The Volkswagen Microbus — known as the ‘Camper Van’ in the UK and ‘Bulli’ in other parts of Europe — first rolled off the production lines more than sixty years ago. Yet after all that time, it’s still one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road today.
And next year at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Volkswagen’s iconic microbus will make a triumphant return as an all-new electric concept vehicle ahead of a planned 2017 production debut.
That’s according to UK magazine Autocar, which said last week that the German automaker is preparing to unveil an all-electric VW Microbus for the 21st Century at next year’s CES.
Based on the all-electric ‘Bulli’ Microbus concept showcased by Volkswagen in 2011 and 2012 — which itself was based on an earlier gasoline-powered concept debuted by Volkswagen at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit — the new vehicle will benefit from the latest battery technology used by the Volkswagen Group.
That means the same high-capacity battery cells used in the build-to-order 2016 Audi R8 e-tron sports car and the just-unveiled Audi e-tron Quattro Concept SUV. In turn, that translates, says Autocar, to a range of around 310 miles per charge.
News of the planned reveal is hardly a surprise. Back at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Volkswagen Development Boss Dr. Prof. Hans-Jakob Neusser openly admitted Volkswagen was working on an all-electric minivan model as part of a massive investment in the North American market. With a small but capable electric motor up front and a lithium-ion battery pack under the floor, the vehicle is partly designed to help Volkswagen comply with ever-tougher emissions mandates in states like California and partly designed to leverage America’s fondness for the VW Microbus whilst appealing to tech-savvy, environmentally-conscious buyers.
Autocar says the debut in January will come a year before production of the electric Microbus begins at the Puebla factory in Mexico in 2017 — but while it will be debuted as an all-electric vehicle, it’s worth noting that Volkswagen is will offer the new Microbus in gasoline and diesel-powered variants too.
While that will no doubt cause some to question Volkswagen’s commitment to plug-in vehicles, we’d like to remind readers that Volkswagen likes to focus on designing vehicles which can be married to any number of different drivetrains. This allows Volkswagen to build the same basic vehicle around the world while optimizing drivetrains for local market tastes.
Were hydrogen fuel cell technology to suddenly explode in popularity, we’d expect Volkswagen to offer a hydrogen fuel cell variant too.
Talking earlier this year in Detroit, Nuesser acknowledged that the original VW Microbus is so iconic that any attempt to recreate it for the 21st century would require some careful design. While the original Type 2’s flat nose would be impossible to build for today’s tough crash test requirements, Nuesser said that VW’s engineers were looking to develop a close a design to the original as possible.
“First the wide, solid, D-Pillar, second the boxy design of the centre section and, thirdly, the front end must have a very short overhang,” he said back in January. “The distance from the A-pillar to the front end must be very short.”
While we’re hoping Volkswagen makes good on its promise to bring the Microbus back, we’re going to remain cautious about the model’s triumphant return until January’s CES debut. That’s because back in 2001, Volkswagen promised the Microbus would return as a 2003 production model — but unceremoniously delayed production plans with no reason given. Then, in 2005, it cancelled the project altogether.
Here’s hoping the new electric Microbus won’t meet the same fate.
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