Let’s all just be totally honest here: Volkswagen is boned. I mean, they’re not going-away-boned, just public-image-and-trust-boned. Which is a pretty bad manner of boned. They shouldn’t give up hope, though, because they have one possible ace up their sleeves that could do more PR good than anything else.
That ace is a car they could fast-track to get developed and to market. A car they’ve been hinting at and talking about for years. A car that would be VW’s desperately needed nuclear option of goodwill-and-desire generation.
That car is an all-electric modern Microbus.
As far as ways to build or engineer themselves out of this mess, an EV Microbus is pretty much their only option. It has to be electric, because after all their emission shenanigans, they have do make a big gesture that shows they give a rat’s rectum about the environment; an EV is the most effective way to do that.
Volkswagen has been developing electric vehicles for a while now, and the e-Golf is already available. A purpose-built EV platform like a new EV Bus would be would allow for packaging efficiencies like Tesla-style floor/chassis-mounted batteries and would work especially well for the packaging of a big box like the Bus. VW has the technology to do this already.
It has to be the Microbus because a New Beetle-style modernized bus has been hoped for by a large spectrum of potential VW customers — and it’s a set of people that goes beyond the usual car-enthusiast crowd. It’s an iconic vehicle with a large reservoir of nostalgia and goodwill; it could have appeal to old people who remember the original and young people looking for something novel, with character.
VW has toyed with the idea via concept cars twice, and both times the updated Type II concepts have gotten a huge amount of attention and interest, to the point that rumors about the one that was shown 14 years ago is still being mentioned in rumors this year. People—well, Americans, at least—are clearly interested.
And, even better for VW, it’s not like they haven’t been thinking this way already; informed and plausible rumors that a new, all-electric Microbus are still floating around, and most of the rumors suggest that VW’s possible new EV bus would be styled to evoke the original, as VW did with their Bulli concept in 2011.
So, let’s just recap here: a modern, electric bus is something VW already has in some stage of development, it’s got proven interest and positive associations with a fairly wide spectrum of people, it would fill a hole in two markets—the non-boring minivan, and an electric car for people who want minivan-space and flexibility, and, most importantly for Volkswagen now, it’s the only thing they have even remotely close to ready to go that would be completely free of any emission questions, demonstrate their commitment to environmental issues, and be novel enough to get some positive attention back to the company.
No one will pay attention to an emissions-corrected Jetta or Passat. Even bringing something like the e-Golf to the US isn’t enough. It needs to be more, more compelling, more interesting to people who don’t normally care about cars, more warm, more approachable, more likable.
It needs to be an EV Microbus.
From what I’ve seen of VW lately, I’m not holding my breath. But, maybe if everyone keeps leaving the company like they have been, some more open minded people will come in to take their place, and will look at the big, bread-loaf-shaped electric elephant in the room, and know what to do.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.