A staple of hippie aesthetics and generally cool vibes, the Volkswagen microbus is making a comeback — and it might finally pay off the beatnik promises it seemed to be making more than 70 years ago when it first hit the market.
Looking to make a splash with its next major electronic vehicle model, Volkswagen is reviving one of its most iconic vehicles, the T1 microbus, with a throwback design evocative of the 1950s and 1960s original, but loaded with all the tech, features and versatility of a modern EV. That’s right, the ultimate hippie van is coming back and going green.
Dubbed the ID. Buzz, the new-look microbus will hit Europe later this year, with a U.S. announcement set for 2023 ahead of a proper rollout in 2024. The ID. Buzz doesn’t look dissimilar to some of VW’s EV van concept designs we’ve glimpsed over the years, just with one major exception: this one isn’t just a concept, and is actually coming to market.
Under the hood (ahem, so to speak), the ID. Buzz uses the same kit as most of Volkswagen’s current EV lineup, with the company’s scalable Modular Electric Drive Kit. The first models will come equipped with a high-voltage lithium-ion battery providing gross energy content of 82 kWh (77 kWh net) with 12 modules. The battery powers a 201 horsepower electric motor, with max torque of 229 lb-ft. VW promises larger battery variants and packages to come. The ID. Buzz will also support DC fast-charging, which can juice the battery from five to 80 percent full in half an hour.
As for the aesthetics, the ID. Buzz looks like it was based off leftover Syd Mead art from a Blade Runner background art book, with tight lines, big vents on the front, unique two-tone color options (the “Starlight Blue” is slick) and long-running horizontal windows connecting to the swooping windshield and back row/cargo area. The first photos from the production model make it seem incredibly bright, with so much natural light. But those nigh-futuristic design flourishes are still balanced with the iconic, boxy snub-nosed look that made the original T1 microbus so recognizable.
“The T1 – an icon of the 1950s – represents freedom and the democratization of mobility. With the ID. Buzz, we are transferring the T1 DNA to the present day and thus into the era of electric mobility and sustainability,” Jozef Kaba?, Head of Volkswagen Design, said in a statement. “We very consciously ensured that we were not making another T1. The ID. Buzz shows that it is successfully transferring the genes and stylistic elements of that iconic vehicle into the digital era.”
The interior design of the ID. Buzz is incredibly modular, almost like a (much better) modern take on Honda’s short-lived, boxy distant cousin, the Element. The cubby and slot-loaded center console is moveable (and removable), while the back row seats can be folded down and flipped to create more rear storage space accessible from the back hatch. Like most modern EVs, the cockpit is also tricked out with a 10-inch display and 10-12-inch infotainment and/or navigational screen. There are also plenty of USB-C ports to go around, as well as VW’s ‘ID. Light’ heads-up display-like system that stretches in front of the windshield to provide relevant info without the need for a full glance away from the road.
Volkswagen already makes some great EVs, but this could be the one that actually keeps your attention when a commercial comes on or on the showroom floor. There are myriad reasons Tesla has been able to largely dominate the EV space up to this point (being one of the first major players to take it seriously obviously helped), but there’s also the simple cool factor that makes the brand itself a statement, like Apple or Nike. Tesla vehicles feel cool, new and different — and that’s the piece of the puzzle legacy auto manufacturers need to crack. Yes, the Ford Mustang Mach-E is a gorgeous Mustang, but it also looks like… well, a cool Mustang. Chevy’s Bolt and Nissan’s Leaf check the EV box basics, but their small frames and relatively simple designs don’t exactly scream futuristic.
But the ID. Buzz is starting to find the sweet spot. It taps into the love for a design and vehicle that still carries a busload (sorry) of nostalgia, all while reinventing it into something that truly feels new and, well, cool. For years, we’ve been shown gorgeous, outside-the-box and often wild concept cars for what our electric future might look like. The time has come to deliver.
Volkswagen’s existing lineup of EVs are largely based on existing vehicle lines, and to be honest, those types of “normal” cars are almost certainly where the future of electric vehicles will end up once we reach a point of mass adoption. It’s just the getting there that’s proving the harder part. As the EV market is still carving out its foothold, we need to be reminded of what makes these cars different and new in the first place — and creating something that’s eye-catching and unique that you can actually drive and buy is the easiest way to sell people on that future.
With gas prices soaring, there’s no doubt EVs are becoming more appealing with each passing day for the average consumer (along with the obvious environmental impact of putting fewer gas-guzzling cars on the road). Bringing projects like the ID. Buzz to market, with the dazzling designs that feel like the concept cars we’ve been promised all along, we might finally be getting closer to the moment when rubber truly hits the road.