Far out! Groovy! Right on! Let it all hang out, even! Because Volkswagen finally appears ready to re-introduce its iconic Microbus, the official vehicle of hippieness.
VW introduced a Microbus concept, simply called ‘Microbus’ for the 2001 Detroit auto show. Everyone seemed to like it, but VW obviously didn’t green light it for production, unless I’ve had too much to dream this last decade and somehow missed it.
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But at last month’s Geneva auto show, VW introduced another Microbus concept, this time called ‘Bulli’ and the chances are better than average that we will see a production-based version of this design in a few years.
When the original vehicle debuted in 1950, it was internally known as T1 — for Transporter 1. But Germans always called it ‘Bulli’ and North Americans always called it ‘Microbus.’ I think at this point it responds to either name, but I’m sticking with Microbus.
Unlike the 2001 concept, this new edition is compact — shorter even than its 1950 predecessor. Judging by its current dimensions, it appears production versions would be based on a new compact platform, which will see the light of day next year on the third-generation Audi A3.
But tidy as it is, it still seats six, via two bench seats. The seats all fold down to create a “sleeping” area — so the Microbus’ camping traditions will continue. Another novel interior feature is a removable iPad in the centre console, which serves as a multifunctional touch screen and lava lamp stand-in.
With A3 architecture, a production version could use any number of the company’s powertrians. The concept’s powertrain, however, is 100 per cent electric. A front-mounted 85kW electric motor and 40kWh lithium-ion battery drives the front wheels, and is said to give Bulli a range of about 300 kilometres.
Acceleration and top speed should be leisurely, which is entirely in keeping with the Microbus legacy. The 1950 model had a 40-hp rear-mounted engine and the aerodynamics of a Home Depot garden shed. But it had personality and versatility galore and all sorts of people — hippie and otherwise — loved them.
Even with its front-engine layout, the Microbus concept manages to evoke the vibe of the original, particularly when looking at the vehicle head on. Like the original, the concept uses two-tone paint to create the van's signature “V” face, complete with an oversized “VW” emblem.
A VW board member said there is a “big chance” the vehicle will be built, and that the U.S. market is keen on it. To keep costs competitive, when VW sells smallish vehicles in North America it tends to build them there as well. So building a North American Microbus might entail quite a bit of investment.
But never say never. As that eloquent hippie, Ken Kesey, once said: “The sixties are not over; they’re not over until the Fat Lady gets high.”