Volkswagen has taken a good hard look in the mirror. With at least six battery-electric vehicles planned to bow by 2025, the company is at what it sees as a pivotal redefinition of the brand. VW gave us our first glimpse at its electric future with the I.D. hatchback concept at the Paris show last fall, and the picture of what’s to come is even clearer after the arrival of the I.D. Buzz microbus concept at the Detroit auto show in January.
VW design chief Klaus Bischoff boiled down his philosophy for three key pillars that are top of mind at the manufacturer. “Simple, sophisticated, and different,” he told us. “We want to reignite the soul of the brand.” For the vehicles to come based on VW’s modular electric platform (MEB), that means streamlined, smooth, and nonaggressive, with no front grille.
“The electric cars will be totally clean and reduced, with a light signature of two headlights and a backlit badge,” Bischoff continued. “A stronger, more expressive, and emotional approach will be for the [internal-combustion] cars, which will [maintain] grilles.” The first example of this design philosophy is the upcoming Arteon sedan, launching in 2018, which Bischoff promises will retain “99 percent” of the design of the Concept Coupe GTE previously shown in Geneva last spring.
For the electric I.D. cars, short front and rear overhangs afforded by the MEB platform allow Bischoff and his team to push the front seats much farther forward, allowing for more usable interior volume. That’s essential for a vehicle with autonomous ambitions like the I.D. Buzz microbus, which is all about creating a comfortable lounge for passengers to relax or work. In future EVs, expect to see greater use of recyclable materials like wood and textured cloth. “No leather, no chrome,” says Bischoff. “Light will be a key decor element.”
An I.D. hatchback is set for production in 2020. Realistically, VW is unlikely to immediately follow that debut with something as niche as a microbus, preferring instead to add ever-popular SUV models. Still, the I.D. Buzz is the clearest indicator we’ve seen that Volkswagen is pushing toward a bright, new future that seeks to maintain a connection with its historic design ethos.
Recent reports indicate that a new microbus has been approved, but only time will tell if we actually see one before 2025.