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Volkswagen BUDD-e concept: A groovy electric van

Those who were hoping that the much-anticipated Volkswagen electric concept van would resemble the company's fabled air-cooled vans of yore may be disappointed by what they see here. The BUDD-e (yes, that's the name. Don't you want to just give it a hug?) has a two-tone color scheme, but its bull nose looks more like a Scion xB than an old Type 2 VW Kombi.

Which may be a good thing. Do really you want your memory of the old beloved Microbus infused with the newest, slickest tech on the planet?

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The taillights of the BUDD-e integrate nicely into the d-pillars.

Josh Miller/CNET

Like the Bulli concept before it, the BUDD-e evokes some of the same proportions as VW's old air-cooled bus. For a brand currently mired in lawsuits and scandal over Dieselgate, nostalgia could play a huge part in getting people back to the brand. While crash test standards have put the kibosh on the traditional flat-front nose, it still sports the long wheelbase and short overhangs that many remember from the old Microbus, and the style lines along the front come together not in a sharp point, but rather in a way that harkens back to the original, while still looking towards the future.

VW predicts that by 2019, batteries will be able to charge to 80 percent capacity in 15 minutes. The 101-kWh battery in the BUDD-e can go an impressive 373 miles between charges, based on the New European Driving Cycle. When the EPA drive cycle is used, the BUDD-e rates 233 miles per charge. Regardless, the battery powers the front and rear wheels to propel the all-wheel drive electric van to speeds of up to 93 mph.

Arguably more important than those range and performance metrics is what all of that technology sits atop: A new Modular Electric Toolkit architecture specifically designed for battery-powered vehicles. The theory is that the toolkit can be used to underpin a variety of different types of electric vehicles -- not unlike VW's existing strategy with its gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

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The BUDD-e concept can travel 233 miles on a single charge and has a top speed of 93 mph.

Josh Miller/CNET

The BUDD-e uses touch, voice and gesture control to operate large infotainment panels. Stepping up from the gesture system unveiled in the Golf R Touch concept at CES last year, the BUDD-e can recognize movements without an explicit instruction to activate. A wave of the hand opens the sliding door, a kick of the foot opens the tailgate.

Directly in front of the driver is a three-paneled Active Info Display with navigation, vehicle status and infotainment. Passengers can plan the route on the separate head unit or access music, points of interest or connected home functionality.

Yes, Volkswagen's BUDD-e can connect you to your home or workplace, allowing drivers to remotely control lights and air conditioning. The van can also display images from cameras located in or around your home. You can even see who is at your front door from BUDD-e and let them inside.

Volkswagen is going so far as to imagine a world where the BUDD-e can order and receive its own replacement parts. No word on if it will change its own tire, though.

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The technology of the BUDD-e is accessed by touch, voice, or gesture.

Josh Miller/CNET

There is one particular feature on the BUDD-e that may actually make driving safer, not just more convenient. The concept's e-Mirror replaces side mirrors with two digital displays fed by external cameras. The driver's side 7.0-inch panel and a smaller, passenger-side 5.9-inch panel essentially eliminate the blind spot found in conventional mirrors and also make for better aerodynamics. This isn't a new idea -- automakers have been playing with this idea since the 1980s. US law still mandates physical side mirrors, but automakers have been lobbying the Department of Transportation to amend these laws for some time now.

So, if you've ever wanted an electric vehicle with room for your friends and the ability open the front door of your house, spy on your kids, potentially accept packages, and, oh yeah, also drive places, then... rejoice! Volkswagen has your concept BUDD-e van all ready.

 

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