Volkswagen showcased a 1979 Elektrotransporter that was used in a pilot study by the Tennessee Valley Authority at the annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance to reflect the show’s dual electric vehicle themes—EVs from the dawn of motoring and EVs of the present and future.
Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance has inspired automakers from around the world to bring their rare rides and gather with like-minded car enthusiasts on the fairways of Amelia Island, Florida. And while the Elektrotransporter was not a traditionally elegant vehicle, it provides a rare glimpse into the electric innovation that has been happening behind the scenes at Volkswagen for the past six decades—lining up perfectly with the “It’s Electric” historic class and the “Taking Charge” parade of current and future electric vehicles at this year’s show.
The Volkswagen Elektrotransporter has a unique story. During the global oil crisis of the early 1970s, many automakers were inspired to look for alternatives to gasoline power. In response, Volkswagen produced a number of electric vehicles based on the Microbus, Transporter, and Golf to explore the feasibility of electric propulsion and charging. In 1978, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Tennessee Valley Authority teamed up to buy 10 electric Type 2s—five Buses and five Transporters—to test how EVs performed under daily use in work fleet conditions.
The electric bus held 24 lead-acid batteries with 72 cells under a raised floor, with a rating of 25.9 kWh. The electric motor was bolted directly to the existing bus’s transmission, which was locked in second gear, and drove the vehicle’s rear wheels. The bus produced only 23 hp, giving it a claimed top speed of just 48 mph, but did offer an early version of regenerative braking that’s now standard across all modern EVs.1 When NASA—yes, that NASA—they only managed to get it up to 44 mph with an observed range of 35 miles.
In a neat historical twist of fate, the buses were based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Volkswagen is expected to produce the ID.4 electric vehicle for North American markets. In total, the 10 vehicles were driven a total of about 54,000 miles over an 18-month test period. At the end of testing, it was concluded that with developing technology electric vehicles would be able to satisfy a wide range of conventional vehicle applications in the near future. Volkswagen of America recently acquired one of these Elektrotransporters for its historic fleet and plans to return it to running condition.
From the Elektrotransporter to the new ID.4, Volkswagen continues to innovate and invest in EVs to bring consumers the best on the road. By 2023, Volkswagen Group hopes to build one million electric cars and plans to have eight all-new electric and hybrid vehicles in showrooms worldwide by the end of 2021.