Volkswagen Beetle Not Dead, Microbus Could Go Electric
It might not always seem like Volkswagen has a firm grasp of what it wants to do here in the U.S., but board member for development Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser has a plan to change that. He gave us the low-down on VW's definitive upcoming product plans—like some funky Beetle variants, VWs's three-row crossover, and the next Tiguan—as well as a few still-uncertain possibilities. Dream big VW fans, because the future could hold a new electric-powered Microbus and the much-hyped Golf R 400.
For starters, Neusser recognizes that Volkswagen's primary cachet in America is inextricably tied to its heritage with cars like the Beetle and the Microbus. He confirmed that last year's Beetle Dune concept is still slated for production, and that two of the four Beetle concepts shown at the New York show will make the move to showrooms. Within the next year or so expect to see the Beetle Denim and sporty R-Line on the street, while the Beetle Pink and Convertible Wave will stay on the cutting room floor.
Despite reports that VW will kill off the Beetle after this generation, Neusser says otherwise: "[The Beetle] is iconic and has a historical background. We think we can do much more with this car." What exactly will happen to the Beetle will be determined once it switches over to the MQB platform by 2018. Along with the platform jump, we could also see a hybrid or EV Beetle come into play. To show they're not pussyfooting around the integration of alternative powertrains, VW had a Beetle Hybrid prototype on hand with the Jetta Hybrid's system at work.
As far as the Beetle's look, "It will remain an emotional and design-driven model," said U.S. vice president for product marketing and strategy Jeorg Sommer.
A modern version of VW's other historical icon, the Microbus, is still being considered and developed, but there are challenges aplenty to overcome. "To identify the genetic things of the microbus you have to look for a very small space between the A-pillar and the front end of the car," explained Neusser. "Otherwise the hood is too long and it doesn't look like a Microbus." If that familiar short hood is necessary for the Microbus to be emotional and recognizable, it presents difficulties given the tools and architecture VW has at its disposal.
"[The] technical architecture of the Microbus, with its rear engine, is not anymore fitted to what we are doing with our mainstream architecture where we have the greatest flexibility of different powertrains. So we are actually thinking about how we can take all of the advantages of MQB and put it into a Microbus genetic code." Possible solutions might be a rear- or front-mounted electric motor, which even if they necessitate a long-range battery, wouldn't be incompatible with the Microbus' elevated ride height. Up front, VW wouldn't have to worry about anything other than crash safety.
If this gets your hopes up about other cool and funky VW's like the existing Amarok pickup or the Scirocco, don't hold your breath. "We are looking [into a pickup]," said Neusser. "But the players in the U.S. are very strong, they have a very big history, and they are experienced in this field. Especially in the [full-size] field. It's not so easy for a newcomer to find a place." As for the Scirocco, VW is confident that the Golf is a much better fit for the U.S. market.
Demand for the all-wheel-drive Golf R was so high that VW sold out of orders within 11 hours of opening. That kind of excitement has given Volkswagen the confidence to keep developing a production version of the wild Golf R 400 super-hot-hatch. "If and when we bring the R 400, we will offer it to all markets. It's a technology leader and it would fit well into the U.S. market, where we've had a very positive reaction for the Golf family," said Neusser. "And it'll show just how sporty that family can be."
What you won't see in the future is another VW Eos convertible, which Neusser confirmed is no longer a priority. A new CC derived from the stylish Sport Coupe concept will push that car's design envelope even further in the next generation.
While a lot of this future product talk is still subject to change over time, VW is fully confirming that its three-row, B-segment mid-size crossover is happening in at the end of 2016. A three-row Tiguan will follow in mid-2017.
"Last year I came over to the dealer congress and brought with me all of the new models and ideas we had," said Neusser. "I asked them which they wanted first and second and so on. They made it clear: first was a mid-size SUV. Then we need a new Tiguan. After that we talked about the T-ROC, but with a little bit longer wheelbase than available in Europe."
From the looks of it, VW is balancing its heritage and niche performance vehicles with what it thinks Americans will definitely buy—crossovers. The question is whether they can fight those battles at the same time, without losing both.