#TBT: Volkswagen’s first electric bus

Volkswagen has a long heritage with electric propulsion. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed  the Volkswagen Beetle, made a name for himself with his first electric car in 1900 (one later adopted to become the world’s first hybrid.) But it would be some 70 years before a production electric vehicle would carry the Volkswagen brand – and it’s likely not one you’ve ever heard of.

The global oil crisis of the early 1970s set many automakers to work looking for alternatives to gasoline power. One of VW’s answers was to take the still-popular Type 2 Microbus and transform it into an all-electric vehicle. Known as both Eleckro-Bus and Elektro-Transporter, VW would eventually build and sell about 70 of these EVs for use in Germany between 1972 and 1976.

Volkswagen's Elektro-Bus

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The limitations of electric power in that era made the Elektro-Bus a machine useful for only certain roles. The battery pack of 72 lead-acid cells was reliable but not that powerful; top speed was only 43 miles per hour, and reaching it would take a good 30 seconds. As with modern electric cars, the pack was located on the vehicle floor in the center of the chassis, necessary given its size and 1,847-lb. weight; unlike today, the range was all of 25 miles. And while the Bus was rechargeable over several hours, it also included a built-in rail and stand that allowed owners to swap out battery packs.

Even 40 years ago, the VW engineers who built the Elektro-Bus were exploring how much better it could be with a more advanced battery (a nickel-cobalt pack the same weight as the one in the pack would have doubled the range). As this year’s I.D. BUZZ concept shows, the next generation of electric-powered vehicles with lithium-ion packs could have speed and range similar to what’s already on the road – and style to spare, as VW buses always do.