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2017, Mar - May

Will VW See The Light? 

By Tom Janiszewski

After previous Microbus misfires, hope is rekindled with I.D. Buzz

The original Microbus (or Type 2) is easily one of the most iconic vehicles in automotive history. The classic, versatile box-on-wheels conjures fond memories for millions, and Volkswagen has now leveraged its success as the basis for concept cars no less than four times over the last 16 years. 

The latest is the all-electric, all-wheel drive, self-driving I.D. Buzz. It premiered on a cold Monday January morning in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show and was met with cheers from the international press as the Cyber Yellow Pearl Effect and white van rolled onto the stage.

The first Bus-based concept was unveiled at the same show in Detroit in 2001 on the heels of the popularity of the New Beetle. Production plans were rumored, but it was reported at the time that executives in Germany felt the U.S. was the only interested market, and this market alone was not worth the investment. Ten years later, the Bus theme popped up again at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show with the Bulli show car. Decked out in two-tone red and white paint, it was considerably smaller than the original Microbus and made no attempt to replicate the flat-front of the original. Even smaller in size was 2016’s Budd-e concept, which bore the least resemblance to the original Bus.

Of all the concepts we’ve seen thus far, I.D. Buzz best captures the essence of the original Microbus in terms of size, appearance and versatility. Measuring 194.5 inches long, 77.9 inches wide and 77.3 inches high, it’s slightly longer, wider and taller than a split-window Bus. This would make this concept an ideal platform for a passenger van, camper or cargo van.

A crucial design element of the Bus is the flat front — an element that prior concepts did not have going for them. Engineering the flat front while meeting today’s stringent safety requirements has been particularly challenging for designers. I.D. Buzz comes closest than previous attempts thanks to the low-profile electric motor in between the front wheels rather than an internal combustion engine. By moving the windshield forward (complete with a small overhang of the roof along the top), the designers were able to achieve a relatively flat nose without compromising passenger safety. 

The hallmark feature of the split-window Bus is the belt line that curves downward creating a “V” as it wraps around to the front of the Bus and down toward the center of the bumper. The I.D. Buzz is the first van concept where designers didn’t apply a more angular solution to this styling element, and it gives the I.D. Buzz the friendly appearance lacking on the previous concepts.

Beyond the basic shape, the exterior of the I.D. Buzz has many design elements inspired by the original. Its designers say the I.D. Buzz is not a retro concept but rather the next logical step in the evolution of the original Bus. It’s apparent in the large VW logo on the nose. It’s transparent and backlit (as is a similar logo on the tailgate). The aluminum belt line trim of the original deluxe Bus is still aluminum here, however it’s billet aluminum and is inlaid within the body and features an undercut that’s lined with LED lighting. This illuminating trim, logo and headlights all perform a 360-degree light show when the owner approaches the vehicle.

The rear vents air vents of the ’68-’79 Bus are suggested with three air vents located just behind the rear side windows. Around the corner from the vents, a large motorized tailgate opens to reveal a storage area, which, thanks a second low-profile electric motor powering the rear wheels, yields a low opening with a sill height of just over 23.5 inches. In addition, thanks to the low-profile electric motor up front, the I.D. Buzz has a trunk taking up space that would otherwise be needed for an engine.

The designers’ intent with the interior was to create a feeling of a relaxing lounge. This is apparent with the light, warm colors used throughout, bolster pillows in the single rear bench seat and an entertainment console that slides fore and aft using a system of tracks in the floor. Press photos show the concept with a second row of single seats, however while on display in Detroit, only the front seats and rear bench were in the van. 

Nevertheless, the layout is extremely flexible. The rear seat can fold into a bed, the headrests of the individual seats fold to become tables and the two front seats both rotate to face rear passengers. Additionally, a pair of large sun visors mounted aft of the rear-most side windows fold down and are designed so passengers can lean on them.

The wood floor is finished in light-colored Silver Birch, and up above, a pair of large windows in the roof let in plenty of light and offer a convertible-like view.

The sides of the van are completely smooth thanks to the lack of door handles. The front doors and the dual sliding doors are all motorized and open by passing your hand under sensors in the undercut of the belt line. Large side mirrors are replaced by camera lenses which, along with a third camera in the rear, are wired to a screen where one would normally find the center-mounted interior rear-view mirror. Just above the side view cameras are quarter windows inspired by those in the front doors of the split-window Bus.

Above the belt line, all of the white bodywork is actually glass. A white film layer embedded within the glass provides the color and is the same technique used to create the embedded black frame on many production car windows. As such, all of the side windows are frameless, resulting in low wind noise while providing an uncluttered side profile. The drawback is that none of the side windows can be opened.

Sitting in the front seats, the first thing one notices is how far forward the windshield is. New Beetle owners will feel right at home! The dashboard is devoid of any instrumentation thanks to an “augmented reality” heads-up display as found in earlier I.D. concept cars. Navigation prompts are actually projected 7 to 15 meters ahead of the car, and the speedometer and other gauges are projected onto the lower portion of the windscreen. In the center of the dash, a retro-modern hula girl with a guitar floated just above the dash and rotated thanks to the magic of magnets. Later in the day of the launch, the hula girl was replaced by a cross-legged meditating gnome that also floated and spun. 

The I.D. Buzz is equipped with a full-autonomous driving feature. The system is activated by pressing the VW logo in the center of the wheel. The logo lights up and mood lighting illuminates the interior, as the wheel centers itself, retracts away from the driver and becomes flush with the dash allowing room for the driver to then turn his seat to face rear passengers. 

Four round laser scanners extend from the roof — one in each corner — to detect other cars and objects using laser, radar and ultrasonic scanners as well as inputs from front, back and side view cameras. While the autonomous feature is engaged, the vehicle’s status can be seen on the tablet device in the movable center console and on the heads-up display. If the vehicle determines the driver should take over, the car will advise as such. A touch of the VW logo, brake or accelerator pedals disengages the system and the wheel will telescope toward the driver.

The I.D. Buzz is built upon Volkswagen’s new MEB (Modular Electric Drive kit), which was first seen with the I.D. concept at the 2016 Paris Motor Show and will be Volkswagen’s platform for upcoming electric-only vehicles. I.D. Buzz features a pair of 150 kW motors providing power to all four wheels. The space-saving battery pack is mounted under the van’s floor and can be recharged inductively or by plugging in to any household outlet. It takes less than 30 minutes to charge to 80 percent and has a range of 270 miles per charge. The batteries power a pair of electric motors. The front motor is rated at 201 hp and a rear motor rated at 201-268 hp. In all-wheel drive mode, the I.D. Buzz reaches 60 mph in 5 seconds and has a governed top-speed of 99 mph. 

So, will Volkswagen actually put this concept into production? Type 2 fans have been teased before, only to be disappointed with no production plans. This time, it may be different. The timing now may be right for Volkswagen to look to their past to offer a new model that’s truly unlike anything else on the road. 

Reports from Volkswagen suggest executives are listening to reaction to the van, and I can say that aside from on occasional comment on the color, reactions were extremely positive. The van attracted a constant crowd, making photography a bit of a challenge. 

When asked about production plans, Hinrich Woebcken (CEO of the North America Region and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.) dryly said, “talk to Marketing.” 

If you like it, you know where to direct your requests... VWCA

Tom Janiszewski | volkstom@sbcglobal.net

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

  • WHAT’S IN A NAME?:  The I.D. Buzz seeks to carve out a groundbreaking identity.
  • AUDI ADVOCATE: Barry Hoch talks about his passion for product planning.
  • CONVENTION PLANNING: Get ready for the 62nd annual gathering in St. Charles, Ill.
  • INJECTOR INSERTS: How to remove and replace parts on early water-cooled models.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

  • Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.

 

 

Autoist Archive

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Will VW See The Light?

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