Volkswagen needs to wake up, Microbus-wise, because after a decade and a half of teasing the world about a reborn bus, Tesla basically just said that they’re going to beat them to the punch. Even if VW doesn’t seem to realize it, this is bad news for them.
How do I know Tesla is planning on eating Volkswagen’s lunch? Because they said so. Well, Elon Musk tweeted something that, if you think about it, is pretty much saying that Tesla will build a modern, electric Microbus—that holy grail vehicle of wealthy Boomers everywhere:
This tweet is referencing a part of Musk’s latest Master Plan for Tesla, where he references another type of vehicle that Tesla should be building:
high passenger-density urban transport
This, of course, is something non-cyborg humans usually call a “bus.”
That in itself wouldn’t be a big deal for Volkswagen. Tesla building an electric city-type bus makes a hell of a lot of sense, and seems a lot like a commercial-style vehicle. But when Musk tweeted that the bus would be “inspired by some of the California Custom VW combi design art,” Volkswagen should have taken notice.
That’s because these are some examples of “California Custom VW combi design art”:
One thing you may notice about those examples is that they’re all just Volkswagen Type II Microbuses.
If that’s what Elon says he’s “inspired” by, I think it’s safe bet to say Tesla will be building something that appears, at the very least, to be ‘inspired’ by the old Microbus. That’s exactly what people have been wanting from VW for years.
I have no idea why Volkswagen has been dragging its feet so much on this. Even with the current crossover boom, it sounds like a real opportunity that’s being missed. Every Microbus concept since their 2001 one has generated interest and goodwill, things they sorely need right now. I’ve written about this before.
Even the most recent concept, the electric Budd-E, while not nostalgic or direct enough a reference to the original Type II for many, still got many people interested in non-Dieselgate Volkswagen.
Original Microbus prices have been going through the roof recently, as the magic Boomer demographic arcs of money and nostalgia have been crossing. Electric bus conversions, such as the excellent Zelectric ones, have been getting great attention as well.
There’s a strong initial market of now-wealthy Boomers who would pay ex recto for a modern, safe, eco-friendly electric bus, and that vehicle, designed with the right balance of old and new, could leverage nostalgia and established character to get a new generation of people—specifically the allegedly less-traditional-car-interested-millenials—excited about buying a hypothetical (and, appropriately priced) modern Microbus.
Of course, Tesla may beat them to it.
The Tesla underlying architecture already lends itself to a box-on-wheels remarkably well. I’ve even written about how I thought the Model X should have been a van from the start.
If Tesla finds the right size that can work both as a smaller “high-passenger density urban transport” and also be adapted to a private vehicle, they could leverage the same platform for both fleet and municipal use, as well as re-fitted versions that could be sold as high-end modern Microbuses, campers, multipurpose commercial vans, luxury van-limos like those Sprinter ones you see around, and more.
Tesla’s going to do this, and it’s going to be at least reminiscent of a VW Microbus, in some way. Probably at least (or more so) than Volkswagen’s own recent Budd-E concept.
So, the question is will Volkswagen finally put up or shut up?
I’m fond of Tesla and all, but I really hope this looming threat will finally get VW’s ass in gear, and take the 15 years they’ve had of dicking-around-with-a-new bus research and finally pull the trigger on a new, unashamedly retro-inspired, bus.
Of course, if they don’t, Tesla might.