Volkswagen Electric Microbus Will Debut At CES


VW MicrobusAn all new Volkswagen Microbus will debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Its drivetrain will be based on the state of the art lithium ion battery that will be used in the forthcoming Audi R8 e-tron and Q6 e-tron. Range is said to be 250 t0 310 miles.

The original VW bus occupies a favorite spot in American culture. It was the original freedom machine. It could go anywhere, albeit at a leisurely pace. It got pretty good gas mileage. You could take lots of friends along and you could even sleep in it. Try that in Mom’s Impala! It stood for free expression, free love and free music. Most of the people at Woodstock either drove one or knew someone who did.

VW busThe front of the original became a symbol of the 60’s. Volkswagen has worked very hard to faithfully recreate that look, but it wasn’t easy. A VW spokesman tells Autocar,  “First the wide, solid, D-pillar, second the boxy design of the centersection and, thirdly, the front end must have a very short overhang. The distance from the A-pillar to the front end must be very short.” It wasn’t until the advent of modern electric drivetrains that the whole project started to come together.

Volkswagen has been engulfed in a tidal wave of negative publicity as a result of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that broke last September. In its wake, top man Martin Winterkorn was replaced. Now uber-engineer Ulrich Hackenberg, the man who designed the platform the R8 e-tron and Q6 e-tron are built on, has suddenly decided to retire.

The top man for Volkswagen cars is now Herbert Diess, who will give the keynote speech at CES on January 5. Autonomous driving systems are expected to dominate the show this year, so the fact that VW is planning to introduce its new electric Microbus there suggests it will have plenty of electronic features to show off. Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the company which organizes CES, says the car will be a “groundbreaking electric vehicle that will further illustrate the synergy between the Internet of Things and the automotive industry.”

VW’s Diess says his company is “repositioning itself for the future. We are becoming more efficient, we are giving our product range and our core technologies a new focus and we are creating room for forward-looking technologies by speeding up the efficiency program.” Diess also says “a new standard with regard to connectivity and driver assistance systems is to be defined.”

Using CES as a platform to outline how Volkswagen plans to move forward is smart. It’s hard to imagine that anything good can come out of the diesel emissions scandal, but that debacle may actually spark a revolution within the company to bring the electric cars the world needs to market sooner than anticipated. What better way to start its climb back then by re-introducing the automotive face America came to love to our roads once again.

Photo credits: Volkswagen, Pinterest

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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • VazzedUp

    If they release the vehicle above as a Bus it will be a big disappointment to those looking for a replacement to the original. What they have shown is a minivan. No way can you convert that to a camper with all the bits that made the original so popular.
    I really hope they do bring out a valid replacement to the Iconic Bus, but what we have seen so far is not it.

    • Steve Hanley

      There are reports VW is working on a camper version to follow a year or so after the Microbus goes on sale.

      • Raphael Sturm

        Do you know when it will go on sale? It seems like a rather expensive car, if it goes on sale before the Q6 etron, or any other VW car that adopts the new pack architecture. I don’t think it will be a high enough volume seller to bring the price down to a competitive level.

        • Steve Hanley

          2017 is what I hear, Raphael. Probably will cost a bit more than the original, though!

          • Raphael Sturm

            Ok, wow, I imagined it would be a “end of the decade” project. Maybe they will use the same core architecture as the next eGolf, which will need a refreshed battery by 2017(I guess 150-200 miles will be the plan). Adding a bit more battery space and you can give the Microbus a range of 250 miles. But I guess it won’t be really cheap, maybe they go for a premium minivan?

  • AaronD12

    “The distance from the A-pillar to the front end must be very short.”

    So why not put the motor and gearbox in the back, a’la i-MiEV or i3?

    • Steve Hanley

      Dunno. I suspect that crash test standards have something to do with why the driver is no longer positioned 6″ behind the front bumper! ; – )

      • AaronD12

        The i-MiEV has decent crash ratings, especially for a vehicle its size. The Smart4Two does well, too. While a large crumple zone (especially free of a heavy engine — see the Tesla Model S) does help with frontal crashes, not having to engineer around a bulky engine does help in making better crash structures.

    • smartacus

      Exactly Right. Why not in the back like the i-MiEV?
      It would be closer to the original and an added benefit is front crash structures are ironically easier to engineer when there is no engine in the way.

      • Steve Hanley

        That would be an excellent idea. The answer, I suspect, can be found in the article about Ulrich Hackenberg that is just a few places below this one. Hackenberg pioneered the “modular kit” manufacturing process for VW that allows many different vehicles to be built using some critical dimensions that are identical, such as the distance from the engine/motor to the pedals.

        As different as the Microbus may look on the outside from an Audi Q6, underneath the skin I am betting they share the same “kit”, which allows much greater efficiency in assembly and thus reduced costs.

        I am no en-guh-near, but then again my daddy didn’t raise up no dopes. I think my answer is pretty close to the truth of it. Anyone who actually knows what he is talking about is free to offer alternate suggestions. : – )

        • smartacus

          Bulli has the same MQB platform or Modularer Querbaukasten (Modular Transversal Toolkit) as the transverse engined A3
          While the upcoming Q6 utilizes MLB2 platform strategy or Modularer Längsbaukasten (Modular Longitudinal Matrix)

          Delving deeper; Q6 will be on the same PL71 platform as the Q7 (i’ve also heard PL71 referred to as the “Colorado Platform”).

          • Steve Hanley

            You are very well informed, sir! Thanks for that information.

            The MQB platform is the basis for almost 5,000,000 VW Group cars a year. It just makes economic sense to use that platform for the Microbus, even though a rear motor design would have been very cool.

            It does point out how electric motors free manufacturers to be more creative in building cars in the future. Hub motors, despite their negative effects on handling due to high unsprung weight, will lead to cars configured in ways never before thought possible.

            Active suspensions will likely mitigate much of the unsprung weight problem. That’s my guess, anyway.