Volkswagen Promises an Electric Car "As Revolutionary As the Beetle." Can It Deliver?

By John

This "teaser"photo gives a glimpse of a new electric VW to be unveiled in Paris next month. Image source: Volkswagen.

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We've known for a while thatVolkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY) is planning to unveil a new electric car at the Paris Motor Show in early October.Now we know that VW thinks it'll be a very big deal.

On Friday, the company released the above teaser photo of its upcoming show car, along with a statement that makes some very big promises about the new battery-powered VW.

What VW said about its new electric car

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To say the least, VW didn't skimp on the hype. I could describe VW's statement for you, but it's short enough that I'll just quote the whole thing right here and let you see it for yourself:

What is all that about?

Let's back up a little bit.

About a year ago, VW admitted that it had programmed millions of diesel-powered cars to cheat on emissions tests. That admission led to a big shake-up in VW's top ranks, including the departure of CEO Martin Winterkorn. His replacement, former Porsche chief Matthias Mueller, has been working to deal with the scandal's fallout -- and also to get VW moving in a very different direction: Away from diesels and toward an electrified future.

Mueller has signaled that VW is gearing up to launch a slew of new electric vehicles up and down its product range. They'll be based on a brand-new vehicle architecture designed from the ground up for electric cars (called MEB, for [in English] "modular electric toolkit"), that can form the basis of battery-electric vehicles with ranges of 400 to 600 kilometers, or 249 to 373 miles.

Apparently, this show car will be a concept version of the first VW to be built on that new MEB architecture, the first of several electric VWs expected to arrive by 2020. By 2025, VW hopes to be selling between 2 million and 3 million electric vehicles every year.

As Mueller sees it, this new range of electric vehicles is how VW will get past the diesel scandal, and how it will maintain its status as an automotive leader as the world moves away from internal combustion.

So you can see why VW thinks this new concept car is pretty important.

Will it really be as important as the original VW Beetle?

It's certainly possible that VW's electric car could turn out to be a big seller in time, and an iconic design that isremembered for decades. But it will need to be very, very special if it's to be seen by analysts and the media as anything other than a "me, too" effort right now,because at least for the moment, one of VW's biggest rivals has stolen the affordable-electric-car limelight.

GM's Chevrolet Bolt EV is the new benchmark for an affordable electric car. Image source: General Motors.

Whether VW likes it or not, any mass-market electric vehicle it (or anyone else) shows in the near future is going to be judged against General Motors' (NYSE: GM) impressive Chevrolet Bolt EV. The Bolt's 238-mile EPA-estimated range, from a 60 kilowatt-hour battery pack, is the new benchmark for any effort to bring an affordable electric vehicle to market.

Reports suggest that the car VW will show in Paris won't go into production until 2019 at the earliest. No matter its claimed range or capabilities, that puts VW behind: The Bolt will be in full production within weeks.

The bottom line: This new electric VW needs to be pretty special if it's to even come close to living up to the company's hype. We'll be watching.

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John Rosevear owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.