First Look: Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept

Must all electric vehicles look like boring boxes? Volkswagen is answering with a resounding "no" at the Detroit auto show, by showing a new electric concept with a striking design. Based on the gasoline-powered Beetle coupe, the E-Bugster is a two-seat show car that blends the retro styling of the 2012 Beetle with the zero-emissions promise of an electric drivetrain.

The car resembles a chopped version of the regular new Beetle, hence the name E-Bugster -- a portmanteau of the words "Bug" and "speedster", along with an "e" to denote electric propulsion. Although a true speedster has an open roof, Volkswagen reckons the E-Bugster's aggressive roofline is low enough to merit the name; indeed, the electric car is almost three inches shorter in height than a regular Beetle. We see strong similarities in the Volkswagen's design to that of the new Mini Coupe.

The concept's drivetrain consists of an electric motor producing 114 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. A 695-pound lithium-ion battery pack is stored beneath the trunk floor, enabling a maximum driving range of "more than" 100 miles. For comparison purposes, the EPA says the Nissan Leaf has a driving range of 73 miles on a full battery charge -- although the Leaf seats five passengers and E-Bugster accommodates only two.

The E-Bugster's front fascia is differentiated from the gasoline Beetle by virtue of twin bracket-shaped LED running lights, echoed on the rear fascia with bracket-shaped reflectors. Each side of the car wears a black stripe with an "E-Bugster" logo. In addition, the electric Volkswagen has only small windows above each door, whereas the regular Beetle has small quarter windows for rear-seat passengers. Twenty-inch wheels and a larger spoiler (reminiscent of that from the 200-hp Beetle Turbo) also are present. Changes for the cabin are relatively minor; the tachometer is replaced by an energy consumption meter, and additional gauges for battery charge, driving range, and brake energy regeneration have been added.

There's no word on whether the funky E-Bugster will make it to production, though Volkswagen plan to use the same electric powertrain in the future Golf Blue-e-Motion. The electric Golf is scheduled to go on sale in 2014 and has a claimed range of 93 miles. Given that the five-passenger Golf hatchback is much more practical than the E-Bugster, we suspect this Beetle-derived concept car is simply a way for VW to tout its interest in building EVs.

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