VW’s Microbus EV Redemption

VW's Microbus EV Redemption

When Ferdinand Piëch was in charge of Volkswagen, the company was an empire in the automotive industry. ​Their ambition and pursuit of engineering perfection was beyond the world’s imagination. Times, however, have changed. ​

When Ferdinand Piëch was in charge of Volkswagen, the company was an empire in the automotive industry. They purchased Rolls Royce just to get their hands on Bentley, they resurrected Bugatti by building a car that broke the production car top speed record, and they built a car with a Volkswagen badge that could rival the Mercedes S-Class. ​Their ambition and pursuit of engineering perfection was beyond the world’s imagination. Times, however, have changed. ​

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​Under Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen earned a new engineering award for cheating in emission tests, known as Diesel Gate. Volkswagen was fine $25 billion in the United States and Europe, several top executives faced criminal charges, and Winterkorn inevitably resigned. You can really tell the former glory of the empire was gone when Volkswagen take the famous “Das Auto” slogan out of their advertisement.

Despite this massive and almost unforgivable mistake, I still haven’t lost faith in Volkswagen’s ability to return to its former glory. After all, no other car company underwent the redemption of having a car built under the orders of one of the world’s most evil dictators turned into a symbol of love and fashion, and as a result, one of the best selling cars in the world. As I stood in front of the VW exhibition stand, looking at this almighty car, I sensed a powerful comeback from Volkswagen to seize the crown of the automotive industry.

Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition on 2018 LA Auto Show
Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition on 2018 LA Auto Show

No, not the Beetle Final Edition (although I do feel slight sad that it is going away), it is the Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak! ​

Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak electric racer 2018 LA Auto Show
Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak electric racer 2018 LA Auto Show

Ever since 1916, drivers and manufacturers have been pushing themselves and their race cars to the absolute limit by climbing 4720 ft on this 12.42 mile track with over 156 turns and chasing after the outright record. In this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak, in the hands of Romain Dumas, completed the course with a time of 7:57.148 minutes, breaking the 8 minute barrier for the first time. Not just the fastest in it class, not just the fastest Volkswagen, and not just the fastest electric car, the fastest ever, over 15 seconds faster the old record holder, that monster Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak driven by Sébastien Loeb back in 2013. [1] The all-electric ID. R, with an electric motor on each axle, weighs just under 2500 lbs and produces 680 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, giving it a 0-60 mph time of 2.25 seconds — faster than even Formula 1 and Formula E cars. [2] Arriving in Colorado with the goal of beating the electric car record of 8:57.118, Dumas and the ID. R outperformed even Volkswagen’s own expectations and established a new benchmark for electric race cars.

Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak electric racer 2018 LA Auto Show
Volkswagen ID. R Pikes Peak electric racer 2018 LA Auto Show

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Now you might think, a one-off race car is nowhere close to our day-to-day electric cars and therefore its advanced technologies are unpractical for production electric cars. However, the ID. R is just the tip of an iceberg in Volkswagen’s operation to become the number one electric vehicle manufacturer. Following the events of Diesel Gate, VW group reached an agreement with the U.S. government to ease its punishment by setting up and provided $2 billion of funding to Electrify America, a company committed to be “a catalyst for promoting Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) by offering transformative, customer-centric infrastructure and energy management solutions”. [3] In Europe, VW group teamed up with BMW, Daimler and Ford to establish Ionity, a joint venture with the mission to build a pan-European high-power-charging network for electric vehicles to facilitate long-distance travel. [4] The advantage of such large scope charging networks is that they will be compatible with majority of the electric vehicles on the market, unlike Tesla’s Supercharger. As the effects of climate change continue to develop globally, such push for electric vehicle adoption would be inevitable in the future, this punishment to Volkswagen may turn out to be a step that enables it stay ahead in the game of future mobility.

Furthermore, many of the technologies seen on today’s everyday cars were adopted from racing technology. New ideas were often developed and tested to the extreme in motorsports, then emerged as mature versions for consumers. This is also the case in electric vehicles. The way manufacturers got around the problem of limited range and long charging time in Formula E was simply switching to a different car, but drivers of the new generation of Formula E racers no longer had to jump out of their seat in the middle of a race with the help of improved fast charging. In 2019, Porsche will start production of the Taycan, an electric sports car capable of recharging 80% of its batteries in just 15 minutes through Porsche’s 350 kW Electric Pit Stop. [5] And there is reason to believe that as time goes by, this technology will be equipped on a more affordable car under the VW group.

​The Volkswagen Microbus was once very popular in the United States. It first caught on in Europe because of its massive space for passengers and cargo, but in this country, that space was saved for freedom and love. The adorable expression of the Microbus has made it a symbol of freedom, an ambassodor of love, and a moving reflection of the American spirit. In the recent years, the model got reduced down to the Transporter T6, a mundane MPV that has as little styling as a cargo van. Over the years, VW has tried to revive the legend with the Microbus concept, the Bulli concept, and the BUDD-e concept [6], each is more electrified and futuristic than the other but all are missing that cute factor on the original Microbus that makes your heart beat faster. As the techonology of electric vehicles matures, a group of enthusiastic people started to convert their old Microbus into EVs and thus gave them a chance to shine again, but the rest of us are just waiting in disappointment for Volkswagen to make a comeback, until now. 

Emerging in VW’s production plan, along with the ID., is the ID. Buzz, a new Microbus concept car that by far resembles the original Microbus the most. And this time, they are for real. It will be based on VW’s MEB platform, and the U.S. market can expect to see a production version on the road in 2022. May I just say, the world needs more of this clean technology, and more importantly, our eyes need more of this beauty.

Volkswagen ID. Buzz Cargo concept on 2018 LA Auto Show
Volkswagen ID. Buzz Cargo concept on 2018 LA Auto Show

If we look back in history, every birth of a Volkswagen icon occurred at one of the company’s hardest times. The Beetle rose from the wreckage of the Wolfsburg factory following the end of WWII; the Golf emerged after sales (even for the Beetle) plummeted in the 70s; and now following a massive scandal and the decreasingly important role for internal combustion engines, the ID. family is ready to make history. The Chinese word for “crisis” is consisted of the words “danger” and “opportunity”. The way I see it, despite the danger from sanctions imposed by the U.S. government and the loss of public trust, Volkswagen is working hard to turn this crisis into an opportunity for redemption at this turning point of the automotive history. And one day in the near future, the folks at Volkswagen will reach that goal, making the true cars of the people in the form of zero-emission vehicles, just like the way they envisioned it in the company’s very own name.

1. Wikipedia “Pikes Peak International Hill Climb”    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikes_Peak_International_Hill_Climb
13 November 2018

22 April 2018

3. “About Electrify America” https://www.electrifyamerica.com/about-us
December 2018

4. Wikipedia “IONITY” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IONITY
December 18

5. “Porsche Taycan charging times to be 2X faster than Tesla’s Superchargers” https://www.teslarati.com/porsche-taycan-charging-time-2x-faster-tesla-superchargers/
5 October 2018

17 January 2017