By Steve & Tamami Laser
For what seems like an eternity, fans have been clamoring for Volkswagen to bring back the Microbus. When the New Beetle appeared nearly 20 years ago, it seemed like a no-brainer to build a successor to the famed van. VW teased us with concepts over the years that never played out in the showroom. And while VW makes modern-day vans in Europe, they lack the charisma of the original.
Could VW’s new electrified BUDD-e concept debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week signal that a successor is finally in the works? Maybe. Let’s take a closer look at what VW says about its latest concept van.
With BUDD-e, Volkswagen is demonstrating “what electric mobility could be like by the year 2019.” The automaker says BUDD-e is the first vehicle based on its all-new Modular Electric Platform (MEB) designed specifically for plug-in vehicles. With “a range of up to 373* miles” coupled with a charismatic design, this van is said to incorporate VW’s heritage while providing a glimpse into the brand’s future.
One thing that’s been keeping the Microbus from returning is the sticky issue of creating front-end styling that will pass crash tests without completely abandoning the design cues of the original. Electrification may offer a solution.
The front end design of BUDD-e certainly looks like a Volkswagen. And if that’s not enough, perhaps a light show will do the trick. The area around the VW logo can be backlit by integrated LED modules creating an external ambient light that tapers towards the sides. The LED headlights are placed high up, while transparent surfaces to the left and right of the headlights house integrated LED indicators.
The van’s silhouette features a flat and elongated roof, long windows with glazed A-pillars, 21-inch alloy wheels, and light modules that reach around the side. A narrow LED stripe, which runs all the way round the car, acts as a character line and delivers exterior lighting. The absence of door handles and outside mirrors give it a cleaner look, with these components are redesigned and replaced by electronic solutions.
Here’s a brief video overview of the new BUDD-e concept revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (video: Volkswagen)
At the rear, BUDD-e’s aerodynamic design promotes airflow through the gloss black D-pillars, reducing aerodynamic drag and optimizing rear downforce. Its clean design includes a large tailgate, reminiscent of the original VW bus. LED taillight strips reach up into the D-pillars, and the circumferential ambient light help give BUDD-e a unique design. The C-shaped LED signature also surrounds the extractable “Drop Box.”
BUDD-e concept is 181 inches long, 76.3 inches wide and 72.2 inches high, placing it between two VW models sold in Europe, the Touran and the Multivan T6. Due to its width, relatively long wheelbase (124.1 inches), and short overhangs (27 inches front and 28.9 inches rear), BUDD-e’s proportions look sleek and sporty.
This video is the complete 45-miniute Volkswagen Keynote press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The Chairman of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen brand, Dr. Herbert Diess, said “BUDD-e is a ‘realistic trend setter.'” (video: Volkswagen)
Volkswagen says its new MEB platform will enable a production car to have pure electric range on par with today’s gas-powered cars “by the end of the decade.” The time required to charge the batteries to 80 percent of capacity is “anticipated to be reduced to about 15 minutes by then, marking an operational breakthrough for EVs.”
BUDD-e is the first concept car developed by the Volkswagen Group underpinned by the new MEB. VW says this architecture “heralds a fundamental change in electric cars and ushers in a revolution in automotive technology, leaving today’s fossil-fuel powered internal combustion engines and drivetrains in the past.”
The new platform is designed to have space for electric drive components and large batteries while maintaining interior space and driving dynamics. VW says MEB will allow for spacious interiors with the smallest possible footprint to enable easy and nimble transportation.
The new MEB delivers a drivetrain architecture that is specifically tailored for the integration of compact electric motors and high-performance, highly efficient batteries. VW says the 101 kWh battery is flat, to save space, and integrated into almost the entire vehicle floor. It powers two electric motors, one for each axle.
The front and rear motors power all four wheels and enable an estimated top speed of 93 mph. The total range of “up to 373 miles” is achieved on a full charge, “putting BUDD-e on a level playing field with today’s gasoline-powered cars.” Like today’s electric vehicles, BUDD-e offers several levels of plugged-in charging with the added benefit of cordless inductive charging.
VW says BUDD-e is capable of seamlessly communicating with a Smart Home or office. Utilizing the latest in user interface innovation, touch and gesture control merge seamlessly and result in the removal of switches and buttons inside the cabin, individual displays that blend into large infotainment panels, and digital screens instead of analog mirrors.
With BUDD-e’s interface design, Volkswagen says the concept eliminates the traditional distinction between the electronic instrument cluster in front of the driver and the center console infotainment system. In a move towards comprehensive digitalization and the individualization of the driver’s workplace, these two areas have been merged to form a single information hub.
Behind the panel is a sliding 3D navigation map with graphics, which becomes the matrix of an interactive human-machine interface (HMI). This is accomplished via two physically separate displays that blend into one, both optically and functionally.
BUDD-e’s systems are operated by gesture control, touchscreen (displays and touch slider) or voice control. For example, VW says a simple “Hello BUDD-e” activates the vehicle’s voice control. If the driver asks “turn the heat up a bit, please,” the car will respond. The system is also able to locate the passenger giving the commands, and react accordingly. If, for instance, someone sitting in the left rear seat says “It’s too hot here”, BUDD-e can lower the temperature in that passenger’s zone.
VW’s new multifunction steering wheel operates via haptic feedback on its smooth surfaces. Individual functions are activated by pressure, or through a swipe gesture. VW says touching the surface gives the driver palpable haptic “pre-sensing” feedback, allowing them to localize the function. Upon activation of a function, there is another, stronger haptic reaction.
Operation is also no longer limited to the shift paddle, but extends over the entire surface of the operating stack. The driver is also given visual feedback on the selected functions by the Active Info Display. For example, the cover of a song being played is displayed in the appropriate window. At the same time, icons appear at the edges of the square window—in all four corners. These four icons (scroll up or down, sound and menu) directly match the corresponding directions of the switches on the steering wheel’s operating area.
VW says it has also enhanced the gesture control system presented in the Golf R Touch at CES in 2015. In the BUDD-e, experts from the Body Electronics division have incorporated sensor technology already capable of recognizing people as they are approaching the vehicle. For the exterior, this is accomplished through the use of infra-red sensors. An intuitive hand gesture opens the BUDD-e’s sliding door. A simple foot movement of the “Virtual Pedal 3.0” opens the electrically operated tailgate.
BUDD-e is said to create an interactive interface to its surroundings. It’s conceivable that in the near future, consumables – such as wiper blades – or other kinds of personal items could be ordered from the car, and delivered to it using a “Drop Box” accessible from the outside. The vehicle “reads” an access code to open the Drop Box for authorized parcel delivery services, using a digital key, making it a “mobile mailbox.”
With App-Connect – VW’s smartphone integration platform – BUDD-e could control certain “Connected Home” functions from the car. It’s also possible to put the whole house into an energy-saving sleep mode while in the vehicle. “In the future, BUDD-e will also automatically turn on lights in and around the house as soon as it approaches through home net automation.”
While all these high-tech goodies sound great, we’re waiting to hear if this rolling toy box, or at least its design language, could be turned into a spiritual successor to the Microbus.
*VW quotes 373 miles of range based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC)
News source and photos from Volkswagen of America, Inc.; videos from Volkswagen Group
Story © 2016 CarNichiWa.com