VW wants to get into nostalgia with an electric microbus

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When I was a kid, my best friend’s family got a Volkswagen Microbus. Back in the mid-1960s, American cars were land yachts with gas-guzzling V-8 engines covered in chrome. Then came this strange looking van with high seats, a horizontal steering wheel, and an air-cooled engine. I really wanted one.

The so-called ID. Buzz, due out in 2022, will rock 369 horsepower from two electric motors and an all-wheel drive train.

Later on, my wish was granted. In 1966 my father bought a VW bus and converted it into a mobile home so that we could travel around Europe. Years later I bought my own VW bus – a second-generation ’68 bus called Basil by the previous owner, a hippie in a tie-dye dress. My wife and I brought all of our belongings to Basil and moved – where else? – California.

I thought the days of the VeeDub bus were behind me until I saw a space version of my old ride at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Volkswagen, which still has a black eye due to the scandal surrounding the exhaust gas cheating “Dieselgate”, has a concept version of an electric microbus with the slogan “The VW bus is back“And now conceptual teaser ads are running. But I ask you, what could be nicer than making VW a warm and fluffy brand again than bringing back that old favorite?

New technology for an old favorite

As I stared at this futuristic vehicle, I couldn’t help but think of the bus I drove to California. Though I loved it, the bus was so underpowered that – as they say – it couldn’t get out of the way. The first VW bus in the USA had just 30 hp. Basil had a little more strength than that, but he was still gasping as he struggled over the Vail Pass in Colorado at over 10,000 feet.

The new VW bus, the ID. The Buzz model is part of the company’s planned line of electric vehicles called the “ID”. The first electric vehicles are the ID.3, a compact hatchback, and the ID.Crozz, a crossover, both of which will appear in 2020.

The ID. Buzz will be released in 2022 and is the seventh generation of the lovable old Volkswagen van. It’ll rock 369 horsepower from two electric motors and an all-wheel drive train. But that’s not all – VW says its 111-kilowatt-hour battery has a range of 300 miles and charges about 80% of the battery storage in just half an hour. Excursion!

Of course, a fully self-propelled version is also planned, the ID. Pilot, should go into series production by 2025. VW says the steering wheel will fold away and autonomous technologies will include “pop-up laser scanners in the roof” and a heads-up display with built-in augmented reality.

Will it save you money?

With an estimated sticker price of $ 40,000, the Volkswagen bus would cost more than base models for similar minivan favorites like the Honda Odyssey starting at around $ 30,190 or the Toyota Sienna starting at $ 31,415, according to Car and Driver. There is one, however Federal tax credit for electric vehicles – up to $ 7,500 depending on the car – and state and local perks that can bring the price down.

And then of course there is the money you can save on gasoline. After years of commuting in electric cars – the Nissan Leaf and the Toyota RAV4 EV – I was amazed at how much I saved. The ID. Buzz will no doubt do well in this category too. My calculations showed that over three years of driving about 30,000 miles and paying about $ 4.00 per gallon, I saved $ 2,925 compared to driving a small hatchback with a gasoline engine that gets 30 miles per gallon . Later I installed solar panels and my charging costs dropped even more as I enjoyed filling my “tank” with the energy of the sun.

Humble beginnings

A family friend in the VW Microbus, with which the author fell in love around 1964.

It’s hard to connect visions of the proposed Volkswagen self-driving electric bus with the buses I have ridden around Europe and which I later owned. What I – and many others back then – loved about the early Microbus was its simplicity. Maintenance was cheap and was often done in-house. In the trunk of my bus I carried a toolbox and a few spare parts. When it stopped, I slid to the side of the road, opened the tailgate, and usually found the problem in a matter of minutes.

Simplicity was also part of the original concept. According to Volkswagen, one day at lunch, Ben Pon Sr., the first VW importer for the American market, sketched an outline of the microbus on a napkin. That napkin is now on display in a museum in Amsterdam – and people still love the iconic bus. In the past few years, immaculately restored classic VWs have sold for more than $ 200,000.

But in the US, a base model cost about $ 2,200 in 1968, according to Consumer Guide Automotive. In today’s dollars, that’s around $ 16,189, a screaming deal compared to current prices for other minivans. For example, the 2019 Ford Transit Connect passenger car starts at nearly $ 27,000, while a new Mercedes-Benz Metris passenger van is closer to $ 30,000.

Of course, it’s too early to say exactly how much a new, fully electric VW bus will cost when it finally hits the market. But it’s hard to imagine that it will even come close to the price of a brand new VW Microbus – today or when it is first launched.

Can the bus bring love back?

While it’s easy to assemble an eye-catching concept vehicle to make headlines, it seems VW is serious about getting the new bus to the masses. “We want to rekindle America’s love for VW,” said Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen brand.

It remains to be seen whether the ID. Buzz or the much-touted ID. The EV range – starting with a cool crossover, a practical hatchback, and finally a competing Tesla Model 3 sedan – can restore confidence in VW. It is also a gamble to poach gasoline-loving Americans who are currently attached to SUVs and pickups for an EV-heavy lineup. But VW is making a wise bet by wrapping a tried and true design that, as VW says, once “put a smile on every face it saw”.

(Top image © 2018 Copyright Volkswagen US; 1964 photo courtesy of Mark S. Chevalier.)

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