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VW's Microbus goes all electric

2011-03-01 06:58

SILENT DRIVE BEACH WAGON: The styling may hark back to its classic Californian beach culture roots, but this new interpretation of VW’s original T1 Microbus is a sophisticated zero emission vehicle.

Don’t you miss the utility and robust practicality of the original VW Microbus?

Well, VW's big surprise for open day at the Geneva auto show is the new Bulli concept - an evolution of the company’s 2001 Microbus concept and plainly one of the best retro electric drive concepts seen for quite some time.


The Bulli, with its two-tone finish and V-contrast nose treatment similar to the original Samba bus, is an electric-drive people carrier bu only 3.99m bumper-to-bumper, 1.75m across and 1.7m from road to roof.

Tally the dimensions and it shows the Bulli is 40mm shorter and 44mm narrower than VW’s current Golf6-based Touran people-mover.

In terms of configuration, its electrics power the front wheels and six seats are arranged in two rows – similar to Honda’s defunct FR-V and Fiat's Multipla.

Carrying a full complement of six, the Bulli still has 370 litres of cargo space, expanding to 1600 litres with the rear seats folded to the floor. The Touran’s comparable capacities (695 and 1989 litres) is superior yet this is understandable considering the Bulli’s electric drive system, where the lithium-ion battery pack takes up a substantial volume of luggage space.


Driving VW’s concept people mover is an electric motor capable of 85kW and 260Nm from its 40kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The Bulli’s kerb weight of 1450kg guarantees fair performance, with the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint completed in 11.5 seconds before buffering against an electronically limited top speed of 140km/h.

As with any concept car powered solely by electric drive, range is always an issue. VW promises the Bulli is worth 300km of endurance on a charge; full battery regeneration, VW claims, takes only an hour through an appropriately configured recharging station.

CONTEMPORARY T-SERIES CABIN: There is no shifter, as a drive-control dial manages the electric transmission system, whilst an iPad provides all the infotainment you’ll ever need…


VW’s designers chose to simply create a docking station for an Apple’s iPad in the fascia to replace the traditional factory-integrated infotainment unit.

All online-based applications, phone synching, navigation and infotainment is managed by the removable tablet instead of a dedicated iand wired-in system.

Although the design heritage is there, technology applied to the Bulli concept would have been unrecognisable to Dutchman Ben Pon, the man widely credited with creating the compact bus when he sketched a simple side profile of a shortened public omnibus, traced over the wheelbase of a Beetle, back in 1947. Pon’s idea evolved into the orginal T1 VW people-mover that was launched in 1950.

What's the production future for the Bulli? Well, VW allowed its forebear, the Mircobus concept, to die soon after its 2001 auto show debut in Detroit. Nearly a decade later, electric drive capability has become a crucial feature for the auto industry.

VW says the Bulli is compatible with the company’s highly efficient range of internal combustion engines ranging from one to 1.4 litres. Could a hybrid Bulli be in production by 2014? We sure hope so.

More 2011 Geneva auto show reports.

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