Volkswagen desperately wants to get past its illegal emissions cheating scandal. (Not helping: the arrest this week of a VW executive by the FBI.) Who knows whether or when it will, but in the meantime the troubled German company has just announced a new electric van that’s clearly modeled on the iconic Vanagon.

VW is pushing hard on all-electric vehicles. It showed a Golf-sized hatchback in September at the Paris Motor Show, while the new Buzz made its this week at the Detroit Auto Show. And later in the spring the company will pull the curtain back on an electric SUV in Shanghai. This big rush to show electric vehicles with Tesla-like range (275-300 miles) all on the same modular architecture is a powerful “tell” that Volkswagen is serious about flipping from its dirty diesel past directly toward clean electrification.

Yes, Volkswagen will still have a long hangover to recover from its mistakes. But don’t forget that Volkswagen also has a unique reservoir of good will around the world because they’re still seen as the innovator that brought us Vanagons and Syncros.


As for this particular bus, unlike the Budd-e concept Volkswagen showed a year ago at CES, this one gets extra short overhangs, the advantages of which are tighter turning circles for parking, and especially roomy cockpits. All this is possible because the batteries live in the mid-floor, between the axles, and with a flat motor at the rear axle, and an optional one at the front for all-wheel drive.

The Buzz is also big enough for real adventures. It gets three rows of seats, four of which fold flat for sleeping. And at least in concept, the Buzz accommodates a massive, 162.5 feet of cargo room.

If pushing wheels to the corners for better maneuverability and running power through a rear engine feels like deja vu, it should — Volkswagen knew about all of these advantages back when the original Type I bus came out in the 1950s. But in that era they weren’t able to make a vehicle with less frontal area crash safe. Today, with a rigid floor structure, VW should be able to do just that and also make their new bus pedestrian safe with a large forward crumple zone. Another advantage to that low front engine is the windshield can be pushed down as well, for better overall vision.


Mechanically, the concept features 111 kWh battery with a promised 80-percent charge up in 30 minutes (on a fast charger) and 270 miles range. And it won’t be slow, with 369 horsepower delivering 0-60 times of around five seconds. The rear-wheel drive model would produce 268hp from a smaller 83 kWh battery.

In Detroit, Volkswagen also showed off a bunch of autonomous car tech, but the reality is that Volkswagen cannot wait for a fully self-driving future to launch a family of EVs. They need that new, diesel-less message to come through loud and clear, and as fast as possible. It’s likely though that Volkswagen will build the hatchback first, to compete with the likes of the new Chevy Bolt as well as the Prius, and then expand the range, so you still might be looking at 2019 at the earliest to get your own Buzz.

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