How I.D. Buzz takes Volkswagen back to the future

Few vehicles have ever reached the iconic status enjoyed by Volkswagen Microbus. Even today, some 40 years after sales of the vehicle officially known as the Type 2 stopped in the United States, the Bus retains a singular following among enthusiasts and casual fans.

Yet as it considers the largest transformation in its history, one powered by electric vehicles, Volkswagen has also imagined how tomorrow’s transport needs could lead to a future revival of the Microbus – in the form of the I.D. Buzz concept, revealed today in Detroit.

“This is something only Volkswagen can do in such an iconic way,” said Klaus Bischoff, head of Volkswagen Design. “Our aim was to come up with something that’s likeable, which would touch the heritage of the brand.”

And compared to some other, more generic concepts of future electric vehicles “our solution,” Bischoff added, “is cool.”

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept car

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The Buzz was designed on what Volkswagen calls its MEB platform, a matrix of common parts that will be used to build several new production electric vehicles starting in 2020. As shown by the I.D. hatchback concept last year, the MEB platform opens up the interior of the vehicle; that concept had the interior space of a mid-size sedan in the footprint of the Golf. The platform allows for either rear-wheel-drive with a single electric motor or have all-wheel-drive with two motors, one up front and one in back.

Bischoff says the use of electric power creates many new ways to design a vehicle. With no need for an fossil-fuel engine, the overhang of the body in front of the wheels can be greatly reduced. The Buzz has ample seating for eight, which can be reconfigured for dozens of uses, including sleeping. Most importantly for the design, much like the the air-cooled Bus, the front end can be smooth for maximum aerodynamics; there’s even a small luggage compartment behind the front hood, much like the original Beetle.

“Volkswagen was born without a grille – the engine was in the back,” said Bischoff. “Now the engine is in the back again, and there is no reason to have a grille.”

Volkswagen Microbus: A look back

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While speed was never a calling card of the original Bus, the Buzz offers ample performance, with 369 hp and a time from 0 to 60 mph of 5 seconds flat. Its estimated all-electric range of 270 miles comes courtesy of a 110-kWh battery pack located under the seats. And Volkswagen envisions that a Buzz could recharge 80 percent of its battery capacity in 30 minutes using wireless charging.

The Buzz and the original I.D. also showcase Volkswagen’s plans for the future of self-driving vehicles. By staying constantly connected, the I.D. cars will know their drivers’ preferences and calendars and adjust accordingly. In manual mode, the driver would have a large heads-up display providing an augmented reality view of the roads ahead. In a fully autonomous state, the passengers in a Buzz could swivel their seats to face each other; the car would change the ambient lighting and pop out its steering wheel when needed.

“The Microbus was always a freedom machine, always about being independent,” says Bischoff. “With the huge range, the car will allow us to go new places.”

Volkswagen has publicly committed to building three new electric vehicles off the MEB platform. One will be a compact like the original I.D. concept; another will be an SUV. Bischoff told reporters there are “no concrete plans at the moment” for a vehicle like the I.D. Buzz to go into production – but that should it choose to build a Buzz-like vehicle, one could arrive by 2022.

Regardless of where the Buzz goes from here, Volkswagen as a whole has committed to reinventing itself. “We want to offer products that are essential and innovative,” says Bischoff. “We want to come up with solutions that are totally new and very fresh.”