The battle for the low-end EVs just got a little bit spicier. Largely dominated by Nissan’s popular Leaf, the car has yet to meet a competitor that can compete with it in the holy trifecta of range, price, and appeal. The Kia Soul EV and Ford Focus EV come close, but are limited geographically since they are not sold nationwide. The Volkswagen e-Golf, with 83 miles of range and a similar hatchback format is probably the closest, but its single SEL trim made it more expensive. Until now.
In the SEL suit, the e-Golf offers just about every convenience, option, and luxury that VW is able to put into the hatchback. This, in turn, drove the price of the little EV up over $35,000 (before incentives), asking buyers to part with a lot of money for something that in gasoline trim competes with stuff like the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Ford Focus.
Now, the new e–Golf SE trim will start at $29,815 after $820 for destination but before incentives, ever so slightly besting the $29,860 Nissan Leaf (also with $850 delivery, and yes, by a whole $45). Importantly, though, it undercuts the SEL trim by a far more significant $6,600.
Don’t get the idea that VW is going to be selling off stripped-out Golfs with a cardboard dash and vinyl seats though. VW’s brass says that the SE will offer “most of the features of the SEL Premium model,” and come standard with a 3.6 kW onboard charger. A 7.2-kW fast charging package will be made optional later in the year. Buyers will get VW’s 6.5-inch infotainment system (downsized from the SEL’s 8.5-inch screen).
The timing is pretty good for VW, which in a few years is expected to compete with the Tesla Model 3 and its supposed $35,000 base price. The e-Golf’s appeal lies in its ordinary nature — it looks, drives, and behaves much like any other Golf would. It just happens to be electric. However, Tesla’s new entry models and existing cachet with millennials and proven track record with electric cars will pose some significant obstacles.
In the meantime, Volkswagen has some catching up to do. The e-Golf has moved 1,831 units this year through July, to the Nissan Leaf’s 10,990 in the same period. This implies that there’s robust demand for small EVs on the south side of $30,000, and it sets the Golf up well given how popular the conventional gas- and diesel-powered models are.
Shoring up its EV credentials now could help a struggling Volkswagen in a big way in the long run. The company has struggled in North America as it tries to compete with a largely dated lineup of vehicles (the Golf, for its credit, being a bright spot). By evolving a compelling EV portfolio, Volkswagen’s lineup in the U.S. could have a serious advantage over other establishment automakers that are taking their time rolling out battery-powered vehicles. Plus, a Golf Sportwagen EV would be awesome.
Expanding its EV platform to more vehicles (the Jetta? What about the Beetle?!) would also put VW in good standing with the EPA, which is cracking down on automakers to push development of environmentally-sound technologies. Volkswagen’s move to offer a lower-priced EV is the right one — and hopefully its success will resonate throughout the rest of its portfolio.