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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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2 of 42 comments
  • 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.

  • Calrson Fan Jeff - Agree with what you said. I think currently an EV pick-up could work in a commercial/fleet application. As someone on this site stated, w/current tech. battery vehicles just do not scale well. EBFlex - No one wanted to hate the Cyber Truck more than me but I can't ignore all the new technology and innovative thinking that went into it. There is a lot I like about it. GM, Ford & Ram should incorporate some it's design cues into their ICE trucks.
  • Michael S6 Very confusing if the move is permanent or temporary.
  • Jrhurren Worked in Detroit 18 years, live 20 minutes away. Ren Cen is a gem, but a very terrible design inside. I’m surprised GM stuck it out as long as they did there.
  • Carson D I thought that this was going to be a comparison of BFGoodrich's different truck tires.
  • Tassos Jong-iL North Korea is saving pokemon cards and amibos to buy GM in 10 years, we hope.