Back at the start of this year during a keynote presentation at CES 2016, Dr. Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, unveiled the BUDD-e Concept minivan. Powered by an all-electric drivetrain, the futuristic tech-filled vehicle hinted at what a future all-electric version of the iconic VW microbus could look like.
The first VW-branded vehicle to be built with Volkswagen’s all-new Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), the BUDD-e is powered by a hefty next-generation 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack driving twin electric motors, one for each axle. Offering sub 7-second performance, all-wheel drive capabilities and a claimed 233-mile electric range, we suggested the BUDD-e (or a production vehicle based on the same MEB toolkit) could even send the ghosts of dieselgate away for good. And when British magazine Autoexpress managed to get a spin in the one-of-a-kind show car, its verdict was similarly positive.
Yet to date, while Volkswagen was rightly proud of its BUDD-e concept, the automaker hadn’t confirmed any production plans for the car. But as CarMagazine detailed at the end of last week, Volkswagen bosses think a production vehicle based on the BUDD-e is destined for production.
Talking with the magazine, Dr. Volkmar Tanneberger, head of electronic development at Volkswagen and the man responsible for the BUDD-e concept, said that the BUDD-e’s design would live on in a serial production vehicle.
“[The] basic idea is to develop a modular toolkit and take this flat battery idea into serial production, one motor on the front and one on the rear,” he explained. “The California and Transporter will continue separately as(sic) combustion engines.”
As those familiar with the Volkswagen Transporter family (on which the California and various other variants are based) will know, the sixth-generation Transporter only recently entered the market. The basis for the Transporter Delivery Van, Multivan, Caravelle and California, it is currently powered by a choice of gasoline and diesel-powered engines (depending on where in the world you buy one) and to that end, hasn’t been engineered for an electric drivetrain.
That could explain in part why Volkswagen intends to make a production version of the BUDD-e a separate and distinct vehicle to the T6 family. But it’s also worth noting here that Volkswagen doesn’t anticipate bringing the electric minivan to market until the turn of the decade. By that point, Volkswagen’s T6 transporter will be getting a little long in the tooth and be ready for replacement anyway.
“You will see a car that looks a lot like this, on the MEB platform, reach production. I can’t say exactly when, but 2020 or thereabouts,” Tanneberger told CarMagazine, referring to the BUDD-e’s square-cut styling and futuristic, minimalist curves.
As for the tech-filled interior, complete with always-on 4G Internet connection, infotainment display integrated into the passenger windows, and J-shaped bench seat? While Tanneberger didn’t give any hint as to what technology from the BUDD-e we can expect to see on a production version of the minivan, we’re guessing a lot of the fanciful on-board technology we saw on the CES concept car will disappear ahead of commercialization.
Instead, we’d predict a utilitarian, if pleasant interior, as well as full use of the types of technology Volkswagen is already planning to bring to market on a similar time frame. That means some degree of autonomous driving capabilities — either full of partial — as well as over-the-air software updates for the car itself, courtesy of an integrated Internet connection. High-speed charging will likely feature courtesy of a next-generation, higher-power CCS quick charge connector, and perhaps even wireless charging connectivity.
But the real challenge for Volkswagen, as we’ve said before, isn’t the technology that it puts in its cars: it’s the price it puts on that technology. If Volkswagen has the battery technology to produce a 230-mile electric car — and we think it does — the price it commands for such a vehicle will be paramount. Price it too low, and Volkswagen won’t be able to afford to make them. Price it too highly, and buyers will choose another manufacturer.
Only time will tell if Volkswagen can pick a price that keeps buyers happy for the features it plans to offer. And we’ll be paying close attention to find out for ourselves.
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