Volkswagen is suffering under the crush of consumer and governmental wrath after it was revealed the company used fraudulent data to produce the emissions numbers from its diesel engines for years. Sure, the company saved a few dollars in the development stages by using those fake computer chips, but what is that savings compared to the more than 92 billion euros it will cost to clean up the lawsuits the company now faces? Lawsuits and eco-fraud aside, VW is striving to put its best foot forward by introducing new concepts; a bit of business as usual from the automaker. One of the more interesting concepts the brand has introduced is the BUDD-e electric minivan.
Origins of the BUDD-e
VW began toying with the notion of reviving the iconic microbus back in 2001 when it introduced derivative concept vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show. The lukewarm reception at the show pushed the concept to the back burner. A decade later, VW trotted out the Bulli concept; a small electric van. The BUDD-e is a re-imagined evolution of that concept. Well, maybe if Bulli took steroids!
Basics of the BUDD-e Concept
The BUDD-e concept is powered by a 101-kWh lithium-ion battery with an estimated range of 375 km. The battery can be fast-charged to 80 percent of its capacity in just 15 minutes. The concept has never been road tested, but VW theorizes that it has a top speed of 150 km/h. Power is sent to all four wheels through two motors.
The concept vehicle is 460 cm long, approximately the same length as a VW Golf SportWagen. That is about 35 cm longer than an original Type 2, opening the chance that it could seat even more people. Modern crash standards nix that idea, allowing for just two rows of seats in the BUDD-e. The front row is a traditional set of buckets, but the rear is a wraparound pub booth sort of thing. The floor between the front and rear is carpeted and there is a large screen along the driver's side of the cabin. VW envisions a swiveling front passenger seat for further passenger engagement. The whole layout should remind automotive enthusiasts of the Stout Scarabs from the late 1930s.
The BUDD-e was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show(CES) in Las Vegas; so, as you would expect, it is full of technology, glitz, and glam. The design team opted for a gauge cluster and infotainment system that are one single unit that glares at the driver from the behind the steering column. The driver would be fed constant stimulus including: navigational prompts, entertainment details, and video streams from the e-mirror's cameras. That isn't cool enough, so the steering wheel is chock full of touchpads instead of buttons to control various aspects of the vehicle. The vehicle can also be controlled by voice-recognition, touchscreens, or gesture control. VW designers also believe the concept could eventually be connected to smart home security systems. After all, who doesn't want to be able to turn the lights on/off or change the temperature at home while driving?
As if the interior wasn't as far from the microbus as a spaceship, the exterior veers further away. The Bulli mentioned earlier at least offered a two-tone paint job. The BUDD-e simply mimics what is in vogue today: a contrasting roof floating on blacked-out pillars. As close as BUDD-e comes to a microbus is a single sliding rear door. Somewhere there is a hippie crying in disappointment and who can blame him?
Building the Tech, Not the Vehicle
VW plans to incorporate several aspects of the BUDD-e into upcoming models. The MEB(Modularer Elektrischer Baukasten) architecture that supports the concept is designed to be used in all of VW's plug-in vehicles. Much like the MQB structure that currently supports VW's compact transverse-engine vehicles, the MEB frame is able to support passenger cars as well as light-duty commercial trucks and all of the body variations thereof. It uses a flat battery pack under the floor, a layout that is in no way original, but many manufacturers are betting on it to be the wave of the immediate future. VW does believe that it will have a mass-produced, all electric MEB-based vehicle on the market by 2020. The company goes so far as to say the vehicle will have a driving range that is similar to a petrol-powered ride.
Timing of the Debut
The BUDD-e concept was introduced at CES just one day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had filed suit against the automaker, joining several European agencies. Given the time it takes to build a concept, the timing is coincidental, but beneficial. VW now faces at least 92 billion euros in lawsuits, not to mention fines and penalties. It is easy to see the fallout from VW's emissions rigging taking down its entire diesel division. The warm-fuzzy feeling of nostalgia from a sort-of microbus concept and the green-tech that it is filled with may smooth over a few ruffled feathers, but it will not go far enough to keep VW from suffering huge financial losses for years to come. Green-washing a vehicle can only go so far. Nice try VW.