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Volkswagen: The biggest electric car company by 2018?

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Christian Charisius/Reuters/File

(Read caption) The logo of German Volkswagen AG is shown atop a factory in the northern German city of Hanover. Could Volkswagen be the biggest electric car company by 2018?

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Say what you will about Volkswagen, but the company isn't afraid of setting big, bold goals for itself.

Several years ago, VW announced its intention to become the world's largest automaker by 2018. And now, according to Detroit News, it's aiming to be the world's biggest maker of electric cars by 2018, too.

It won't be easy. Volkswagen lags behind many other major automakers when it comes to electric cars. (Remember: the Nissan Leaf arrived in the U.S. nearly three years ago.) Not only that, but the highest-profile electric prototype in the company's arsenal is the Audi e-tron -- which looked great in Iron Man 3, but last we heard, Audi had pulled the plug on the entire e-tron program

What's the problem? Unlike many other automakers, VW pinned its hopes for fuel efficiencyon diesel cars. That perspective might be blamed on geography: Volkswagen is a European automaker, and diesels are big on the Continent. 

Unfortunately, while VW was developing efficient diesel engines, the rest of the world realized three things:

1. Fossil fuel's days are numbered. The transition to electricity won't be easy, it won't take place overnight, but it's coming, and ignoring that fact sets businesses up for failure.

2. Electric cars can be comfortable, easy to operate, and fun to drive. (Thanks, Tesla!)

3. Electric car technology -- especially battery tech -- is evolving faster than most people predicted. Initial estimates placed the EV takeover some 50 years down the road, but the actual number could be more like 40, or 30, or maybe even 25.

Of course, it's still early in the electric car game, and Volkswagen has done some work with electrics before now. Though it hasn't garnered nearly the press that the e-tron did, the all-electric VW Golf is coming to dealerships soon, and at this week's Frankfurt Auto Show, Volkswagen showed off the new e-Up!. And lest we forget, the company also presented an electric concept version of the Beetle with the unfortunate name "e-Bugster" back in 2012. Volkswagen has vowed that by next year, 14 models will be available as electric vehicles orhybrids.  

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So there's no doubt that Volkswagen has some electric cars in the works. The question is: will they arrive in time? And will consumers buy them, or will they veer toward the competition?

Given that VW is one of the few automakers doing business in America that's losing ground this year -- off 1.3 percent as of August 31 -- we're not ready to place any bets. 

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