By on December 22, 2016


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.

Volkswagen I.D. Microbus concept

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.

Microbus Concept VW

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.

VW Budd-e

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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42 Comments on “Volkswagen Teases Another Latter-day Hippie Mobile, Hopes You’ll Forget that Diesel Brouhaha...”

  • avatar

    Do they still sell the Chryco supplied Routan? Or the new version they could call the Atlantica?

    • 0 avatar

      The Routan is long dead. A family member had one, he ended up ditching it in Florida because the dealer couldn’t resuscitate it for a reasonable amount of money.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler stopped producing the Routan 4-5 years ago (I think around the same time FCA facelifted and refreshed the vans). VW had enough Routans in inventory to still sell it for another model year or two after production stopped though.

  • avatar

    The ’01 concept is the best looking one in my eyes. The Bulli was a stubby version of the ’01 and the Budd-e is some carbon tax bullsh!t. They got smaller and smaller and I’m afraid when VW finally makes a new Microbus it’ll just be a trim package on a Golf.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That 373 miles translates into about 275 miles of real-world/EPA range.

    I can’t imagine VW really thinks there is a market for a $60k Microbus.

  • avatar

    As one who remembers that time when microbuses wandered the Earth, I can tell you that the pull of the retro (so long as it’s more than just retro) gets stronger with time. A microbus with a gas engine, a stick (or else fast fast chargers all over the country) and perhaps space enough for an espresso maker—something I could drive fun and comfortably across the country on the back roads—would be sorely tempting.

    I liked the ’01 concept, except for the slit eyes.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d happily resonate with your aesthetic except that to get to those back roads you’d have to take the highways. DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!

      You’d be driving the equivalent of a seal puppy.

  • avatar

    @Steph Willems
    You seem to have very little idea of VW’s current lineup. The VW concept is an EV, the VW Transporter is the most prolific Van series of all time, outselling the combined totals of the Transit and E Series.and is currently being sold.

    • 0 avatar

      The VW Transporter is not available in the US or Canada.

      The lineup of VW vans and utility vehicles here really has been Microbus -> Vanagon (small sales) -> Eurovan (microscopic sales) -> nothing -> Routan (visially obvious as a knockoff of US minivan) -> nothing.

      Volkswagen’s lineup is most similar to Mazda’s lineup in the US and Canada, except that Mazda has a better reputation for value+reliability, and more appealing CUVs. Despite VW’s worldwide sales numbers, VW is not seriously competing with GM or Toyota here.

      And VW management kept telling us we should ditch our CRVs and F-150s for Jettas and Passats so they could make their volume sales goals… SMH

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle


        The Transporter was available briefly in Canada during the 1990s. They had huge reliability issues, most notably for going through fuel pumps every few months. VW blamed the higher sulfur content of Canadian diesel (at the time), but their diesel cars had no such issues, and they never redesigned the pumps.

        Other than that, I would argue that VW has a better reputation for value and reliability than Mazda (and Subaru) in Canada. That’s because VWoA are dicks, and VW Canada are relatively honorable. Also because VWs has a much higher mastery of rust inhibition.

  • avatar

    The current Transporter (and its predecessors since the early 1990s, which you may remember (or not) as the Eurovan) has nothing in common with the original Microbus (T1 in VW-speak) and its successors T2 (aka Loaf, 1968-79) and T3 (aka Vanagon, 1980-92). The latter being rear-engined, driver-above-wheel layouts, they were supremely small for their interior space — essentially equally sized inside and out.

    With modern crash safety requirements in mind, anything approaching these proportions would need to be an EV. And it would make sense — not only as a fashion statement, but also as a vehicle. Probably not for the long interstate (or Autobahn) hauls, but for city traffic, even in Taxi or Uber duty, and eventually maybe even as an autonomous vehicle? Tiny footprint can’t be bad for that. It might even end up being the minivan of choice for those too cool to be seen in a minivan.

    • 0 avatar

      If these have to wait for vehicular autonomy, that’s likely to be anywhere from three decades to waiting for Godot. And as for Uber, you must have missed the link on the Uber article from several days ago. It’s only the largesse of the mogul backers that’s keeping them going, paying for more than half the cost of each fare, in the (hopefully vain) hope that they will ultimately have a monopoly.

    • 0 avatar

      Current Transporter is very similar in size to the proposed EV version.

      • 0 avatar

        But not in layout. Boring transversally-engineed FWD vans — essentially Giga-Golfs. Which makes designing the thing to be reminiscient of the Microbus a challenging task bordering on the impossible, and the resulting prototypes look awkward at best.

        The EV platform with no engine compartment makes the ideal base for a new Microbus.

        And the contra-arguments re Uber and self-driving are missing the point. Just because the e-Microbus would do well in those duties doesn’t mean it would depend on them to be a success. With the Microbus hype what it is, a well-priced e-Microbus with decent range would be a self-seller, whether it be a 7-seater minivan with a Golf-like footprint or a full-sized van hardly bigger than a Touran.

        • 0 avatar

          The EV will be a niche like all EV’s are. Currently VW’s commercial sector is booming, Transporter and Crafter being the main platforms

          • 0 avatar

            That EVs are a niche is certainly true now, and may even remain so in the more rural parts of the US; in Europe, and in Metropolis Anywhere, I’m not so sure.

          • 0 avatar

            Microbus was a Typ II, only Beetles, Ghias etc. were Typ I’s .
            No one in North America even wants to drive a Toyota High Ace Van so I doubt anyone would buy any new Microbus’ .
            I’d prolly enjoy rattling & wheezing an old original air cooled Typ II across America but I’m stupid or something .

  • avatar

    VW Micro bus or mid engine ‘Vette which will come first?

  • avatar

    Just massage the first generation
    bus, put a porsche engine in back (like my 2nd edition bus had) and put it on the market here. I’ll buy one.

  • avatar

    I liked the Bulli concepts. The Budd-e looks like a fat Kia Soul.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    At least the Routan was the best driver of the Chryco vans. I was all over the 2001 concept since I was looking for a smaller minivan but VW stood me up. The Bulli is cute but a little too small for my needs/size. Bunch of teases….

    • 0 avatar

      Some of the last 2015 Mazda5’s might be available.

      We bought one after our beloved Prius was Silverado’d, and I’m not sure if it’s a station wagon with sliding doors or a minivan without the room.

      As 3-row vehicles go, it’s fantastic in tight spaces — which is where I spend a lot of my time. I’m not in love with it, though — it’s just a placeholder until we can get an EV which can haul three children comfortably.

  • avatar

    1. So VW is talking about reissuing the ultimate road trip, car camping vehicle as something with battery-limited range?

    2. I’d love to see something like the Microbus concept make it to production, but I just don’t see how that design could pass modern impact tests.

    3. I’m not the only one that thought the Honda Element was the modern microbus, am I? Pop tops were even made for the Element. The Element even has a weird, exceptionally loyal fan base.

    4. The trick with a microbus-type design will be to keep the price down. Throw in a cheap, small engine and Honda Element-style plastic interior.

    • 0 avatar

      ad 1: That’s just how you Americans see the Microbus. In its home country it was just a universal, ubiquitous people carrier/cargo van/pickup truck, and that’s just the role that a new e-Microbus might be set out for. Can’t hurt to be cooler than a Caddy even when doing the same kind of job, or can it?

      ad 2: It doesn’t make much difference WRT crash safety if there’s a sloped nose in front of the driver, or a long dash and a steep windshield in front of it. Look at the image of the 1st prototype: not much less material in front of the driver than in a traditional minivan. Going EV, you lose the engine in front and thus can make it safe even more easily . No problem there.

  • avatar
    Click REPLY to reload page

    We had that exact green and white Microbus when I was a kid, except for the roof rack. I found the paperwork on it – just under 2300 out the door in 1965. That picture brings back some memories!
    It was horribly underpowered, very slow, and torturously hot inside during the summer. My father loved his buses, though, and still has a worn-out rear-engine deathtrap that should have been sent on its way years ago.

  • avatar

    V Who? Let us never speak of this again.

  • avatar

    sounds like something Smart should swoop on. underpowered rear mounted 3 cylinder? sounds perfect!

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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