Volkswagen is all-in on electric starting in 2020, with a new platform in the works, a full range of "fully connected, all-electric" vehicles on the drawing board and rumors circulating that it might even build its own gigafactory-style battery plant to supply the million-plus electrics it wants to sell per year by 2025. We can't think of a better way to shake off the company's unfortunate reputation after the dieselgate scandal.
After showing the I.D compact concept in Paris, VW has wheeled out a nifty modular electric van concept at this year's Detroit NAIAS auto show that harks back to the famous Kombi (Type 2) vans that came to symbolize the hippie and surfie lifestyles from the 1950s through to the 1980s.
The I.D. Buzz concept puts a modern twist on that familiar shape, with a more aerodynamically friendly front profile and a clever converting interior that reflects VW's intentions for this multi-function vehicle.
The back and middle seats can fold down to take cargo, or up to take up to six passengers. Well, seven, really, because the driver can choose to take the wheel, or let the car self-drive and spin the front seats around to create a moving lounge room experience.
Pushing the steering wheel in (it's more of a steering panel, with a touchscreen on it) makes it retract and merge into the dash, switching the I.D. Buzz into an autonomous I.D. Pilot mode the company says we should see active by 2025. As well as radars, ultrasonic sensors and cameras, Volkswagen says it'll use laser scanners to more precisely map the terrain and other road users in self-driving mode.
The main dash is a large touchscreen unit that sits on the front console, but can also snap off so you can pass it around the car or take it out with you. Likewise the center console with its built-in speakers moves back toward the rear when the car is self-driving. This could be a pain from an acoustic design point of view, but then the speakers are also removable when you get to the beach for outdoor audio, so that's a nice touch.
If you do bother to drive yourself, navigation directions are shown via an augmented reality HUD that projects images to look as if they're 23-49 feet in front of the vehicle and overlaid on the scenery. You'll note there are no mirrors poking out the sides either, these are replaced by an e-mirror that shows images from rear and side cameras.
Power and performance was never really the Kombi's selling point, but an 111 kilowatt-hour battery and all-wheel-drive electric motors form the 369-horsepower drivetrain platform of the vehicle, and that'll bring a fair bit of pep to the party. Volkswagen would be just as happy to build one with a smaller 83 kWh battery and rear wheel drive for a lower price point.
Range with the larger battery is estimated at around 600 kilometers (373 miles) on the New European Driving Cycle test, and it'll charge to 80 percent within 30 minutes on a 150 kW combined charging system or inductive wireless charging interface.
Part of what made the old Kombi such a hit – like the famous Beetle itself – was its cheapness and simplicity. The I.D. Buzz doesn't seem to have a lot of either, but it does look like a great little minibus. We're curious to see how the harsh realities of production will alter the design, and we'd love to see one glide silently by at a surf beach, painted with flowers and peace signs all over it.
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