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The Volkswagen ID.3 electric car will be available for sale later this year at a cost of starting at less than €30,000 ($43,700).

DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images

Volkswagen wants to do for electric cars what it did with the Beetle, only this time it’ll be with a battery-powered hatchback called the ID.3, rather than a cheap bug-shaped coupe.

The ID.3 is an electric car “for the millions, not the millionaires,” according to the company.

Volkswagen is saying all the right things about leading the electric-vehicle charge. It has promised to invest more than €34-billion ($49.5-billion) by 2022 in EVs, aiming for nothing less than carbon neutrality.

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The company’s chief executive officer is addressing accusations of “greenwashing” head on. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first people to sit in the ID.3 after it was unveiled on stage at the Frankfurt auto show. “Very good, very spacious,” was her verdict. Around her on the VW stand were only electric vehicles.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sits in a Volkswagen ID.3 electric car on the opening day of the IAA 2019 Frankfurt Auto Show on Sept. 12.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The basic facts are this: The ID.3 will be on the road later this year, starting at less than €30,000. It comes in multiple versions with ranges between roughly 300 km and 500 km. It’s the first of 50 different electric vehicles the VW Group will offer by 2025.

There are caveats. For starters, the ID.3 won’t be coming to North America. Matthew Renna, vice-president of e-mobility for Volkswagen North America, declined to comment, but Thomas Tetzlaff, spokesman for Volkswagen Canada, essentially said that a compact hatchback isn’t a good fit for the U.S. market. However, he added: “I will say that in the Canadian marketplace, we are taking a very, very, very close look at this car. We are giving it due consideration to bring it into Canada only.”

Our southern neighbours aren’t especially fond of compact hatchbacks, let alone electric ones. The Chevrolet Bolt certainly hasn’t set the sales charts alight.

If the ID. 3 does arrive, it won’t be until after the all-electric ID Crozz SUV lands in Canadian dealerships in early 2021. The ID Crozz – rumoured to be called ID.4 – is a VW Tiguan-sized SUV. Built on the same platform as the ID.3, it will be capable of driving ranges between 320 km and 480 km per charge depending on which size battery you opt for, according to Renna.

As for the price, expect some sticker shock. The VW Beetle became an icon because it was dirt cheap with room enough for the whole family, but the ID.3 or ID Crozz won’t be cheap.

“We look at it on a cost-of-ownership basis,” Renna said. “When you compare fuel and maintenance savings versus a gasoline car, yes, the EV will come with a higher MSRP for sure, but you will be saving money in the long run.”

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Whether that turns out to be true depends on how much you drive, how long you keep the car, the price of gas and how much the car is worth once it’s time to sell it.

Even though the ID. 3 doesn’t seem as though it will be significantly different from existing EVs such as the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3 or Hyundai Kona, it’s still worth paying attention to.

The ID.3 comes in multiple versions with ranges between roughly 300 and 500 km. It’s the first of 50 different electric vehicles the VW Group will offer by 2025.

DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images

These fresh claims of an impending EV revolution from yet another automaker are different because Volkswagen isn’t just another automaker. It’s the world’s biggest. More than 10 million new vehicles roll off Volkswagen Group production lines every year. The Group’s brands include VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.

VW’s factory in Zwickau, Germany will soon be churning out 330,000 electric vehicles annually. In 2025, VW Group expects to build and sell up to three million EVs annually. By comparison, Tesla is aiming to produce 360,000 vehicles this year.

“In order to get EV vehicle costs down to the point where everyone can afford them, you have to build scale,” Renna said. “We think we’ll be top-of-scale for battery production, which gives us the cost advantage.” Even if the ID.3 and ID Crozz aren’t as affordable as we’d like, their successors might be.

It is tempting to think that Volkswagen is being forced into this EV revolution, but that’s not quite true. Yes, the sudden decision to go all-in on electric vehicles came only after VW got caught cheating on emissions tests.

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The pivot to EVs is partly because of regulatory pressure, and it’s certainly good for rejuvenating the brand’s image, but it isn’t necessary. VW sales in North America didn’t take a big hit in the wake of the scandal. The company could continue with business more-or-less as usual: selling more SUVs with downsized turbo-charged engines, and maybe a handful of mild hybrid vehicles. That’s what other brands are doing and it would certainly be easier than investing so much money in EVs.

When it comes to revolutionary products, VW has a decent track record. The cheap and cheerful Beetle got the masses moving after the Second World War. A couple decades later, the VW Golf set the benchmark for compact cars, a benchmark it arguably still sets today. As far as the Dieselgate scandal goes, well, VW has come back from worse. (In the forties, the Beetle was Hitler’s car; by the sixties it was the hippies’ car.)

The ID.3 isn’t as revolutionary as VW would have you believe, but it marks a new beginning. The world’s biggest automaker is finally serious about EVs. Watch this space.

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