The wait is nearly over for fans of the original Volkswagen bus.
On March 9, the German carmaker will finally reveal to the world perhaps its most crucial electric vehicle yet when it pulls the veil off the ID Buzz after five years in the making.
It may not be destined to generate the sheer volume of sales as the ID4 electric crossover that is scheduled for production at VW’s Tennessee plant in Chattanooga later this year, but the ID Buzz is a “halo” model, meaning that it pays dividends on the brand’s image.
No other carmaker can credibly offer a competing vehicle that still enjoys so much goodwill as the original T1 bus—affectionately known as the Bulli in Germany and the Kombi in parts of Latin America—let alone one that is powered by a battery.
“The ID Buzz is definitely our electric model that elicits the most emotions,” wrote VW brand CEO Ralf Brandstätter on LinkedIn on Thursday. “We want to turn Volkswagen into the most desired brand for sustainable mobility and the ID Buzz symbolizes that like no other model.”
Enthusiasts had been hoping for a modern reinterpretation of the iconic flower-power van from the 1960s and ’70s ever since the VW whetted their appetite with a 2001 Microbus concept that never got the green light for sale.
Just 15 months after the diesel emissions scandal broke, VW boss Herbert Diess brought the ID Buzz to the North American International Automobile Show in January 2017. Its design featured a nearly flat front that restored its iconic look once more, because the concept replaced the front-mounted engine found in later VW bus generations with a battery pack in the floor.
At the time it was initially just a study, but designers and engineers at the brand hoped the company’s brass would approve it for development. Diess ultimately signed off on the project, in part because he needed a model that would help restore VW’s scandal-plagued image in the key U.S. market and fuel his carmaker’s transformation into a Tesla competitor.
Although Diess gave the team the funding they needed to bring it to series production, fans later became worried too much of the concept’s original design might be lost in the final development process, due for example to regulations such as pedestrian safety. Still others questioned whether VW might in fact shelve production plans entirely given the long development time.
These questions, along with the model’s final performance specifications, can now be answered when the version slated for commercial sale is revealed in early March.
New Beetle squashed
The ID Buzz, which may receive a different name in keeping with the current alphanumeric nomenclature typified by the ID4, will be built in Germany and go on sale first in Europe. Despite the large fan community around the VW bus in the U.S., the vehicle isn’t expected to hit U.S. showrooms until 2023.
The vehicle is not only important in terms of retail sales. A high-tech version equipped with the latest in sensor technology and powered by software developed by U.S. technology partner Argo AI will serve as the basis for a new fleet of upcoming robotaxis expected to launch in 2025 in Hamburg before being rolled out elsewhere.
Retro models can be a big gamble. BMW hit the jackpot with the revival of Mini in 2001 and Fiat dominated the minicar segment with the new 500, or Cinquecento, that returned in 2007.
Yet the Volkswagen New Beetle that launched in 1998 to great success found the reservoir of goodwill it could tap into petered out and eventually production ran out nearly three years ago—a decision taken by none other than Herbert Diess.
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