Unveiling its vegan electric bus, Volkswagen taps into the spirit of America’s 1960s counterculture
For fans of the original VW Bus, the good news is that Volkswagen’s legendary flower power minivan is back: It’s all electric and carbon-neutral, and it’s vegan. The bad news for American customers is that they may have to wait even longer than anticipated.
On Wednesday, the German carmaker finally unveiled the series production version of its ID Buzz concept that will hit European markets in autumn.
Five long years of development work went into the vehicle that soon will take its place next to the original VW Bus, which debuted back in 1950. Not even Tesla has anything on the drawing board that can compete.
But the U.S. version will only arrive in 2024, which, unlike its European counterpart, will have a wheelbase and a larger interior with up to seven seats.
True to its predecessor’s hippie image, the ID Buzz will feature a lot of recycled materials in the interior. Customers hoping to add Alcantara seats will have to look elsewhere; there won’t even be an option to order anything with leather. Built in Germany, all net CO2 emissions that cannot be abated will be offset by Volkswagen.
“Its emotional appeal stems from the legacy it inherits,” the brand’s CEO, Ralf Brandstätter, said in prepared remarks on Wednesday. “In the 1960s, the Bus symbolized freedom and independence, and now we’re transporting those feelings from the past into the present, only this time it’s electric and sustainable.”
The ID Buzz, whose official electric range has not been indicated in kilometers yet, may not generate the kind of sales volume as the smaller ID4, an electric crossover that launched in the U.S. market last spring. As the spiritual successor to the beloved van, it is however crucial to polishing the diesel-tarnished brand in the U.S. market, where it aims to more than double its share to 10% by 2030.
At least for European customers, VW will finally deliver on the promise of a Bus revival this year, having teased fans in 2001 with the popular Microbus concept that never got the green light for actual production.
The reason why it took so long for the VW Bus to be revived has to do with economies of scale: In order to be profitable enough with lower volumes compared with the ID4, the Buzz uses the same chassis as that of its crossover sibling already on sale across the world.
By using as many common parts under the hood that they can, carmakers can save costs across different models. Ideally only the visible bits that differentiate cars from one another are changed—their look and design, exterior body style, interior passenger cabin, and surface materials customers see and touch.
This common chassis shared across various VW Group models, including the Audi Q4 e-tron, is known by its German initials MEB and will underpin more than 80% of all EVs the parent company sells by 2025. Altogether the upfront investments it spent to develop the MEB will be split by 19 million cars, giving VW considerable scale effects.
GM is adopting a similar approach with its Ultium platform that forms the basis for the GMC Hummer EV pickup, the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq, and the much anticipated $30,000 Chevrolet Equinox crossover due to arrive next year.
As a result of their shared heritage, the battery pack of the ID4 has also been carried over for the European ID Buzz. It offers the same 77 kWh net usable capacity, and features common motors and electronics. A larger battery and an all-wheel drive version, however, is in the works.
Brandstätter summed up the vehicle’s simple positioning in the EV market as such: “There are a lot of electric vehicles, but only Volkswagen can bring a vehicle like the ID Buzz to the road.”
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