Meet the man tasked with reinventing the Volkswagen brand

Designer Klaus Bischoff is designing the next generation of VW cars as it attempts to shake off the Dieselgate scandalVolkswagen has big plans for its all-important new electric cars

Volkswagen design chief Klaus Bischoff in the VW ID Vizzion at the Geneva International Motor Show

Volkswagen design chief Klaus Bischoff in the VW ID Vizzion at the Geneva International Motor Show

 

Klaus Bischoff is tasked with reinventing the VW brand, designing cars for the firm’s electric future and removing the stain of the diesel emissions scandal. No pressure then.

Bischoff became something of a YouTube star after a video from the Frankfurt motor show in 2011 of then Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn inspecting the latest Hyundai i30 hatchback.

Growing increasingly aggravated at the build quality of the rival to the VW Golf, he barks out “Bischoff!”, summoning VW’s design chief. “Nothing makes a clonking sound here,” he says grumpily, pointing to the wheel.

It was a glimpse into life in the pre-scandal Winterkorn era, which various executives have described as one of fear and respect for the chairman.

That era came to an abrupt end when, in September 2015, the firm admitted cheating on US emissions test. Out went Winterkorn and in came Matthias Müller, a VW lifer. In the last two years the culture in the firm has radically changed.

The old, unquestioning, culture was diagnosed as a key factor in the emissions scandal. And Müller claims his greatest achievement to date has been to reform it – by decentralising decision-making.

The outline of Bischoff’s mammoth task was drawn at a meeting of the board in November 2015. The question on the table was simple: where do we go now?

New strategy

While Bischoff was not in attendance he says this meeting began to set out a new age for the brand. “With the change in the board and management, we applied a new strategy and the strategy is to go full steam ahead with an electric platform. We were briefed to implement that.”

Volkswagen’s new all-electric flagship ID Vizzion at the 88th Geneva International Motor Show on March 6th, 2018, in Switzerland. Photograph: Robert Hradil/Getty Images
Volkswagen’s new all-electric flagship ID Vizzion: expect a production version in showrooms by 2022

Invariably the briefing was relatively light on detail. “There was a rough plan for what to do, but for us the job was largely to start from scratch.”

What he has come up with, alongside the engineers tasked with providing the electric powertrains, is a family of vehicles under the name ID. The plan is to have more than 20 full-battery electric cars in production by 2025. Topping this will be the flagship of the range, due to arrive on the market in 2022.

First up will be a fully-electric hatchback, the original ID, due for launch in 2020. Even Bischoff admits its importance is on a par with the first Beetle and the first Golf. It needs to be a hit.

Quickly after this will come the ID Crozz, a fully-electric crossover SUV. Then, in 2022 the flagship ID Vizzion will arrive.

Guiding The Irish Times around the ID Vizzion, Bischoff says: “You see the show car: this is the production car, it’s not far away. Proportion, architecture, that’s it. Design elements, that’s it. Of course the doors will change but what you see is largely what you are going to get.”

And it’s a big car, measuring in at just over 5 metres.

While fully control-free autonomous driving systems will not make it into the 2021 production car, it will retain much of the ID Vizzion concept’s powertrain and its 111kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Volkswagen insists it has a range of 665km.

“The biggest advantage of the modular electric toolkit (MEB) is the growth in inner space. The true customer advantage is that with literally the same or slightly smaller footprints, you gain a lot of inner space.

Staying in the futuristic concept age, however, Bischoff explains his vision of a future where the car is not only fully autonomous, but also doesn’t have a single screen or gauge or dial. The company that is on the verge of introducing the curved Innovision touchscreen for its Touareg SUV is already admitting it is trying to make the technology redundant.

3D hologram system

Drivers will instead give the ID Vizzion of the future instructions either by voice recognition or a revolutionary 3D hologram system, which is kind of a floating, mid-air multi-media system.

Inside the futuristic Volkswagen ID Vizzion
Inside the futuristic Volkswagen ID Vizzion: "We have an interface that is holographic, therefore you have to wear these glasses,” Bischoff said, pointing to a virtual reality-style headset, similar to those of Oculus. “It’s like a touchscreen with no screen, and you don’t see it at all when you take off the glasses.”

“We have an interface that is holographic, therefore you have to wear these glasses,” Bischoff said, pointing to a virtual reality-style headset, similar to those of Oculus.

“It’s like a touchscreen with no screen, and you don’t see it at all when you take off the glasses.”

“The mission was to empty the car,” Bischoff insisted.

Bischoff has a rather colourful description of what his role is in coming up with such futuristic visions. “Designers are the translators of wishes that people don’t know they have. We make things into reality that people don’t know now. We have the feeling for what’s coming in the future after the future.”

The question is whether the dieselgate scandal has actually created a sustainably better company just as the car industry is undergoing its biggest overhaul since the invention of the internal combustion engine. If so, then Bischoff’s new fleet will be the metal metaphor for this change.

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