The VW Microbus is Happening (Maybe) --and it's Electric

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jun 22, 2017

Will Volkswagen finally build its retro Microbus, as we’ve been urging in this space for years? It appears so, though it’s still a bit speculative.

The ID Buzz concept shown in Detroit last January emphasized self-driving technology, but it's unclear if a production version would have it. (Jim Motavalli photo)

VW has been teasing us with concept Microbuses—four of them—but it’s the most recent of them, the all-electric ID Buzz I saw in Detroit earlier this year, that appears headed for production. I said back in January, “Why not just build the darned thing?” I talked about the Microbus here and here and here.

The Buzz generated a lot of, well, buzz, but it also frustrated journalists who had seen three other Microbus concepts. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The company isn’t confirming it. One harried spokesperson told me, “No can do, amigo.” Mark Gillies, a product PR guy, said, “We can’t confirm media speculation.” But Britain’s Auto Express quoted VW brand chief Herbert Diess, “Emotional cars are very important for the brand. We are selling loads of Beetles still, particularly in U.S. markets. But we will also have the Microbus that we showed, which we have recently decided we will build.”

That echoes design honcho Oliver Stefani, who said, “We would like to bring this back because it fits so well to what the brand stands for: it’s emotional, it has functionality, it makes your life easier.” Setting aside what the brand stands for these days, it’s a darn good idea to bring the car out, and as an electric, too.

This was the original Microbus concept, back in 2001. (Volkswagen photo)

Separately, the Porsche division is working on an electric car called the Mission E that will have more than 250 miles of range, and also—further chasing Tesla—have the ability to take software updates over the air. That battery pack should adopt well into the Microbus and give it even more range. There is no fully electric minivan on the market right now (only the plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica), so it fills a niche.

Porsche's Mission E is headed for production with at least 250 miles of range, and maybe its big battery pack can also fit into an electric Microbus. (Porsche photo)

As shown in Detroit, the ID Buzz had 270 miles of range, and 368 horsepower. The latter will unlikely be scaled back before it’s produced, as will such features as 10 laser scanners. The concept had both extensive self-driving technology and wireless charging, but those might fall by the wayside, too.

Maybe some elements of this Bulli concept will make it into production. (Volkswagen photo)

VW has been conflicted about bringing back the Microbus, and incautious statements made at auto shows were later reeled in. At one point, the company told me the Microbus isn’t viable because Americans want seven-passenger vans and SUVs, but I can’t see why the concept vehicle can’t be modified to accommodate a third row. The big battery pack from the Porsche should be able to service a larger minivan.

VW said in Detroit that it would be able to do an 80-percent recharge of the ID Buzz in just half an hour. But for that to work it will need to either hook up with an existing fast-charge network or build its own, as Tesla has done. After the diesel debacle, VW has shed its aversion to battery power, so anything is possible. I think we might see an ID Buzz-like vehicle around 2020, so it can be rolled out at the same time as the Mission E.

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