#TBT Concept: 2001 Volkswagen Microbus
In the auto industry’s annals of missed opportunities, few stand out quite like the 2001 Volkswagen Microbus concept. In an era where people movers were gaining in popularity, and Volkswagen held a cachet among young and wealthy Americans for a certain Germanic coolness, the Microbus concept was an outright hit upon its debut at the 2001 Detroit auto show. Retro-themed concepts were quite the rage at the time, and the Microbus successfully recalled its forebears while offering all the amenities and space a modern family could want.
Designed in VW’s California studios, the Microbus had a lot of show-car flourishes, but also accurately forecast what people would want from their family haulers — three rows of seats, and lots of screens, with monitors in the back of the first and second row of seats, along with pop-up screens for the third row.
Why was it never built? VW knew it had a potential hit on its hands, and had slated the Microbus for production in 2004 — but getting the concept’s shape to meet modern safety standards and fit onto the corporate van chassis proved too difficult, and the idea was scuttled. (That lack of front overhang that’s a key trait of the old Microbus look would likely fail most crash tests.)
VW has continued to play with the idea — and even had Chrysler build a version of its minivans, the unsuccessful Routan. In 2011, VW showed off an electric concept van dubbed the Bulli, one with a longer nose than the Microbus, but still very much in the same vein. Last year, analysts forecast that VW would finally pull the trigger on a Microbus-like vehicle in 2019. Meanwhile, the demand for classic Microbuses has grown so much that pristine copies now sell for more than $200,000. Maybe someday families will have a way to feel so groovy again at a much lower price