The VW I.D. Buzz Concept Is the Electric Microbus of Tomorrow

The future looks an awful lot like an autonomous, battery-powered version of the past. 

Few automakers know the value of tapping into nostalgia better than Volkswagen. (See: Beetle, New.) So with the oily residue of Dieselgate still clinging firmly to the carmaker's reputation, the carmaker came into the 2017 Detroit Auto Show with a new concept that combines the company's warm, fuzzy past with its cool, technologically-advanced future: the VW I.D. Buzz

The name is designed to tie the electric bus to the VW I.D. concept the company unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last year; like that car, the letters I.D. refer to a panoply of somewhat unrelated buzzwords (no pun intended), such as "identity," "idea," "individual," and "iconic design," while the "Buzz" is meant to be both a reference to the noise made by the electric powertrain and a play on the word "bus." As with the I.D. Buzz's spiritual predecessor, the Type 2 (better known as the Microbus), the unconventional power train layout gives the van plenty of room. The MEB electric architecture means the batteries and electric motors are all tucked down low in the body, creating a massive, roomy interior; rear cargo space ranges from 23.3 to 162.5 cubic feet, depending on interior layout; there's also a frunk of 6.1. cubic feet. The chairs are built on tracks mounted in the wooden floor; the second row seats can be folded down to become tables, while the third row turns into a bed. The center console—VW calls it the "I.D. Box"—also shifts around the interior, based on the car's mode; it sits between the two front seats during manual mode, then moves backwards when the car is driving itself. 

And yes, that's "motors," plural. The I.D. Buzz has an electric motor for each axle, giving it a total output of 369 horsepower and enabling it to sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour in five seconds flat—which doesn't seem impressive in the era of Ludicrous Speed luxury EVs, until you remember this is a goddamned Microbus. The 111-kilowatt battery gives the vehicle a range of about 270 miles; more importantly for those long, meandering road trips, it can regain 80 percent of its range after just 30 minutes of sucking on a 150-kW charging teat. 

Much like the related I.D. compact car concept, the I.D. Buzz is also designed to be capable of autonomous operation. Touch the steering wheel, and it retracts into the dashboard as the car enters self-driving mode and a quartet of lidar arrays rise from the roof like periscopes; the interior illumination even changes over to something called "mood lighting," which we at The Drive assume involves a disco ball and lava lamps emerging from hidden recesses. 

The I.D. Buzz also lets individual drivers carry their personal vehicle preferences with them, encoded into a cloud-connoted profile called the Volkswagen User-ID. Using it,  the nouveau Microbus will automatically load up everything from radio presets to seat positions to navigation preferences. While VW didn't explicitly mention the potential car-sharing implications of this tech, other companies such as Geely's Lynk & Co. have showed the potential for such technology to enable large-scale communal fleets for public use; we wouldn't be shocked to see VW offer a similar program for its I.D. family of vehicles when they go on sale.

Which won't be too far in the future, by the way. VW says the first MEB vehicle will hit showrooms by 2020, and the company is aiming to sell a million EVs a year by 2025. Considering how well the I.D. Buzz unites Volkswagen's past and future, we'd be shocked if the carmaker wasn't fast-tracking a production version of this electric minibus.