Go ahead and hold your nose if you want, but Volkswagen has announced that at long last it’s going to make microbuses again. The I.D. Buzz (likely not the final name), is a seven-passenger all-electric, likely all-wheel-drive van that’s an echo of the long-dead Type 1 Microbus. This takes VW back to an era when it and Jeep were the sole makers of “alternative” vehicles. Yes, Apple may have had ads suggesting “Think Different,” but VW was there decades earlier. And while Volkswagen messed up by cheating on diesel emissions and lying about it, the GoWesty crowd isn’t exactly ditching its 30-year-old Syncros because of that corporate arrogance and stupidity.
And having faith that VW would return to its wiser roots is smart thinking. Note that the company is hardly tanking in sales even in the wake of the diesel mess; sales show signs of actually rising in a year when other carmakers are struggling.
So now is the right time for Volkswagen to shed its gloom and the right way to do that is by bringing out the I.D. Buzz. Yes, it will still be a niche, rather than volume edition. But you could say the same thing about Chevy Corvettes. They don’t make them for volume. They make them for brand image.
As for pragmatics, pretty much no other carmaker produces an adventure van out of the box. You can convert a Sprinter or a Nissan NV “quasi” from the manufacturer, but not really in a design that’s camping ready. VW has at least nodded in this direction already, suggesting the concept’s modular seating (which was shown with a sleeping area) will be part of final production. And that concept had all-wheel drive as an option, too. That’s hardly tough to package in a rig that seats seven, and actually affords some advantages (since EVs with more than one motor are easier to get to even weight distribution).
Some critics have suggested Volkswagen is out of ideas, but buried farther down in its announcement , Volkswagen mentioned both Level 3 autonomy and that they’d make a cargo van version of the I.D. Buzz, which gives the carmaker more leverage in city delivery and commercial use spaces. (Both editions are destined for on-sale by 2022, if not sooner.) Level 3 means a vehicle that’s capable of self-driving on certain roads, like highways with dedicated autonomous lanes, and in similar zones in cities. We’re not quite there yet, in part because the infrastructure that can “talk” to vehicles hasn’t been broadly deployed, but billions in R&D aren’t lying: It’s going to happen, and Volkswagen is hardly alone in looking at such a future, or one that’s entirely electrified. Rivals BMW and Volvo have both said that all their future cars will be electric, and in the German version of the press release on the I.D. Buzz, VW says it wants to have 25 EV models by 2025.
Worries over a limited range are understandable, but it probably won’t be an issue. The excellent Chevy Bolt can go 238 miles on a charge and Tesla’s promising 220 miles on the Model 3. The significantly larger Buzz will have plenty of room for batteries, and even incremental gains in both charging and battery tech will make it easy for VW to at least get the 300 miles of range they’re promising.
No price has been announced, but…#electricvanlife, anyone?