In a single announcement, Volkswagen has managed to please just about everyone. The company is reinventing its famed Microbus, and will produce it as an all-electric, self-driving van that’s intended for road trips, ride-sharing, and even small businesses.
When the small, utilitarian people mover first debuted nearly 70 years ago, the Microbus was revolutionary. Its place in the American cultural landscape was cemented in the 1960s when many affectionately nicknamed it the “hippie van.”
While fans of the microbus remain steadfast in their devotion, it has largely died off as a fixture of American roads. The decades-old engineering simply can’t compete with modern machinery in any objective comparison of safety, performance, or environmental impact.
Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept
Kirk Bell and John Voelcker in Volkswagen ID Buzz electric Microbus concept vehicle
Volkswagen ID Buzz at Pebble
That’s about to change, though. In January, VW introduced the I.D. Buzz. At the time, it was dismissed as little more than a futuristic concept with a wistful homage to a beloved symbol of Volkswagen's past. As the Chairman of the Board of Management for the Volkswagen brand, Dr. Herbert Diess, put it, “the iconic car of the electric age must be a Volkswagen.”
The concept that will become the VW bus—its name is yet to be confirmed—boasts 369 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and a range of nearly 300 miles per charge. Just like its spiritual predecessor, the new vehicle will have a dual purpose, with both personal and commerical use in mind. Inside, VW claims it will have over 160 cubic feet of cargo space, which is considerably more than potential competitors like Ford’s Transit Connect.
Perhaps more importantly, the new van will eventually be self-driving.
With what’s called Level 3 autonomy, it will be capable of completely driving itself from point A to point B. A steering wheel will still be present, however, since a driver will be required as a backup, just in case human input is needed.
By 2025, VW expects to offer a more complete self-driving system in the van, including a foldaway steering wheel and an augmented reality windshield.
All of this is very much in-line with the mission statement of the original VW bus, which was so successful at combining practicality with personality that the same fundamental van was produced and sold in some parts of the world right up until 2013.
-- by Aaron Miller