The New Volkswagen Era Begins in a Bus Like Your Parents Drove

The Volkswagen I.D. Buzz autonomous minibus concept is unveiled during the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 9, 2017.
The new Volkswagen microbus runs on electric power and eventually won’t need a driver | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Forget about the diesel emissions scandal for now. Ignore the Volkswagen executives getting hauled off to U.S. jails for their part in the conspiracy. Imagine you were an automaker in need of serious re-branding. Which car would you introduce at America’s biggest auto show? Volkswagen chose a minibus that recalled an era when road trips went on for months and all sorts of hi-jinx took place inside — a simpler time, indeed.

This I.D. Buzz concept, which the automaker suggested might be part of its “big electric offensive” coming in 2020, kicked things off for VW at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. With a zero-emissions (EV) powertrain, autonomous-drive capabilities, and high-tech infotainment options, it’s certainly a vehicle of the future.

The Volkswagen I.D. Buzz autonomous minibus concept is unveiled during the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 9, 2017.
I.D. Buzz seats eight and features versatile seating options | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Nonetheless, there is no question about I.D. Buzz’s links to the past. As one could in the original VW Bus’s heyday of the 1960s, passengers have space to enjoy themselves in Buzz (pronounced “bus” in the German). You can move the seats around and accommodate a card game, throw your boards in the back when the swell hits, or load up the family and everyone’s bike as you wish. It seats a maximum of eight.

Eventually, the driver will even be able to hit a button and have the steering wheel disappear for autonomous mode. At that point, everyone would get to enjoy the bus in full.

VW ID Buzz
You don’t need a beard and a tie-dye to have a blast in this bus | Volkswagen

The I.D. Buzz concept runs on Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive (MEB) kit. According to Volkswagen, it is the world’s first multipurpose autonomous vehicle. Designed to travel almost 300 miles on a full charge, it should have no trouble staying on the road in a more charge-friendly future. (Imagine wireless charging at stoplights and other techniques that keep EVs rolling without fail. They’re coming.)

This van is no wimp, either. Volkswagen says it’s capable of 369 horsepower and could hit 60 miles per hour in five seconds. If you wonder how engineers got all that space and power into I.D. Buzz, it’s because they stuck the large battery under the vehicle like Tesla does. But auto consumers should get used to these performance numbers as more electric cars arrive. What only a Mustang and other bruisers used to pull off on gas, nearly every new EV can manage. It’s why Ford is electrifying its muscle car and F-150, too.

ID Buzz Concept by VW
I.D. Buzz performance specs are impressive | Volkswagen

Whether or not Volkswagen gets the microbus to market, we see plenty of use for such a van. Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke of such vehicles as a solution for traffic-prone urban centers. In a few years, we may see a race to get one of these electrified vans running in a Lyft or Uber fleet. Ride-hailing services already took priority for GM when it released the first copies of the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Once autonomous, electrified cars get their feet under them, larger vehicles will follow.

The transition could take another five to 10 years at minimum. Volkswagen said its electric age would commence at the start of the next decade, and a fully autonomous microbus could enter the picture by 2025. We have a hard time imagining the transportation scene eight years from now, but the I.D. Buzz strikes us as a good guess as to what the industry might need by then. No matter what happens, it’s safe to say diesel won’t be the answer of the future.

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