Might the MEB Platform Finally Bring us a Modern Microbus?
We’ve been teased with the Microbus Concept 2001, Bulli (2011), and at last year’s CES, the BUDD-e—all were takes on Volkswagen’s iconic original air-cooled, rear-engine Type 2 bus. Each troweled on plenty of design cues to evoke the hippy original, but the first two were attempting to drape that monospace design over a conventional front-drive combustion powertrain, and even the BUDD-e, which was said to be electric, failed to eliminate the traditional hood and grille—two absolute microbus buzz-kills.
This latest swing seems much more likely to connect, and it is the only one that really looks the business. The I.D. Buzz (pronounce it like a German—“eye-dee-bus”) is based on the modular electric architecture (MEB), which will enter production in 2020 underpinning the Third Coming of the Beetle (the Rabbit/Golf was the second). That car is rear-driven like the original Beetle, and this one could be as well, though the concept features electric motors twirling both axles. With no clumsy lump of combustion engine hardware in front, there’s no need for the big hood. There is considerably more crash structure up front than the original got, but the climate controls get packaged up there along with a 7-cubic-foot “frunk.” A cab-forward windshield over a long-ish dash completes the look.
The van’s face includes the deep-vee detail from the original, but the round headlamps are replaced with LED “eyes,” complete with light-piped lids and LED unit irises, which can “look” in the direction of an impending turn or to acknowledge recognition of a pedestrian or biker, and appear to close when the vehicle is switched off. Surely these will be colorable to match the owner’s peepers. An LED strip runs around the vehicle along the demarcation between the Cyber Yellow and white painted areas.
Under the floor lies a 110-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is simply a lengthened version of the 60-kWh unit in the compact ID, sized to fit the 129.9-inch wheelbase. The range is anticipated to hit somewhere between 200 and 270 miles on the EPA cycle. Charging is via traditional plug or an inductive charging pad located roughly under the front axle (easing the task of autonomous recharging). A 150-kW charger can deliver 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. Acceleration to 60 mph with 369 total system horsepower in play is said to take just 5.0 seconds, and top speed is 99 mph.
Measuring 194.5 inches long by 77.8 wide and 77.3 in tall, this new-age macro microbus is 26.0 inches longer, 10.1 inches wider, and 0.9 inch taller than the original on a wheelbase that’s 35.4 inches longer (all-wheel steering promises to keep the turning circle at a manageable 35.2 feet). Compared with a modern minivan like VW’s most recent—the Chrysler-built Routan—it’s 8.0 inches shorter in length, 8.4 inches taller in height and 0.9 inch narrower. Big 22-inch wheels and design tricks like two-tone paint help to visually diminish the height. We’re told the I.D. Buzz packages the interior volume of the long-wheelbase Euro-market T6 Transporter van inside a footprint about that of the short-wheelbase T6. There’s seating for eight and two panoramic sunroofs evoke the cloth sunroof and eight skylight windows on DeLuxe Type 2s.
The concept also anticipates full autonomy (I.D. Pilot mode), so it features a squared-circular steering wheel that would presumably spend most of its time retracted into the dash and not wobbling through the driver’s hands when making U-turns. Inside the rim is a capacitive touchscreen that controls most of the I.D. Buzz’s functions. The seats can turn around to face rearward and the rear ones can electrically fold into a bed. The sliding center console can provide a giant-iPad-like user interface/infotainment screen that connects via Bluetooth to the speakers and can be removed for nearby picnicking, etc. When this console is slid rearward, tables can be deployed to facilitate card games, puzzle-assembly, etc. An entire-windshield head-up display presents augmented reality info, and all the driver personalization ideas presented by the original I.D. concept in Paris are in play here too.
Sure, the van genre is all but dead, but this Grateful Dead reinterpretation could be just the thing to reinvigorate the segment. What’s more, large, electrified monospace vehicles seem poised to inherit the future of ride-hailing autonomous transportation, so I.D. Buzz’s timing seems pretty auspicious.