It seems like whenever Volkswagen is going through a rough patch and/or has little in the way of genuinely compelling hardware to reveal (while admirable, we don’t find the new stretched Tiguan that premiered last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to be particularly groundbreaking) they taunt brand loyalists with yet another latter-day “Microbus” concept.
VW has teased auto show-goers with latter-day iterations of its iconic Type 2 Transporter van as concept models for well over a decade, with the hype becoming so compelling at one point that Mattel even built Barbie her own version of a 2002 auto show styling exercise that at the time seemed headed to production (it had a working horn!).
An all-electric reincarnation was unveiled at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, affectionately called the BUDD-e, that – unsuccessfully to our eyes – channeled the classic Microbus look through current VW styling protocols. Otherwise, it was the usual distant-future project based on vaporware and unobtainium, with a claimed operating range of up to 373 miles on a charge.
This year VW rolled out yet another modern Microbus concept at the Detroit show that’s likewise both forward and backward looking. Saddled with the unfortunate hipster moniker I.D. Buzz, it’s an electrified people-mover that promises both standard and autonomous driving modes. At least this time around it does a nice job of capturing the classic rendition’s iconic look, particularly at the front- and rear-ends, and wraps it around three rows of configurable seats with a full range of high-tech amenities.
Battery range for the latest Type 2 concept is claimed to be a somewhat more realistic, though still far-reaching, 270 miles – by comparison, the just-introduced Chevrolet Bolt EV can go for an estimated 238 miles on a charge, while the Tesla Model S tops out at a 265-mile maximum with its available 90 kWh battery. The automaker says a 369-horsepower electric powertrain will enable the vehicle to reach 60 mph in about five seconds – which is impressive for any minivan with the the essential aerodynamics of a brick – though with a tepid top speed of just 99 mph.
As usual, VW brass is being coy as to on whether or not a reincarnated Microbus, electrified or otherwise, will ever roll off a global assembly line. Automotive News suggests that if the new Bus would be built it wouldn’t be until at least 2022; it’s prospects are favorable as the concept is said to be a favorite of VW brand chief Herbert Diess. Still, that leaves Barbie’s short-lived version as the only Microbus on sale in the U.S. since 1979.
At a time when Volkswagen is left battered and bloody from its continuing “Dieselgate” woes – to the extent executives are being advised to steer clear of the U.S. for fear of being arrested over the emissions cheating scandal – taking a step back to revisit its cherished past while looking forward to next-generation technology is clearly a welcome move. We expect a rendition of the classic Microbus would be a big seller among nostalgic Baby Boomers looking to recapture a piece of their lost youth, as well as younger buyers seeking the exaggerated allure of a bygone age. Look at the success Dodge is having – especially among enthusiasts of a certain age – with its throwback Charger and Challenger Hellcat muscle car models.
Sure America is hooked on SUVs again, with the coming three-row VW Atlas likely being the right vehicle for the times, but yet another boxy people-mover isn’t likely to bring traffic into showrooms as would a thoroughly modern, yet instantly recognizable modern-day Microbus, electric powered or not. Let’s just not wait until those who remember the van most fondly are no longer in a position to own something that big, or even still be able to drive for that matter.
In the meantime, a mint-in-box version of Barbie’s 2002 Microbus can be found selling on eBay for $160 and up, with well-used models going for as little as $20.