Volkswagen has made so many Microbus-inspired concepts over the past decade and a half that it’s almost like they’ve actually brought the old bus back into production. Almost. They’re teasing some pictures of the latest one now, which will be shown at the Detroit Auto Show next month. This all-electric one seems to be a little more original Type 2 Microbus inspired, which is good. If they do it right, this could be what saves VW’s ass in America.
This latest bus concept is different than the, let’s see, five or six concept buses that came before it in a very crucial way, design-wise: based on that little teaser image, it looks like it will be the first re-imagined Microbus to be a true hoodless cab-over design.
For me, that detail is a big deal, since it gets back to the one box, ass-over-the-front-wheel design of the original Volkswagen Type II Transporter, which was a marvel of packaging and space utilization.
Just for fun, here’s a very rough sketch of how I think this could look when we see it all in person, based on this little teaser image:
The design vocabulary appears to be shared with the Golf-like I.D. electric car concept we saw earlier this year. There’s a lot of (likely concept car-only) playing with lighting as a design element, and the actual lighting hardware appears to use a matrix of lights, allowing bitmap light shapes and possibly even animations within the headlight area, which is interesting.
It’s a clean, very modern look, but it does look like VW is finally ready to embrace some heritage designs other than the Beetle. Here’s what VW’s press release says about the concept:
Volkswagen will present a new I.D. family model – a multi-functional vehicle for a new era. The concept vehicle forges links between the legendary origins of the Volkswagen brand and its electrifying future. Like the I.D., this concept is also based on the Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), and so it shows the potential and bandwidth of the MEB.
Since the presentation of the I.D. at the Paris International Motor Show in September of this year, these initials have stood for a new generation of fully connected, all-electric vehicles from Volkswagen. The I.D. also stands for purity in design language, form, and character as well as typical Volkswagen attention to detail and ideal use of interior space...
The I.D. concept vehicle in Detroit forges links between the legendary origins of the Volkswagen brand and its electrifying future. Its overall concept is revolutionary. It combines ample space for travel with a long electric driving range, to usher a new feeling of freedom – with zero emissions – and a new era of mobility.
This new concept is, of course, electric, since VW really needs to be making cars with no emissions whatsoever since nobody trusts them with exhaust anymore. Being electric also means more packaging freedom, which is why this new concept may genuinely be a true one-box, cab-over design.
That one-box design is also crucial to the other big innovation of this new concept, which is autonomy:
This I.D. concept vehicle will also be able to drive fully autonomously in the future. Press lightly on the Volkswagen logo, and the electrically retractable steering wheel disappears into the dashboard. While the driver relaxes, laser scanners, ultrasonic and radar sensors and cameras monitor other road users and the surroundings.
The retractable steering wheel is a nice touch, and it’s clear that the autonomy and the boxy shaper here are a big deal because of Moia, VW’s new mobility company designed to compete with Uber and other ride-sharing sorts of companies.
The large interior volume provided by a Microbus-like design and the flexibility of such an interior volume is ideal for a coming era of vehicles we no longer need to drive, as well as for a shared-passenger vehicle.
This reborn electric Microbus could be a comfortable Uber-like shuttle for people or a flexible mobile room for private owners. A van makes the most sense when we no longer need to drive in our cars, and Volkswagen happens to have one of the most iconic, well-known vans ever. They’d be fools not to leverage the Microbus’ reputation and nostalgia when it comes to making autonomous cars appealing.
I’m hopeful for this one. When I get to Detroit, I’ll be sure to let you know how elated or disappointed I am. Or both.