Bentley) emitted an average of 120.8 g CO2/km* in the reporting period and thus complied with the 2015 European limit of 130 g CO2/km. The Lamborghini and Bentley brands each have an independent fleet for the purposes of the European CO2 legislation and complied with their individual targets. We currently offer a total of 608 model variants (engine-transmission combinations) that emit less than 130 g CO2/km. For 489 model variants, we are already below the threshold of 120 g CO2/km. 145 model variants in fact remain below 100 g CO2/km. 87 model variants are already below the European fleet target of 95 g CO2/km valid from 2021 (see chart below).

The Volkswagen Group’s fuel and drivetrain strategy is paving the way for carbon-neutral and sustainable mobility. Our goal is to increase drive system efficiency with each new model generation – irrespective of whether they are powered by combustion engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, pure electric drives, or potential future fuel cell drive systems. All of our mobility concepts are tailored to our customers’ needs. This will expand the portfolio of different drive systems and will lead to a future situation where there is greater coexistence of traditional drive systems and e-mobility side by side. The current modular toolkits are designed so that the full range of drive systems can be deployed and flexibly mounted on product lines across our global locations. In addition, there will be a Modular Electrification Toolkit in future that will form the backbone of upcoming electric vehicles.

From today’s perspective, the combustion engine looks set to serve as the broad basis for drive technology in the coming years. In the interest of using resources responsibly, it is therefore crucial to further optimize combustion engines. Our new generations of petrol and diesel engines satisfy this requirement. When it comes to vehicles with conventional drive systems, we have significantly reduced average fuel consumption. We achieved this in particular with the aid of efficiency-increasing measures. These include the use of our dual clutch, lightweight construction and the improvement of aerodynamics. Natural gas engines play a key role in the drivetrain portfolio. Due to the chemical composition of the fuel, the CO2 emissions are around 25% below those of petrol. Our customers can, for instance, experience this for themselves with the Caddy TGI, which was introduced in 2015 as the successor to the Caddy EcoFuel. With almost the same performance compared to its predecessor, the smaller engine of the Caddy TGI clearly delivers significantly better acceleration and saves up to 1.7 kg of gas per 100 km due to its turbocharger. Natural gas is also an economic and clean drive system for heavy commercial vehicles. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) must replace compressed natural gas (CNG) for these engines to be used in long-distance trucks and buses, since this is the only way the required energy density and hence the desired range can be achieved. Better infrastructure is needed for natural gas to be widely usable as a fuel. For example, natural gas filling station networks have only been sufficiently developed in a few countries. With the new P280, Scania introduced its fourth generation of commercial vehicles fueled by bioethanol and thus strengthened its position as the commercial vehicle manufacturer with the widest range of vehicles with renewable fuels. The Euro-6 trucks and buses from MAN can also be fueled by biodiesel and bio natural gas in several drive system variants.

We are expanding our traditional range of engines through drivetrain electrification. The percentage of drivers traveling predominantly short distances is growing. These include commuters and city residents, but also delivery vehicles in urban areas. The population shift towards urban areas continues unabated, and by no means is this limited to just the burgeoning megacities of Asia and South America. Purely electric vehicles like the e-up! and e-Golf are emission-free and thus of particular interest to customers whose everyday driving covers short and medium distances. Opportunities to charge privately – e.g. using a charging station installed at a customer’s location – must be supplemented by a good public recharging infrastructure in the medium to long term.

However, most customers also want to take their vehicles on longer trips. Hybrid vehicles, in particular plug-in hybrids, combine highly efficient combustion engines with zero-emission electric motors. Where this combination of drive concepts is concerned, Volkswagen sees an opportunity to offer electrified models for all mobility needs to customers of a wide range of vehicle classes, to build trust in the new technologies, and thus to help e-mobility gain acceptance. We have been offering hybrid versions in a range of vehicle classes for several years. In 2015, we introduced further plug-in hybrid models with the Passat GTE and the Audi Q7 e-tron.

The Volkswagen Group’s toolkit strategy realizes substantial synergies through using modules across model series and brands. The vehicle architecture is designed so that all drive system types can be integrated flexibly and economically. This applies in particular for models that are based on the same platform; for example, they can use a single plug-in hybrid system consisting of a highly-efficient turbo petrol engine, an electric motor, our compact six-speed dual clutch and a lithium-ion battery. We have integrated the production of electrified vehicles into the manufacturing processes at our existing plants, e.g. in Wolfsburg, Emden, Bratislava, Ingolstadt and Leipzig.

The battery is the heart of an electric vehicle and its energy content is the deciding factor in determining the vehicle’s range. Currently we use lithium-ion cells for all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which we assemble to battery systems in our Braunschweig factory. Battery types based on solid electrolytes, which have a higher energy density and also meet stricter safety standards, are currently being researched. The industrial application of this technology is currently being reviewed. The next generation of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be fitted with improved lithium-ion technology. Electric motors are manufactured at our plant in Kassel. Electric vehicles based on the Modular Longitudinal Toolkit (MLB) will be produced locally in China from 2016. Electric vehicles based on the Modular Transverse Toolkit (MQB) will follow at a later date. For models based on the MQB in particular, localization of the core components including the high-voltage battery system is planned.

Hydrogen will still not be widely available as a fuel in the medium term. Both hydrogen filling stations and renewable hydrogen production plants will have to be constructed. Volkswagen has been working on fuel cell technologies for over 15 years and has gained extensive experience operating test fleets. The decision on whether to proceed to series production will depend on market requirements and infrastructure.

Thanks to our conventional and alternative technologies and the modular toolkit strategy, which allows innovations to be incorporated rapidly into different vehicles, we are optimally positioned to meet the challenges that the future will bring. We have expanded our expertise in electric traction with the help of additional technical specialists and experts.

Number of vehicles

Lifecycle engineering

Innovations and new technologies for reducing fuel consumption alone are not enough to minimize the effect of vehicles on the environment. This is because long before the wheels of a car turn for the first time, raw materials need to be extracted and materials and components manufactured.

This means that the assessment of new vehicles, components and materials begins before they are even produced: from the first idea and design sketches, through production and the subsequent usage phase, to recycling. We therefore consider a vehicle’s impact on the environment throughout the entire product lifecycle. To achieve this, we produce lifecycle analyses in accordance with ISO standards 14040 and 14044. By applying these we can determine where improvements have the greatest effect and develop innovations that target these points directly. We call this lifecycle engineering.

We regularly inform our customers, shareholders and other interested groups about the success stories of our environmentally responsible vehicle development and lifecycle assessments. The Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand publishes so-called environmental ratings showing the ecological advances in new vehicle models compared with their immediate predecessors; Audi publishes this information under the heading of “environmental footprint”.

As we want to minimize our vehicles’ impact on the environment together with our suppliers, Volkswagen joined the CDP supply chain program in 2015. We have also carried out workshops with some suppliers in order to find common innovative approaches to environmentally optimize certain components.

In cooperation with the Technische Universität Berlin, we further developed our methods for calculating the so-called water footprint in 2015. On the basis of the environmental footprint, we calculate and analyze the amount of water consumed by a vehicle during its entire lifecycle and are thus able to take specific measures to reduce water consumption.


Recycling makes a key contribution to reducing our products’ impact on the environment and conserving resources. It is not just a matter of recycling vehicles at the end of their service life – on the contrary, even at the development stage for new vehicles, we pay attention to the recyclability of the required materials, the use of high-quality recycled material and the avoidance of pollutants. At the same time, we factor in aspects of the use phase, for instance the treatment and disposal of service fluids or high-wear components.

Volkswagen is also constantly working on developing and enhancing recycling methods, processes and technologies. With VW-SiCon process – which has won several awards –we have developed a process that allows end-of-life vehicles to be 85% recycled and 95% recovered. This complies with the regulatory requirements that have been in force in the EU since the beginning of the reporting period. We are developing modern technologies for recycling components from electric vehicles with our partners as part of the LithoRec (lithium-ion battery recycling) and ElmoReL (electric vehicle recycling – key components in power electronics) research projects.

Last but not least in this area, we have the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand’s Genuine Exchange Parts program. Our industrial reconditioning produces high-quality exchange parts that conserve resources and offer the same quality, functionality and warranty but are on average 40% cheaper than the corresponding new parts.

Intelligent mobility

Mobility is one of the key conditions for economic growth and sustainable development. It is thus necessary to meet the growing need for mobility despite the ever-decreasing availability of resources. Mobility must be made more efficient and waste avoided. In order to address this challenge, the “number one for intelligent mobility” target area has been included in the Group environmental strategy (see “Environmental management in the Group”). Volkswagen wants to set standards with integrated, intelligent mobility solutions and innovative transport systems. To this end, we are opening up new fields of business and developing novel business models.

Given the variety of needs and local conditions for mobility, one possible solution alone will not be enough. Volkswagen is therefore working on various approaches, from innovative vehicle concepts right through to research into innovative urban developments. However, the solutions can only be fully effective if they are networked together and employed at the right time and in the right place. They require the efficient interplay of people, infrastructure, technologies and means of transport.

Since 2013, Volkswagen has been working with 14 other companies from different sectors in six cities across the world on the Sustainable Mobility Project 2.0 launched by the WBCSD. In the third and final year of the project, proposed solutions were developed for those cities that want to implement them as part of their mobility plans.

In the reporting period, the UR:BAN (Urban Space: User-oriented assistance systems and network management) research initiative also presented the results of its work after four years of research. 31 partners from the automotive and supplier industry, the electronics and software sector, research institutions and cities – and including Volkswagen Group Research and the Audi and MAN brands – were involved. Within the fields of cognitive assistance, human factors in traffic and networked traffic systems, the project participants in joint research work have developed new driver assistance and traffic management systems for complex traffic situations in urban traffic.

Digitalization and networking

Networking of the vehicle to other vehicles, the environment, infrastructure and mobile devices is advancing and increases the safety, comfort and driving enjoyment for driver and passengers. Innovations from this area are finding their way into numerous of our Group brands’ models. With the latest generation of the Modular Infotainment Toolkit, content from digital devices can be managed and played on the radio or navigation system using the App-Connect function in a large number of Volkswagen models, such as the new Touran. The “Car-Net Cam Connect" feature is also available for the first time in the new Touran: Thanks to a networked camera, the driver can now keep an eye on children, pets or sensitive loads in the rear, because the camera image is transmitted to the monitor of the infotainment system. The new Audi A4 is connected to the Internet via Audi connect using the fast LTE wireless communication standard. Passengers can use their mobile devices via the Wi-Fi hotspot. In addition, all available Audi connect services and safety features such as emergency call and online roadside assistance call are available in the vehicle, as is the MMI connect app for remote functions. An Audi tablet for entertaining the vehicle’s occupants, sound systems with 3D sound from Bang & Olufsen and Bose and the Audi Phone Box, which wirelessly connects the mobile telephone to the car’s external aerial and charges it inductively, underscore the ingenuity.

In many new Audi models, the Audi virtual cockpit displays vividly sharp and highly detailed information on driving, navigation and assistance features, for example high-resolution maps in full screen mode including Google Earth’s satellite view. The Audi virtual cockpit also provides a newly developed MMI control concept with voice command and a free text search feature.

Along with the new infotainment features and display options, we are continuously enhancing the gesture control and voice command in the vehicles. Volkswagen’s newest infotainment systems already use a proximity sensor. If a hand approaches the display, it automatically switches over from a purely informative level to a more structured menu with large operating controls. In the next revolutionary step, which Volkswagen introduced in 2015 on board the Golf R Touch concept vehicle, the infotainment unit will precisely detect and understand hand gestures. Without actually touching a touchscreen, it is thus possible to operate the display and controls in virtual space with your movements in real space. A clear gain in comfort and safety.

Another innovation resulting from digitalization is the digital key function. Here, the smartphone functions as a digital key that can be used to lock or unlock the vehicle, open and close all windows and start or stop the engine. The digital key can also be transferred to other smartphones. For example, this will make it possible for third parties to unload the car or service it without actually having the key in their hands – a new dimension for servicing and services. Subsequently, the temporary access to the car will be deactivated again.

High performance telematics systems have already become common in Volkswagen Group’s heavy commercial vehicles. They make it possible to view vehicles’ efficiency transparently even in large fleets. All parameters influencing fuel consumption can be monitored in this way, for example correct tire pressure or consistent use of efficiency systems.

Lightweight construction

Lightweight body shell production remains a strategic development focus. Volkswagen uses hot-formed, high-strength steels in series models. We are also pursuing a vehicle- and platform-specific composite material approach, i.e. the use of diverse materials in a body shell. Lightweight materials such as aluminum are also used in the development of new platforms.

Audi continues to intensively work on using lightweight construction to increase the dynamics of its models and at the same time decrease consumption. The Audi Q7 body is made largely of aluminum. Thanks to the Audi Space Frame construction, the vehicle body only weighs a little more than 200 kg. In addition, large components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) are integrated in the body of the Audi R8 Coupé. In the RS models, various parts of the exterior and interior are made of CFRP.

In 2015 Porsche presented a vehicle concept based on a lightweight construction design with optimum weight distribution and low center of gravity: the Study Mission E. The body consists of a functional mixture of aluminum, steel and CFRP, for example the bonnet and wheels are made of carbon fiber.

We are also researching into economical lightweight construction technologies for series production as part of the Open Hybrid LabFactory public-private partnership in collaboration with the Lower Saxony Research Center for Vehicle Technology (NFF) at the Technical University of Braunschweig, the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and various other industry partners.

Lighting technology

The Audi brand is the global leader in automotive lighting technology. The new R8 introduced in 2015 also sets new standards in this field. As an optional extra for it, the latest development is available: the laser spot for high-beam headlights. What makes laser light special is that it produces a range nearly twice as far as an LED high-beam headlight. Audi is working on the headlights of the future in its sponsored project “Intelligent laser light for compact and high-resolution adaptive headlights” alongside partners from industry and science. Matrix laser technology and its high resolution will make illumination of the road highly adjustable.

The next step in automotive lighting technology was displayed in a concept vehicle at the IAA in Frankfurt: the new matrix OLED lights (OLED: organic light-emitting diode). They enable a previously unknown degree of homogeneity of light and thus expand the creative leeway in vehicle design. In contrast to point light sources such as LEDs, which are made of semiconductor crystals, OLEDs are light emitting surfaces. They will soon be able to generate turn signal and brake lights too. The new flexible substrate materials will lend themselves to three-dimensional forming. OLED units can also be subdivided into small segments that can be controlled at different brightness levels. In addition, there will be different colors and transparent OLED units.

Driver assistance systems and automated driving

In fiscal year 2015, we expanded the use of innovative driver assistance systems to additional vehicles. Following their first use in the new Passat in 2014, the Trailer Assist, the Emergency Assist and the Traffic Jam Assist, for example, are also available in the latest models of Touran, Tiguan, Audi A4 and Audi Q7. If the driver is not responding, the Emergency Assist makes an escalating sequence of attempts to wake the driver before bringing the car to an emergency stop. Trailer Assist makes maneuvering a vehicle with a trailer easier by using a rear view camera to analyze the hitch articulation angle and to calculate the steering angle from this. The Traffic Jam Assist uses Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) automated distance control and Lane Assist in order to enable partially automated driving in traffic jams. At a speed of 0 to 65 km/h, the car follows the vehicle in front, controlling the acceleration and brakes within the limits of the system and independently keeps itself within the lane.

The gradual expansion of assistance systems paves the way for automated driving and increasingly takes the pressure off the driver. Volkswagen aims for the leadership position in this area of innovation. V-Charge, an EU research project in which we are working on new technologies together with five national and international partners, offers a glimpse of the near future of automated parking. The focus is on automating the search for a parking space and charging electric vehicles. The idea is that the vehicle does not just autonomously search for a free parking space, it also finds a free spot with charging infrastructure and charges its battery inductively. Once the charging process is completed, it releases the charging spot for another vehicle and looks for a conventional parking space. Audi is researching this in a similar project in the Boston area in the USA. With the Trained Parking function, vehicles can in future be “trained” in the process for parking at their own home.

In 2014, Audi showed what the technology can already do in the field of fully automated driving: the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept completed a lap of the Hockenheim Grand Prix track at racing speeds – without a driver. On the Sonoma Raceway in California – one of the most challenging racetracks in the world – the latest generation of the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept exceeded the previous top performance yet again in the year under review, making faster lap times than the racing drivers. Further successes included a 550 mile piloted trip with an Audi A7 piloted driving concept on the highway from Stanford in Silicon Valley to Las Vegas, and a piloted drive through the heavy city traffic of Shanghai. Audi will offer piloted driving for the first time in the next generation of the Audi A8.

Driver assistance systems and automated driving functions are also on the increase in heavy commercial vehicles. MAN and Scania are already working on intelligent systems that go beyond cruise control and Lane Assist. As in the passenger cars area, Traffic Jam Assist will use automation to drive the truck through a traffic jam at a speed of up to 50 km/h, thus relieving the driver of monotonous tasks such as starting up the vehicle and braking.

A further variant of the automated and networked approach is driving in a convoy, also referred to as platooning. The first vehicle of the platoon chooses the lane and sets the pace; the following vehicles each drive in the slipstream of the vehicle in front and, thanks to the reduced wind resistance, can reduce their fuel consumption and correspondingly the CO2 emissions. While platooning, all of the vehicles are connected to each other via a wireless LAN network and constantly exchange data such as GPS position, engine speed, speed, steering angle and the positions of the brake and accelerator pedals. If the driver in front accelerates, the other drivers do too. If the front vehicle brakes, the vehicles behind brake too. Platooning ensures a consistent flow of traffic for the commercial vehicles involved. Utilization of the road can be significantly improved by this. Scania is also further developing these technologies into driverless trucks for mining uses. Corresponding prototypes are already in use in closed off areas.

Emergency brake assist has been a mandatory equipment requirement for new registrations for most types of commercial vehicles since November 2015. Already during the reporting period, MAN introduced the newest generation of emergency brake assistance with sensor fusion – the interaction of radar sensor and front camera – and the emergency brake signal. The braking performance required by law for 2018 has thus already been exceeded. The respective MAN and Scania vehicles not only have emergency brake assistance, but also Lane Assist as standard.