Volkswagen Teases Another Latter-day Hippie Mobile, Hopes You'll Forget That Diesel Brouhaha

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
volkswagen teases another latter day hippie mobile hopes youll forget that diesel

For a solid 15 years — longer than the combined duration of World War I, II, and Korea — Volkswagen has made a habit of teasing consumers with boxy concepts that draw inspiration from the company’s far-out Microbus of yesteryear.

It doesn’t matter whether the automaker is flying high, like it was at the turn of the century (and decade), or digging itself out of a scandal, like it is now. There’s always a piece of flower power vaporware lurking nearby, ready to trigger increasingly distant memories of a free-wheeling, free-love past.

We’ve been tentatively promised some sort of modern-day Microbus since the New Beetle still seemed somewhat new, but to no avail. Well, times are changing, and along with it, technology. But VW’s tactics aren’t.

Today, we wake up to news of a new Great-Great-Great Grandson of Microbus — this time, an I.D.-based concept bound for Detroit next month. Borrowing the same hardware as the similarly conceptual I.D. revealed this fall, the unnamed concept is being teased as a possible member of VW’s looming family of electric vehicles. Yup, it might show up, Volkswagen implies. You’ll might drive one … ELECTRICALLY.

Think of the eco-friendly pals you could bring along for the ride! What a stone-cold gas, man. Dig it. Set the GPS to Haight and Ashbury!

For those of you who were unaware, the I.D. appeared in September, riding atop VW’s Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB). Standout features include a 125 kWh battery pack, capable of propelling that small EV for a distance of up to 373 miles, and cavernous interior room for its size. The automaker wants production vehicles on the road by the end of the decade.

Now, the MEB platform makes great sense for a vehicle with Microbus proportions. A flat floor hiding a large battery tray would make a good foundation on which to plunk a hippie-filled cabin. After all, any latter-day Microbus needs a spacious interior for group discussions about Nietzsche and Marx, not to mention that other thing. With a small electric motor doing the grunt work, there’d be no need to find space in which to hide a bulky gasoline powerplant. Maybe — just maybe — this concept has promise.

However, let’s go on a trip down memory lane. On the heels of the New Beetle, Volkswagen’s retro obsession spawned the Microbus Concept exhibited at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. This is pre-9/11, keep in mind. The folks in Wolfsburg kept the concept in play for years, promising a production model that never showed up.

The Microbus project was eventually declared dead in 2005. Instead, VW decided to rebadge a Chrysler Town & Country and call it the Routan.

Fast-forward to 2011, when VW revealed the Bulli concept at the Geneva Motor Show. Smaller than the earlier concept, the Bulli’s Microbus heritage wasn’t hard to spot. “This is one bus worth waiting for,” Volkswagen declared on its website. Well, consumers did, and the waiting never ended.

Almost a year ago, at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, The bus was back, this time in the form of the BUDD-e electric concept. Sporting very familiar proportions, the awfully named BUDD-e was hailed by its creator for bringing “the Microbus into the 21st Century.” The concept used the same MEB platform later used for the I.D. and shared identical range estimates.

Forgive this author, as Microbus Concept Fatigue isn’t treated by health care plans — universal or otherwise. We’ve seen the same cake come out of Volkswagen’s kitchen too many times, each time the product of a slightly different recipe. So, if the company wants to avoid more ridicule, the automaker needs to build a production version of this thing or never talk about it again.

Consumers old enough to remember the Summer of Love, and who probably had some interest in the earlier concept, are now comfortably ensconced in their new crossovers. The retro pull of that storied time grows weaker by the day. It’s now or never.

[Images: Volkswagen AG]

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  • Jimal Jimal on Dec 23, 2016

    This doesn't make me forget Dieselgate as much as it reminds me - once again - of all other cool concepts that Volkswagen has put out over the years and never built.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Dec 25, 2016

    It is a car for retirees. Those who are interested are in their 70s now. VW should hurry and how they are going to compete with Subaru? Subaru is more hip than VW. Makes more sense to bring Transporter here - but then again who will buy it if Transit is available.

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.