Opinion: Volkswagen’s long road to reviving the Microbus Car News

Plans to resurrect the Microbus date back more than 21 years, when Volkswagen, led by the enigmatic Ferdinand Piech and buoyed by the positive response to its modern recreation of the iconic Beetle, revealed a retro-inspired minivan concept called the Microbus. at the Detroit Auto Show in 2001.

Based on the fifth-generation Multivan, the well-received seven-seater was crafted in the same California design studio as what was called the New Beetle. It also featured many of the exterior design cues seen on the original Volkswagen T2 commercial van sold between 1950 and 1975, but in a much larger form, at 4722mm in length.

READ MORE: New 2022 Volkswagen ID Buzz EV revealed in MPV and minivan form

Boasting an interior with art deco accents and three rows of seats, the first of four different concepts attempting to revive the spirit of the Microbus was designed to run a variety of front-mounted combustion engines, including included a 3.2-liter V6 petrol unit with a claimed 230 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque.

Ironically, however, given the transmission of the new ID Buzz, the unique Microbus concept we drove in New York later that year was powered by a small electric motor, “for transport mobility purposes”, as suggested by the documents we were asked to sign. .

Reaction to the original Microbus concept far exceeded expectations, particularly in the United States, a market in which Volkswagen was determined to significantly increase sales and cement its reputation as a maker of reliable yet stylish cars and commercial vehicles. conservative. As with the resurrected Beetle, the retro styling of the Microbus successfully recaptured the free-living spirit of the late 1960s in an automotive world increasingly preoccupied with ever-bigger, ever-thirstier SUVs of the early 1960s. 2000.

After internal studies were launched to determine whether the Microbus could possibly pass all relevant crash test legislation without making major changes to its stunning front design, including its front-mounted windscreen, it received the Production green light from Volkswagen Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder. , which said it would be built at the company’s commercial vehicle plant in Hannover, Germany, starting in 2005. Volkswagen even announced a price “around $30,000”.

“The design is signature. It’s much more refined now with the right combination of retro elements and a modern vehicle that is very appealing. We expect around 50% of our volume to be sold in the United States,” Pischetrieder told Autocar in an interview at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show.

His plans didn’t last long, however.

When Pischetsrieder was dumped as Volkswagen chairman by the German automaker’s board in 2006, the decision to produce the Microbus was quickly reversed, a victim of a wave of cost-cutting measures initiated by his successor. direct to the chairman of the Volkswagen brand, Wolfgang Bernhard. , according to the actors of the project.

Volkswagen, somewhat traumatized by this first attempt at a Microbus revival, took another eight years before revisiting the idea of ​​the Microbus as a separate model from the Multivan with the unveiling of the Bulli concept at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. By then Bernhard had long since left his office in Wolfsburg, his post being filled by Martin Winterkorn, who, like Piech and Pischetsrieder, also oversaw the operations of the rest of the Volkswagen Group.

Much smaller than the Microbus concept, at 3960mm in length, the Bulli was based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform and was designed around a newly developed electric driveline comprising an 85kW electric motor mounted on the front and, by today’s standards, a relatively small 40 kWh battery.

Developed by Volkswagen’s passenger car department rather than the commercial vehicle division credited with the original Microbus concept, the Bulli featured a six-seater interior and was touted as a possible addition to the German automaker’s lineup as a MPV alternative to Caddy, Touran, Sharan and Multivan.

At the time of its unveiling, Volkswagen Chairman Winterkorn suggested the Bulli could be produced alongside the reborn Beetle at the company’s Peubla plant in Mexico. Ultimately, however, it was deemed too small for the key United States market and all production plans were shelved.

Five years later, Volkswagen – under fire from the Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal but still convinced of the sales potential of a modern Microbus – introduced the electric-powered Budd-E concept.

Unveiled at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it showcased the company’s plans for a dedicated electric car platform, the so-called MEB (Modular Elektrik Baukasten) structure that underpins all of Volkswagen’s existing ID models, including including the Buzz ID.

Described as a “gateway to the future”, the four-seat Budd-e was intended to form the centerpiece of an ambitious…

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This notice was published: 2022-03-09 18:21:25

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