Volkswagen ID Buzz concept is an electric microbus for the autonomous future

Partly a nostalgic revival of the Type-2 Microbus and partly an optimistic look at VW's electric, autonomous future, the Volkswagen ID Buzz concept is totally rad.

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German automaker Volkswagen continues its conceptual push towards an electrified future with the unveiling of the ID Buzz concept van on the eve of the 2017 Detroit auto show.

Just last week at CES, Chrysler -- a brand that knows a things or two about vans -- unveiled its Portal concept minivan. Today, VW unwraps a concept electric minivan of its own with a design based on one of the most iconic vans of all time. Does this mean that the future will be filled with autonomous, electric minivans? If so, count me all the way in!

VW's new concept uses the same core ideas, design language and modular electric drive kit (MEB) architecture as the ID Concept that debuted at the Paris auto show last year. However, the ID Buzz draws its primary inspiration from the Volkswagen Type-2 Microbus, an icon of '60s and '70s automotive design, with a similar v-shape on the front fascia and a silhouette like a loaf of bread.

Also like the previous ID concept, the Buzz features an all-electric powertrain with a compact e-motor mounted low on the rear axle good for about 201 horsepower. However, the van features a second e-motor on its front axle, giving it on-demand all-wheel drive with an estimated combined output of 275 kW -- about 369 mechanical horsepower. Zero to 60 mph happens in a torquey 5 seconds with all wheels working, but the top speed is governed at just 99 mph.

Energy is stored in a flat battery pack that hides beneath the concept's Silver Birch wood floor and, with a target 111 kWh battery capacity (about three times that of the modern e-Golf), cruising range is estimated at up to 270 miles based on American driving habits and testing methods. (VW estimates about 373 miles on European testing methods.)

A plug-in Combined Charging System (CCS) allows an 80 percent juice boost in just 30 minutes or a 150 kW inductive charging plate allows for slower, wireless charging. The specifics of these technologies aren't really important, this being a concept and all.

ID Buzz's low motors and underfloor batteries mean that there are no heavy drivetrain components above about knee height, which should aid in handling, but more importantly the flatpack powertrain allows the automaker to cram seating capacity for eight people and two luggage compartments into its 194.5-inch length.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept
Volkswagen

The interior is also customizable. The seats can be repositioned, removed, folded flat or combined into beds or loungers for long or overnight trips. The second row seats can be doubled over to form tables with their flat backs. The front buckets can be rotated 180 degrees to allow the driver to engage with other passengers while in autonomous mode. An "ID Box" center console with a detachable tablet display can also be repositioned around the cabin or removed and used outside the vehicle with its Beats Bluetooth loudspeakers.

The ID Buzz is designed for both human-piloted and autonomous drive modes. When a human is behind the wheel, the touch-sensitive steering wheel is home to most of the necessary controls, including the PRND drive selector. An augmented reality head-up display (HUD) is projected onto the windshield, overlaying navigation, speed, battery level and other relevant data onto the world ahead. VW says its HUD and 3D projection tech makes it appear as though the information is projected from 23 to 49 feet ahead of the car with an "astonishingly realistic" effect.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept
Volkswagen

The steering wheel sinks into the dashboard when in its ID Pilot fully autonomous driving mode, freeing up even more cabin space for the humans onboard to stretch into. Meanwhile, the head-up display is freed up to display more information such as local travel guides, friends along the chosen route or inbound messages. The concept will be able to handle itself at up to about 80 mph on freeway and features Car2X capabilities that allow its robo-brain to communicate with other piloted and autonomous vehicles and infrastructure. Volkswagen also envisions autonomous parking for multilevel parking decks and trained driverless parking, sort of like a robotic valet that brings your car to you.

The Microbus-inspired front fascia is very facelike -- sort of smug looking, if you ask me -- and features interactive cues that communicate the vehicle's state. The LED eyes open and close to indicate whether the ID Buzz is awake or asleep. On the road, the faster the Buzz drives, the more dynamic the eyes look. In its autonomous mode, the LED eyes "look" ahead and around, indicating the direction the ID Buzz is about to turn or glancing at pedestrians and cyclists to let them know it sees them.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept
Volkswagen

Volkswagen is targeting a 2020 launch of its ID line of e-mobility vehicles with the compact ID hatchback first, followed by an as-yet unrevealed ID SUV and then the ID Buzz van sometime between 2022 and 2025.

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