A Look Back at the History of Electric Volkswagens: Golf and Jetta CityStromers



Lately, Volkswagen has been hard at work spreading the word of its electric vehicle “bold offensive.”

VW e-Up!

VW e-Up!

While we do sort of chuckle when we hear the words “Volkswagen” and “electric vehicle” in the same sentence, we can’t help but wonder what would have been if VW stuck to its original “bold offensive” for EVs launched way back when.

Back in 1976, VW first dabbled with electric vehicles by dropping a battery pack in the first-generation Golf.

Later, VW got serious with the 1988 Jetta CityStromer.  This electric featured a 26-kWh sodium-sulphur battery pack, which provided up to 75 miles of range.  Top speed was listed at 65 mph.

Various other iterations followed, including the 1992 Golf Mk2 CityStromer and 1994 Golf Mk3 CityStromer.  Both of these vehicles made do with lesser lead-gel batteries, which result in less range than the Jetta CityStromer and a reduced top speed.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Volkswagen e-Golf

All of VW’s early electric vehicles were low volume and never intended for sale to the public, but as we can see from as far back as 1976, VW was into electrics.  Following the departure of the Golf MK3 CityStromer, Volkswagen went lights out on electric vehicles.

Now, VW is trying to reignite the spark.  Both the VW e-Up! and e-Golf are pure electric vehicle that will launch to international audiences (e-Up! is not US-bound though) and are part of the automaker’sbold offensive.”

VW needs this “bold offensive” to catch up on the competition, most of which is now years ahead of the German automaker.  But had VW stuck with and advanced its early work on electrics, wouldn’t the automaker be near the lead today?

This “bold offensive” is a response to decades of forgetting the electric.  VW had a chance to lead the way, but in extinguishing its early EV program, the German automaker now sits near the bottom of the pack and faces a long climb to get back to the top.

Categories: Volkswagen


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4 Comments on "A Look Back at the History of Electric Volkswagens: Golf and Jetta CityStromers"

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David Stone

I would not say a long climb from a technology perspective; they have the experience and the resources.
The long climb only applies to the mentality department.

Either they are serious and it will happen, or they are not.


So the first Jetta EV from 1988 had, what the i-MiEV has now – about 75miles of range. “VW had a chance to lead the way” – indeed.

Ocean Railroader

This car has 75 mile of range in the 1980’s and now they have only 80 miles of range even now in the 2013 I’m somewhat dumb in that we should have at least 150 by now.

Brad B
I also think that VW would have been a leader today had there been any way for them to continue to sell those City Stromers. My wife and I were married In 1981 and because gas was $1.43 a gallon we decided to buy one of the earliest Diesel Jetta’s as our first new car. Many car companies were dabbling in electrics back then because of the high fuel prices in the early 80’s. The price would be equivalent to $6.00 a gallon today. My Jetta got 49 life time average MPG in its 300k miles of life. In 84, I read that VW was working on an electric car. Then they came out with the prototype MK II Jeta in 86. I was impressed at the range they could get compared to most of the other electric prototypes of the day. Almost all others used some form of lead acid battery, and as mentioned in your article, VW used a sodium sulfur battery. I thought that was really cool and I wanted one and hoped they would produce it. My Jetta could get to 60 in a blistering 16 seconds and had a top speed of about 80. I… Read more »