By on January 14, 2017

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz, Image: Volkswagen

It seems that even Volkswagen executives realize you can’t keep showing off different variants of the same concept before the public grows weary of the tease.

At the North American International Auto Show this week, visitors to Detroit feasted their eyes on the eleventy billionth latter-day VW Microbus concept, this time called the I.D. Buzz. Okay, maybe that number is a bit high, but the folks from Wolfsburg have kept up a steady trickle of retro Microbus concepts for 16 years. This time, it’s fully electric. No wheezy four-cylinder (or raucous five) in sight.

Naturally, the automaker hopes this latest concept’s name doesn’t prove a lie, but this latest offering — and the atmosphere around it — feels different. The mood implies it’s now or never for the concept — not just this one-off vehicle, but the concept of a reborn Microbus altogether.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept

While VW hasn’t flat out said it, the company clearly suggests that if it can’t get enough buzz for the Buzz, it might just throw up its hands and stop trying. Let the VW fanboys have their modded Transporters in garish paint colors — there’s a business to run here.

Speaking to Auto Express at the concept’s launch, Volkswagen sales and marketing head Jurgen Stackmann spelled it out.

“I think this is the most realistic shot ever at the Microbus coming and we’ll have to see in the next few weeks how big a potential market in the US could be,” he said, adding that American interest is crucial. “There’s no other market globally where microbus has the emotional pull that it has in the US.”

Volkswagen plans a big electric vehicle push in the coming years, partly due to perceived market direction and looming regulatory hurdles, and partly as penance for its diesel emissions scandal. The compact I.D., due out in 2020, is expected to be joined by a range of models built atop VW’s Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB). The Microbus/Buzz is just one of several possibilities.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept

When VW teased the I.D. Buzz ahead of the show, this author might have had some harsh things to say about the company’s cynical retro-baiting. I did, however, suggest that the Buzz’s electric setup could make for the truest realization of the Microbus concept and, if buyers respond, could make for a splashy niche vehicle.

By ditching an internal combustion engine, the Buzz, or whatever  VW calls it, can adopt a clean Type 1 shape and maximize its highly configurable interior space. The under-floor 111 kWh battery pack affords the tall vehicle a low center of gravity. There’s more positive attributes, including versatility and performance — VW claims a range of up to 270 miles on the U.S. cycle, and five-second sprints to 60 miles per hour. Twin motors — one for each axle — make a combined output of 369 horsepower, driving all four wheels.

Because crossovers are now bigger than the Beatles when they were bigger than Jesus, gutsy power numbers and AWD, plus a cavernous interior, could raise eyebrows in a market that remains wary of electric propulsion. Depending on the market, VW could simply decide to nix the front motor and offer a RWD setup.

The bean counters could easily give the Buzz a pass, preferring something a little more conventional and marketable. If that does happen — please, let this Microbus concept be the last.

[Images: Volkswagen of America]

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63 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Last Kick at the Microbus Can: Maybe Call It a Crossover?...”


  • avatar
    Lemmiwinks

    Of all cars/concepts, the MicroBus revivals seem to always stir the most interest among my friends and acquaintances. They post about it on FB whenever a new one comes around. They use the “shut up and take my money” meme whenever a fake news article comes up promising the van’s release is imminent. They want this vehicle.

    As most of them don’t follow the industry very closely, they’re always downtrodden when I give them the bad news that it ain’t really gonna happen.

    Hell, *I* like most of these concepts.

    The buzz is already there. VW just haven’t recognized it. Or think they know better.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Future LA NYC taxi concept?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      Beats the HELL out of the Nissan Abortion on a Dirty Plate NVfail. The only thing that should be retained are the silver steel wheels, just chrome VW large center caps that cover the lug nuts. Done.

      Taxi of Tomorrow, with some Yesterday

  • avatar
    Tosh

    VW at least knows that minivans are so 1999, but they’re also stupid enough to jack one up, add black wheel arch cladding, and try to sell that to America.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Enough heavy breeders make good enough money that minivans have job security.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Tosh
      Been in a VW Transporter Campervan, pretty good performance and fantastic fuel economy

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      The minivan market isn’t dead, with all-new models from the biger players recently (Pacifica, just revealed Honda).

      Once their RWD versions were gone, VW, Ford, GM, Mitsubishi and Nissan* have either folded or consistanly been terrible, or both.

      *Nissan’s North American RWD attempt was a disaster. The others were respectable.

      But, the good/decent ones (and the super cheap one…for now) have a respectable market. A fully electric entry could be as revolutionary and groundbreaking as the 1984 Voyager, or the original for that matter.

      Tesla Model 3 preorders and the buzz (yes I just did that) about the Chevy Bolt prove there is significant interest in from-the-ground-up-designed affordable practical EVs.

      I see no reason why millennial parents in Oregon and California alone wouldn’t justify this please-dont-call-it-the-I.D.-Buzz entry. Its the best idea I’ve heard from VW recently, except maybe the surprisingly handsome and affordable Atlas.

      Call it the Type 2. Then create a Type 1 and kill the bastard FWD/ICE one as planned. Backwards? Hey, its kooky VW, and at least we’re discussing them without using the “D” word.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Nothing that cab-forward, tall and windowy will ever again roll on American roads.

    By the time this concept was duly homogenized with everyone else’s CAFE (boo) and NHTSA (yay) strictured fleets it would be just another pricey minivan except for retaining the stink of VW.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      They had the world at their feet in 2001, and they proceeded to completely and utterly blow it.
      :-(

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @Pig_Iron
        They are currently Globally No1. No problems it would appear

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          LMAO Ryan.

          You should do stand-up.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N
            You should learn to read,do us both a favour

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            I read VW employees being arrested, billions in scandal damages, and them throwing anything they can at the North American wall, hoping something will stick.

            but I guess those are signs things are going great when you look at it with your head down unda.

            Hitler assembled a massive laboUr force and military that took Germany from rags to riches in just a few short years under his leadership, so was he a leader to be admired?

            If you ignore all the horrible $hit that went on, as you’re doing with VW, along with how it ended, then yes he was.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        I certainly don’t celebrate VW’s countless pratfalls because they are the one OEM with a shred of dignity, restraint and ergonomic friendliness in their styling.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        My 2001 Jetta TDI was incompletely engineered unreliable crap at only 100k miles.

        They sowed the seeds of their own destruction in the US. The US market has standards, and VW didn’t measure up.

        My TDI was also one of the most fun cars I’ve ever owned. But that was all overshadowed by the fact that oil changes outlasted gearboxes…!

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      There isn’t another fully electric minivan I’m aware of. And, how do you know it’s pricey? You dont, you just wanted to be an old B¡tch, didntchya? Lol kidding aside, lighten up, this isn’t close to “just another minivan”..

      It’s like saying the Honda Ridgeline is just another pricey pickup except for retaining the stink of not being a “blind loyalty” advantaged big 3 nameplate.
      Um, no, its so different and unique, its hardly on the same planet as any other current open-cargo-area vehicles.

      Just like this vehicle, in this case being a BEV with a unique and pleasing hereditary style none of the other segment members could hope to match.

  • avatar
    Fred

    As an old hippy I’d love to check it out. But, that’s about as far as I’d go.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The pictures are typically Volkwagen weird. The exterior shots of the Microbus are fuzzy, so much that the big round corporate logo on the front is illegible.
    The driver has no steering wheel, and no one is wearing their seat belts. Even more mysterious is how they got into the Bus, since there are no door handles.
    The turn signals were also strangely omitted, and no one bothered with side view mirrors, either. But there are vestigial air vents for the air-cooled rear-mounted engine…

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Concept cars are like that. The show car is not intended for production. A real production car based on this concept would be far more conventional in most ways.

      VW, though, has a reputation for making interesting concept cars (particularly EVs) which are never built.

      The author of this article seems to think that “this time is different”. That they’re either going to finally build something like this, or stop talking about it. Time will tell, though.

  • avatar
    April S

    I’m not a fan of retro styled anything but the way I look at it Volkswagon needs something like this. Something to differentiate itself from generic sedans or CUV’s that look like overly swoopy blobs of metal. A Microbus type vehicle could only bring a positive vibe the brand. Plus a EV with a larger footprint would help extend driving range.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Agreed.

      This concept vehicle is a minivan, but it doesn’t take the expertise of a near-40 dad with three kids to determine what brand it is for 20 yards.

      That’s something new in the minivan space.

      But it still has three rows and sliding doors, which makes it a minivan.

      I like minivans.

      But I’ve been burned by VW before.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        ^this

        Luke. You’re obviously as excited and hopeful for it as I am.

        I don’t need or want a minivan, but if that so happens to change and this was offered, with a decent range (300 miles) and a price tag that doesn’t line up with an Expedition’s, it’d be first on my list.

        Never said that last 6 words about a VW product, nor a BEV, that I can recall. Ever.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        “But I’ve been burned by VW before.”

        An electric motor drive and single-speed gearbox would certainly decrease the “pain points” of VW ownership…

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    As always with these VW concepts, the vehicle is designed only to make a buzz as the name suggests.

    Can they just beg Toyota/Daihatsu to rebadge the Move Canbus?
    https://www.daihatsu.co.jp/lineup/move_canbus/

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      If Toyota wanted Scion to succeed, they should’ve made it Daihatsu’s North American brand name and offered its *entire* line-up here. Kei cars and all.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “VW claims a range of up to 270 miles on the U.S. cycle”

    …ten years later, we find out that they’ve fudged the odometer and that people are actually getting only 220 miles on a factory-fresh battery.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @jalop1991
      Was in a VW Transporter Campervan it got 37 US Gallons per mile

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        Per VW mile, maybe. I figure they measure it like they measured emissions. If nobody’s looking…

        Anyway, makes me think of the Japanese cars of the 80s, getting a very real 45-50mpg. Of course, beer cans were stronger and a transistor radio would have been an upgrade to the factory bit–and Honda’s idea of air conditioning matched England’s idea of how to serve beer–but you can’t have everything.

        Would love to see your campervan in a modern crash test. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to have your feet arrive at the scene of the accident before anything else.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @jalop1991
          That is what it was actually getting and very close to the 6litre / 100k they claimed. Very impressive for a fairly hefty vehicle. My driver prefers it over her Subaru Outback for distant trips.
          Safety is as good as other vans out there, better than the current Transit
          2008 Tests
          http://rightcar.govt.nz/ancap-test-result.html?q=282

    • 0 avatar
      tom m

      My question is – why? A 270 mile range, with 369 hp and 5.0 0-60 sprints? Even if this is realistic, it’s a minivan, so make it FWD (with optional AWD) cut hp 25% or so, and maximize range, because who needs 5 second 0-60 in this kind of vehicle?

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      “Up to” is marketingspeak for “less than”.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    I’ll state it in simple terms. If VW builds it, my wife will come…

    Wait, that came out wrong. If VW Builds it, my wife will scream.

    Wait, maybe not that either.. If VW Builds it, my wife ….. as screw it. I’ll get laid in it if I buy it for her.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “…the company clearly suggests that if it can’t get enough buzz for the Buzz, it might just throw up its hands and stop trying”

    Volkswagen could get some buzz for the Buzz if they *actually* built it.

    I think the real reason they’re not building it is this: A 111 kWh Buzz would have to sell for VW Phaeton money, and all the Buzz fans would turn on VW because they expected Vanagon prices for an SUV with a battery bigger than Tesla’s.

    It’s hard to justify the project, since it has no ROI.

  • avatar
    andreroy55

    ID? They may want to clear that name with Citroen.

  • avatar

    “This time, it’s fully electric. ”

    Hardly anything new.

    The Bulli microbus announced in Geneva in 2011 was fully electric as well.

    http://www.motortrend.com/news/bulli-microbus-volkswagen-america-7655/

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I think the Microbus is free enough from the minivan stigma it’d be safe (for now). Unlike every other minivan that just conjures up images of screaming kids and soccer practice and once a month date nights at Olive Garden (because a 3-row crossover is so hip and not sad, I guess?). Microbuses are still very Woodstock (sorry, Cochella for the kidz) and living a free, nomadic lifestyle. They’d retain that for at least a year until the family friendly reality set in (and also the concert festival-attending free spirits can’t afford one), in conjunction with the same hopelessly uncool Boomers who ruined the New Beetle and PT Cruiser would descend on this.

    At that point, they might have to jack it up, make it boxier, and call it a Syncro Westfalia, until that gets ruined too. I still want them to try.

  • avatar
    slap

    Minivans are often the family “trip” car. Electric vehicles are often the second car.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    111 KWh battery? In other words, it will cost 100 large.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    I’ll take the Transporters in garish paint colors please. I’ve been aching for a California or a Marco Polo for years now.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well this would be cute, like the PT Cruiser, if actually executable. I’m wondering how it would do in an offset barrier crash, however, given that no one builds a passenger vehicle with this kind of “driver-forward” configuration any more. Even my beloved (by our whole family) Previas, which had the engine behind the first row of seats, had more of a “nose” and I doubt they would pass an offset barrier crash.

    And, as others have mentioned, apart from virtue-signaling vehicles (toys) like Tesla, the most likely practical applications for EVs is as urban runabouts, not as long-distance cruisers. Even if the network of “superchargers” allows coast-to-coast travel in a Tesla, given the amount of time required for charging, I kinda doubt one could equal the 2 3/4 day time I achieved, solo, in a lowly Altima (DC to LA), going at legal speeds (or at least at 85th percentile speeds) in 2001. I spent two nights on the road, one just east of St. Louis and the second in eastern New Mexico. I would have arrived earlier but caught up in heavy end-of-weekend traffic returning from Lake Mead.

    With VW strapped for cash, it seems unlikely that the company would put the resources into making a roadable version of such a niche product.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    yawn.

    all electric is irrelevant to me. i do not want 2 niche cars i want 1 car that does multiple jobs very well.

    have to admit though the best part about this would be seeing it in colors other than black, grey, silver or white.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Retro always sells, once.

    The problem with a retro design is you have nowhere to go. The only company I’ve seen successful repeat the past and then move away from the hole they dug is Ford with the Mustang.

    The retro Ford Thunderbird sold…for about 18 months.

    The retro Plymouth Prowler never really sold.

    The retro PT Cruiser sold very well at release, but had no where to go.

    The retro Camaro is a big part of what is holding back the current Alpha platform car.

    The Challenger has had only minor tweaks, and eventually will need to update (this might also be an outlier success story, but not as strong as the Ford).

    The HHR had nowhere to go.

    The FJ Cruiser had nowhere to go.

    Heck, even the beloved Mazda Miata/MX-5, which has been well redesigned has…nowhere to go.

    I love this concept – it would sell great for about 18 to 24 months to a rabid group of fans and then it would fall off a cliff, with nowhere else to go in design language.

    I hope they never build it.

    Bummer.

  • avatar

    No point in a reverse-facing seat. We’re in the age of constant electronic distraction. Who needs to engage with Jill? She can text you if she needs anything!

  • avatar
    Lynn Ellsworth

    I want one. I just wish Tesla was building it.

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