Volkswagen is bringing back one of America’s iconic and beloved vehicles, the microbus, as fully-electric van. Made official over the weekend, VW’s announcement indicated a production version of the horrendously named I.D. Buzz Concept would appear in North America, Europe, and China for 2022.
Showcased earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show, the vehicle is an unabashed nostalgia-machine with enough modern features to keep itself contemporary and betray some of its retro charm. But didn’t we already do this over a decade ago? Immediately after the new millennium, it seemed like most automakers had something on offer to satiate Baby Boomers’ lust for the past. The Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Prowler, Mini Cooper, Chevrolet HHR, Chevy SSR, and even VW’s own New Beetle all arrived as part of this slightly awkward push to bring back the glory days of the those enjoying their youths in ’60s and ’70s.
The forthcoming Volkswagen van may, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, have already missed the Microbus. While the vehicle possesses a charm that supersedes age, it might have been more welcome fifteen years ago. Boomers, who would be the most likely to purchase such a vehicle, are getting older — perhaps too old to want something like this. But maybe they’re not the market the German automaker is going for.
China’s regulatory efforts has made it the biggest market for future BEV sales and the people that live within its borders love technology-laden automobiles. Meanwhile, American drivers that opt-in on battery power tend to be younger and more affluent than your run-of-the-mill hybrid shopper.
Information on the vehicle remains limited but Volkswagen made clear that it would be “fully electric” and possess level 3 autonomy. It also said that it would arrive on the global scene after a “more conventional all-electric VW” (probably the Crozz SUV concept) using the company’s I.D. label. That seems to suggest that the automaker is aware that the Microbus won’t have the same broad appeal of the original.
That’s a shame because a flat boxed minivan seems like something the automotive market is sorely missing right now. But, being so heavy on tech and possessing a battery-only power source, the Buzz is likely to lack mainstream allure. Unfortunately, adding a fuel tank and internal combustion engine would only sully its current shape for the sake of versatility. VW said having the batteries and electric motor mounted in the vehicle’s floor will allow for a spacious cabin and permit it to keep its present form (more or less).
“After the presentations at the global motor shows in Detroit and Geneva, we received a large number of letters and emails from customers who said, ‘please build this car’,” Volkswagen CEO Dr Herbert Diess said in Pebble Beach over the weekend. VW’s Board of Management chose Pebble Beach as the location to make its announcement because, as Diess explained: “The Microbus has long been part of the California lifestyle. Now we’re bringing it back by reinventing it as an electric vehicle.”
There’s still a case to be made for a hybridized option. Even in 2022, BEVs probably won’t have reached the popularity most automakers are proposing. But how feasible cramming a gasoline engine into the final design remains to be seen. What is known, however, is that VW doesn’t want to limit the Microbus to the private sector.
“Along with a minibus version, we’ll also be offering an I.D. Buzz Cargo variant for zero-emissions delivery of goods,” said Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles CEO Dr. Eckhard Scholz. “With Level 3 autonomous capability, this is an ideal concept for an electric van, particularly for delivering packages and goods to the inner cities.”
Inner cities means lower-range, which isn’t a bad thing when you don’t have far to go but it does put the kibosh on any fantasies of a cross-country road trip — unless it included frequent stops at EV charging stations. Here’s hoping that VW can maximize the miles per charge and make the final incarnation of its retro-inspired van as practical as possible. Because, when you stop and think about it, that’s what made the old one such a winner. Still, its quirky charm and throwback appeal are mighty. Maybe that factor alone will be sufficient to lure in a swath of eclectic and nostalgic customers from Europe or North America, who are just hungry from something unique.