Volkswagen management board member Herbert Diess recently declared that VW’s future will be powered by electricity. To back up that brave assertion and to rid your thoughts of past TDI nastiness, the world’s second-largest carmaker has offered three pieces of evidence. The first is an enduring commitment to the Modular Electric Drive (MEB) platform, under development in Germany since 2015. The second is the credible I.D. concept car unveiled at last fall’s Paris auto show. To let you know just how serious it is about creating an all-electric future, VW revealed this third piece of evidence, the I.D. Buzz—essentially the VW Microbus reconstituted for the 21st century—at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
VW is the uncontested master of platform sharing. The idea was introduced in 1997 by former chairman (and Ferdinand Porsche grandson) Ferdinand Piëch as a cost-effective means of surfing the rising tide of global competition. The current MQB platform has the flexibility to support products ranging from the subcompact VW Polo to the 2018 three-row, seven-seat, full-size Atlas crossover. To date more than 8 million VW, Audi, Škoda, and SEAT vehicles have been manufactured atop the MQB component set in 32 far-flung plants. MEB is MQB evolved to the next stage with battery-electric (no combustion) propulsion.
VW’s goal is to sell at least a million electric cars per year by 2025, with the first of a promised 30 models slated for sale in the 2020 model year, followed shortly thereafter by something like the Buzz in 2022 (assuming customers love the concept as much as Klaus Bischoff, the VW brand’s design head, does). Warming up for that onslaught, production has just begun for a new version of the e-Golf with significantly increased driving range. While it’s too soon to trust our price speculation, the coming VW electrics likely will be aimed directly at the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, which cost between $30,000 and $40,000 after federal tax credits are applied.
MEB consists of three key elements: a substantial battery pack integrated with the floor structure, forward-mounted power-control electronics, and, in the case of the original I.D., a single electric motor in unit with the final-drive mechanism positioned between the rear wheels. The I.D. Buzz is powered by an electric drive unit at each axle. This blueprint is clever but hardly original. It also describes the Tesla Model S (and X) to a T. The lack of combustion systems—cooling, exhaust, transmission, fuel tank—greatly improves packaging. The I.D., for example, provides a Passat’s passenger and cargo space inside a Golf-sized wrapper. Since China is expected to account for more sales than any other market, that country necessarily will be a key battery supplier, though not the exclusive source. MEB’s battery pack is engineered to use both cylindrical and prismatic lithium-ion cell formats.
Like all VW Group platforms, utmost flexibility comes as standard equipment. VW is aiming for a single-charge range of 373 miles (on the not-so-stringent European driving cycle), but less expensive models surely will use smaller battery packs with less kWh capacity and therefore shorter range. Rear-wheel drive may seem like an odd move for this maker, hence the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive alternative for upscale models such as the Buzz. Inductive charging is also part of the game plan to ease the “refueling” task.
The Buzz seats up to eight in a box that touches all of VW’s current design values: It’s likable, sensual, innovative, logical, and a pure reflection of the company’s brand equity. Thanks to an overall height towering over that of the I.D. concept and fully autonomous operational capability, the Buzz can be a party on wheels with totally flexible seating arrangements, a center console that can be relocated, and a full skylight roof. The squared-off steering wheel recedes into the dash when it’s not needed, and practically all secondary controls live in a large touchscreen. At last, the designers have achieved their goal of totally eliminating small switches and knobs.
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