VW unveils its autonomous electric microbus concept

The iconic VW microbus is getting a makeover, and although it's not clear if or when the I.D. Buzz will go into production, the specs on it are making this writer drool.

I owned and drove a mid-70s VW microbus for several years, and it hit all the right buttons for me, as it had plenty of room for the family and the pets and our gear, it got great decent gas mileage, and it was relatively simple and affordable to repair. However, it was also potentially more dangerous in an accident (the driver and front passenger would be the first to go in the event of a frontal collision), it struggled with modern highway speeds and mountain driving, and it was loud and rather stinky, even with a rebuilt engine and stock muffler. All of which is to say that if VW moves forward with this concept vehicle, I'll be lining up to get my hands on one, for more reasons than just nostalgia.

Even as Tesla's screaming fast electric cars are capturing the attention of those with plenty of cash to spare for new vehicles, and GM's Bolt is exciting those of us with more pedestrian financial sensibilities, electric vehicles are still a new and relatively unknown option for the majority of drivers in the US. However, it might just be that the right electric vehicle hasn't hit the road yet, and who better to bring us a car for the people than the eponymous Volkswagen, which also needs to make some serious amends for its emissions defeat scandal?

At the 2017 North American Auto Show in Detroit, Volkswagen unveiled its I.D. Buzz concept microbus ("A Microbus for a new era") that could be a contender in the clean transport sector - that is, if it ever goes beyond the concept phase. The microbus concept is claimed to be "the world's first electric multi-purpose vehicle to be equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode," and to be an example of VW's new brand strategy claim to "make the future real," an audacious goal from the world's largest automaker.

VW I.D. Buzz autonomous electric microbus concept© Volkswagen of America, Inc.

According to VW, the I.D. Buzz concept boasts a 270-mile driving range per charge on its 111 kilowatt-hour battery pack, front and rear electric motors producing 369 horsepower, all wheel drive, an "extraordinarily spacious interior," and a host of other high-tech and hyper-connected 'smart' features, including a fully autonomous driving mode and an augmented reality heads-up display (HUD).

"The I.D. BUZZ is the world’s first fully autonomous multi-purpose vehicle. A slight push on the steering wheel makes it retract and merge into the instrument panel, switching the I.D. BUZZ from manual control to the fully autonomous “I.D. Pilot” mode that could make it into production by 2025. In this mode, the wheel is decoupled from the steering gear via a newly developed steering column system. The ambient lighting then switches from white light (“Drive”) to mood lighting that is warm and relaxed. At the same time, the distribution of ambient lighting is extended to the rear seating area. Simultaneously, the status of the I.D. BUZZ can be seen at all times on the tablet and the augmented reality head-up display." - VW

Seeing as this is a concept vehicle, not a production one, there are a lot of details that aren't set in stone, but the press materials seem to indicate that the I.D. Buzz could be offered in different configurations, thanks to its use of VW's Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), "a matrix of common parts that will be used to build several new production electric vehicles."

"The vehicle’s 111 kWh battery can be charged to 80 percent of its capacity within 30 minutes using the Combined Charging System (CCS) or an inductive charging interface, with a charging rate of 150 kW. As an alternative, the battery can be charged from any conventional household outlet and at charging stations. The all-wheel drive configuration is just one of several that are conceivable. Thanks to the MEB, it would be just as easy to equip the I.D. BUZZ with a rear-wheel drive setup producing up to 268 hp and a smaller 83 kWh battery, depending on the region and purpose of use." - VW

The company's Chairman of the Board has stated that the "The Volkswagen brand’s big electric offensive begins in the year 2020 with a completely new vehicle architecture," and that by 2025, it expects to be selling a million of its electric vehicles per year, thanks to its goal of making "electric mobility" a hallmark of the new Volkswagen. This focus on clean transport, rather than the reliance on diesels as the core of its efficiency and reliability efforts, is right in line with what we're seeing from other automakers, but it also very well could be partly in reaction to being caught with its dirty diesel pants down, and partly the desire to ride the future trend of electric car production.

I have to admit that while the gearhead and speed freak in me is still fascinated by the incredible acceleration possible with Tesla's Ludicrous mode, I'm much more likely to purchase and drive a practical electric vehicle than one that can drag race, and win, against luxury sportscars. And I'd be willing to bet that there are more than a few of us nouveau hippie-types that would trade in their Subarus for an electric microbus, so hurry up and get this thing into production already, Volkswagen.

Tags: Electric Vehicles

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