Volkswagen's Electric Microbus Is Retro But It Could Actually Be The Future Of Cars

Illustration for article titled Volkswagen's Electric Microbus Is Retro But It Could Actually Be The Future Of Cars
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Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

We are two days away from another holiday weekend! And as you might expect, there is very little cars, as everyone in the world is currently trying to do as little as possible. With that in mind, let’s see if we can scrape up some gears.

1st Gear: VW May Have Nailed The Future

You’d have to be deeply cynical and sad not to like the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept on some level. People have been asking for a new Microbus for decades now, and this one’s apparently greenlit for production featuring VW’s new all-electric powertrain. It looks good, too!


But it’s more than just a throwback, argues a guest columnist for Automotive News. By being essentially a flatbed battery (or skateboard) on wheels, the I.D. Buzz—more specifically the platform it rides on—is incredibly modular and flexible. That lets VW potentially build it into a variety of different vehicles at a reduced overall cost.

Scalable platforms have been all the rage among automakers over the past decade, but EV powertrains can take that idea to the next level:

The vehicles could also last longer than cars and trucks today; a battery should run for 10 years (and can be used by utilities for storage afterward); fewer moving parts mean it could run well past 200,000 miles. Someday, a million miles might be possible. Given the growing prevalence of ride-sharing, miles will become much more important to users than years on the road.

The economic disruption from modular cars could be enormous for everyone — auto manufacturers, suppliers, even home builders; garages might have to be built larger to accommodate unused modules.

For auto makers, part of what’s attractive about modular is if they can get more vehicles off of a single platform or architecture, then it drives down their amortized cost per unit, which helps improve their capital return on investment.

For VW, because it’s trying to shrink their numbered platforms globally, modular also fits into its plans well, as they can have this one larger platform, on which they can stick a box, or a truck, or a passenger vehicle on top. (Tesla Inc., unsurprisingly, perhaps, also is working on a modular minibus.)

When you aren’t bound by where you’re going to put an engine, you can do a lot more. If nothing else, the electric revolution has a lot of potential in terms of car design.

2nd Gear: The Lincoln McConaissance Continues With The Navigator

I’m really not sure what Ford’s long-term plan is with its Lincoln luxury brand, but its sales are up slightly amid the 2017 downturn on the strength of SUV and crossovers. Good for them. Also, the guy who was in the one good season of True Detective is back for more TV commercials, reports The Detroit Free Press:

“Perfect rhythm refers to the feeling you get in those situations when everything comes together,” said John Emmert, Lincoln group marketing manager.

The ad opens with McConaughey driving through a vast landscape, pulling up to a railroad crossing and stopping with no train in sight.

“This piece is all about energy,” said Emmert. “You see Matthew in control. He starts a rhythm and it builds, and he becomes the master of his experience. We’ve overlaid a complex sound design as a freight train enters the scene and rumbles by. There’s this wonderful crescendo of light and sound that builds and then ends as suddenly as it begins.”

The mood of the piece is designed to highlight the power and energy of the Navigator.


I told you it was a slow news day!

3rd Gear: Entertainment Executives Are Serious About In-Car Movies And Ads

In-car ads and television—like those annoying videos that play on loop in New York taxi cabs, but worse—seem like a nightmarish thing to implement alongside autonomous vehicles, where we’ll mostly just wait instead of actually drive. But don’t think for a second that Hollywood isn’t serious about making it happen. This column in The Detroit News posits cars could really become “the entertainment centers of the future.”  

Roads around Los Angeles are increasingly so crowded it’s not much fun driving there anymore, so the prospect of turning cars into rolling movie theaters is a welcome idea with entertainment and automotive executives both. Warner Brothers’ chief digital officer Thomas Gewecke said at the LA show that a boring commute could become a trip through Gotham City or Hogwarts, and called the coming of autonomous cars as the “Biggest expansion of time for entertainment that we’ve seen in a very long while.”

Intel’s Krzanich said Warner Brothers would create “immersive experiences” inside robotic cars by projecting movies and games on the inside of car windows as passengers travel.

“I’d love to have my car in the Lego movie, because it would show anything is possible,” said Krzanich. “Last year I said that data is the next oil, in how it’s going to change the world. That was last year.”

This year, he said, blending the data of the environment surrounding an autonomous car with movie characters and scenes may change the world of entertainment, as well as other messaging: Intel’s press release of the partnership also mentioned that the insides of autonomous car windows could also be filled with advertising.


It ends by saying, “In the future, I’m thinking, the fun won’t come from driving, but riding inside an entertainment capsule.”

Again, we maintain fully autonomous consumer cars across the board are decades away instead of years away, but if this is the future, I’ll be in an ‘80s BMW if anyone needs me.


4th Gear: What Happens To All The Cars The Boomers Scooped Up?

Baby Boomers—the generation whose parents saved the world from fascism and an economic collapse, so in return they gave us credit default swaps and the Pontiac Aztek—love collecting old cars. That demographic tends to dominate the car collections and auctions, owing to all the money a small portion of them hoarded at everyone else’s expense. Good for them.


But the younger generations are riddled with debt and are expected to live broker, shittier, worse-off lives than their parents did. So what happens to the car collections and expensive car auctions? That’s what Automotive News asks:

The boomers in the U.S. outnumber my generation — which has lived in their self-obsessed shadow for 50 years, but I digress — by about 10 million people, so there’s probably not enough of us to buy all those collectible cars the boomers have covered in their garages.

Yes, the millennial generation, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, is larger demographically than the remaining baby boomers, but it’s also swallowed in debt. Those demographics hardly paint a rosy outlook for a long-term expansion of collecting cars.

Still, unlike porcelain figurines, decorative glass and Beanie Babies — which have all dropped significantly in value in recent years — the vast majority of collectible cars are at least somewhat useful. A 1964½ Ford Mustang or a 1932 Chrysler roadster, in addition to being rolling pieces of art, can still get their owner from one point to another, just as their modern, noncollectible automotive successors can. But even that might be temporary.


I think by now we’ve pretty solidly debunked the “young people aren’t into cars” myth, and shown that car enthusiasm among younger people just looks different than it does with older generations. Count all the imported Nissan Skylines at the Jalopnik Auto Show we did in Newark, if you don’t believe me.

But this is an interesting question: millennials are a generation not expected to be as wealthy as the ones that came before. What happens to all those huge car collections? Will the rich kids of the world be able to take them on, or will a ton of them be left to rot or get sold for cheap? Perhaps none of this matters, since the future will be The Road or The Terminator anyway.


5th Gear: Might As Well Lease

Here’s another downside to financing a new car at one of those outrageous seven- or eight- (or more) year loan terms: by the time the car is paid off, if it ever is, it’ll be close to obsolete with how fast vehicle technology moves these days. This may be another reason to just lease, an analyst tells The Detroit News:

The leasing trend in U.S. autos to continue, if not accelerate, as consumers want to avoid locking into long-term ownership of a vehicle that could experience a devaluation during a time of rapid improvement in vehicle connectivity, electrification and active safety/accident avoidance technology.


I have become increasingly convinced that financing a new or used car is a scam.

Reverse: Florence Lawrence!

She was awesome.


Neutral: What Becomes Of The Boomer Cars?

Do we think Millennials will scoop up garages full of ‘60s muscle cars and ‘30s Bugattis, or will they say “fuck it” and be happy with the one Skyline they have? Or will there be enough concentrated wealth at the top to ensure that expensive car collections will be just fine?

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.

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At some point in the next 10-15 years I expect the classic car bubble to burst. The super rare cars like Super Birds and Boss 429s will continue to be valuable, but the ‘average’ classic car will drop in price as their Boomer owners start to pass away. Their GenX and Millennial children will likely have to sell them to properly distribute their parents estate which will likely flood the market. I don’t think the cars will become effectively worthless, but I do feel they will see a significant correction in their values.