Volkswagen has presented a new electric minivan at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. The concept car is meant to reconnect with the mystique of the 1960s VW microbus, even as it showcases the latest technology.
The BUDD-e, presented in Las Vegas at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), doesn't really look all that much like the VW T1 from the 1950s and 1960s, nor like the VW T2, which was first produced in the 1970s but still being produced in Brazil until early 2014. Still, the German carmaker is hoping to bring the sweet perfume of nostalgia wafting over its new prototype - which actually looks more like a Kia Soul than any VW from decades past.
For many years, the T1 and T2 were cult classics amongst hippies, surfers, tradespeople and families alike. Their day is gone, but perhaps better days are ahead and future hipsters will cruise the highways silently with a new generation of groovy VW minivans - that, at any rate, seems to be Volkswagen's hope as the corporation drives through difficult days on the road to an electric horizon.
VW's T1 Microbus, here a split-window model from the mid-1960s, was a favorite amongst hippies and surfers in the flower-power era
The BUDD-e is supposed to be "a new concept for long-distance electric vehicles," said VW brand chairman Herbert Diess in a keynote speech on the eve of the official opening of CES. "The new Volkswagen stands for affordable e-mobility."
The new emphasis on e-mobility represents a sharp change from the policies of the previous senior management, which was led by the domineering Martin Winterkorn, who had little interest in electric vehicles. Winterkorn lost his job in consequence to the VW diesel emissions fraud scandal that erupted in September last year, leading to extensive changes at the company - as well as a threat of massive multi-billion dollar fines and lawsuits in the US.
In that connection, Diess in his keynote said, "We are committed to make things right and we are focused on ensuring that something like this can never happen again at Volkswagen," adding that the new management was building "a new and better company."
The T1 and T2 were nicknamed Kombi or Bulli in Germany. It seems BUDD-e is meant to be a play on Bulli, as well as "buddy." Perhaps the electric minivan should be called the T3, if there's an attempt to profit from nostalgia, but never mind, there's still time to make a change. The BUDD-e isn't a production model, it's just a prototype, and it's a long way from production: "BUDD-e could be a reality by the end of the decade," Diess said.
The prototype e-van has all the mod cons. It's networked to the Internet and equipped with an electronic interface. There are no door handles - "door handles are so 2016," Diess said. The car responds to verbal commands or gestures for tasks like opening doors. Passengers can communicate with networked devices at home - for example, one would be able to connect from the car to a household door camera to see who's ringing the doorbell, and a networked door could be instructed to unlock to let friends in who arrive there before the owner. This presents obvious questions about network security.
The car is based on a modular platform VW has been developing for its future line of electric vehicles, with a new-generation, efficient battery under the floor that can be charged up to 80 percent of a full charge in around 30 minutes. The company claims a driving range of up to 600 km (373 miles) on a full charge. That's about the same distance that today's average car can go on a full tank of petrol.
The new e-Golf is coming
The more immediate sign of VW's e-mobility progress introduced at the CES was a new e-Golf Touch, which is due to be available to car buyers within a year, according to VW's Head of Electric and Electronic Development, Volkmar Tanneberger.
It's a "smartphone on wheels," he said, with verbal commands and gestures replacing buttons, a new generation of infotainment gizmos, and compatibility with almost any smartphone. Most interestingly, it can even be charged wirelessly.
Drivers will be able to turn on the heating or air-conditioning in the new e-Golf Touch from a distance. It will also notify owners if someone else - say, a rebellious teenager - is driving the car and driving too fast or leaving a predefined zone.
Now, is that a feature, or a bug? Whatever - it was just one more hint among many at CES that humanity is irrevocably embarked upon a total-information-awareness future.
nz/hg (dpa, AFP)