While Volkswagen continues to suffer falling sales and negative headlines from its diesel emissions tampering scandal, it’s getting positive buzz from the Budd-e Concept, the 21st century version of the iconic 1960s microbus.
International auto shows, from Detroit to Dubai, are an important way for manufacturers to tease the future, by introducing so-called concept cars and trucks.
I took the photo above at the New York International Auto Show last month, where the Budd-e was a featured star of the VW exhibit.
Some concepts are really pre-production models, which designers or engineers continue to tweak until the vehicle goes on sale later in the year.
Others, like this EV version of the classic VW camper, are radical departures, and the real concept is to find out whether we automotive journalists, along with the car-buying public, love it or hate it.
So far, everybody loves the VW Budd-e Concept, and can’t wait for the long-awaited replacement to the Microbus to get back on the road.
Long-awaited because Volkswagen stopped selling the campers in the US in 2003, and because VW has been talking about bringing out a new model off and on ever since.
Budd-e is an antidote to the VW diesel scandal
For sure, right now VW needs new models and the generally positive headlines they generate, to make us forget about the ongoing international scandal of manipulating diesel emissions and fuel economy software, the game of musical chairs it started in the company’s executive suites, and the unhappiness of dealers stuck with cars they can’t sell.
The original VW Microbus was a symbol of go-anywhere, discover-the-world freedom, much like the Ford Mustang, which was introduced around the same time, became the symbol of the freedom and joy of the open road.
I have fond memories of the original version, which I bought in Germany and drove thousands of miles through Europe and Africa on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition right after college, before “real life” got real.
I slept in it, cooked in it, climbed on top of it for photo vantage points, even shipped it back home to New York because I couldn’t bear to part with it. But I sold it soon after, because it clearly was unhappy with life in a big city.
But I digress.
Budd-e would be first EV camper
The new VW Budd-e is powered by a hunky 101 kWh battery, giving it an electric-only range of 250 miles or more on a full charge, a bit less than its former gas and diesel self. VW says it can reach speeds of 90mph or more, comparable to the old model on a really good day.
The Budd-e also has a high-tech dashboard that includes swipe-with-your-finger screen controls, a full complement of safety features, and LED lighting both on the front grill and as “mood” lighting in the interior.
While the old Microbus was distinctive, the only thing like it on the road, the Budd-e looks to me too much like a Kia Soul, Honda Element or Land Rover Evoque. Maybe they copied the original, and now the orginal looks like a copycat instead of a pioneer. Or, maybe there’s not much you can do with a box except soften the corners and add LED lighting
Budd-e is the first model built on VW’s new MEB electric platform, which VW claims is designed for more interior space and better handling. The battery pack is flat, and runs along most of the undercarriage, which allows a user-friendly flat interior floor.
The old Microbus always felt top-heavy, but the flat battery pack in the new version keeps the center of gravity low. That means better handling, especially on turns.
The new platform architecture also promises additional EV models, although VW is not saying what’s in the pipeline.
AWD and LED
Budd-e is to be all-wheel-drive, powered by electric motors front and back. There’s lots of neon and LED lighting, and VW hints at putting solar panels on the roof to power some of the on-board features, extending driving range.
Using a fast-charger, the Budd-e Concept will recharge to 80% in just 30 minutes. VW is introducing cordless inductive charging, which corporate sibling Audi also offers, on the new A3 e-Tron.
Because it’s a work in progress, the Budd-e has been shown in versions with and without door handles. The version without handles requires you to wave, as you would to swipe on a mobile device, and the door pops open.
Also, versions have been shown with and without side view mirrors, The version without mirrors uses tiny rear-facing cameras that work the same way. Either way, all the information is visible on the futuristic multi-screen dashboard cluster.
Other high-tech features include a 3D map-based collision avoidance system, and a connectivity system that allows you to put your home on “away” mode while you explore near or far, if your “smart home” is as connected as your smart car.
VW is touting the Budd-e Concept as “bringing the Microbus into the 21st century”. We’ll see.
photos of Budd-e interior and with surfboard on the roof courtesy VW
photo of Budd-e at NIAS is (c) Copyright Evelyn Kanter; reproduction by permission only.