Volkswagen is Making the Official Vehicle of Self-Discovery Electric

Their I.D. Buzz microbus concept also has a self-driving mode, which is probably a metaphor for something.

Back before internet forums, the way people found themselves was within the confines of a rusted Volkswagen microbus, along with enough friends and strangers to guarantee sufficient money for gas. So, call the I.D. Buzz a sign of the times — Volkswagen’s new concept microbus doesn’t require gas or a driver. Someday the I.D. Buzz will be able to go on its own spiritual journey, no humans required.

The I.D. Buzz’s worldwide road trip began in January, when the microbus made its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The concept is not only all-electric, but has a fully autonomous driving mode — so much so that the driver seat can swivel 180 degrees to face the rear passengers. Keep in mind, it’s only a concept — we’re at least four or five years out from fully autonomous cars being allowed on the road, and that might be optimistic. But, we’re getting close enough to where Volkswagen is making predictions. The chairman of the board of management for Volkswagen, Dr. Herbert Diess, said in January that the company expects to start pushing out their new electric vehicles in 2020, with a goal of 1 million sales per year by 2025. That said, autonomous functionality wasn’t explicitly named as part of those goals.

But, it’s a pretty intriguing concept, even beyond the retro play. One of the advantages of having an enormous electric vehicle is that it can be outfitted with an enormous battery — the concept has a 111 kWh electric battery under the floorboards, which enables an awfully impressive 270-mile driving range. Even more impressive is that the battery can be charged to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. That should relieve some range anxiety.

The concept has some power, too. Volkswagen is claiming the I.D. Buzz has 369 horsepower behind it, and while bigger vehicles need the extra boost, that’s still a lot of power. It’s good enough to propel the I.D. Buzz from 0 to 60 in five seconds. Volkswagen has capped the top speed at 99 mph, but from the sounds of it, the microbus could be a lot speedier without that cap.

The real wild stuff comes in when autonomous driving mode is activated. It’s activated by pushing the steering wheel into the instrument panel, which will prompt the car to drive itself and, yes, even turn on mood lighting so you can properly meditate on the mysteries of the cosmos. Meanwhile, the car will use laser and ultrasonic sensors to detect other vehicles on the road while getting information from smart city sensors over a network connection — it’ll fit in well in San Diego. Volkswagen hopes to implement these autonomous driving features by 2025, but that depends more on the state of 5G networks and government regulations than on development of the technology itself.

Of course, a car like this will get a connected interface just as advanced. Like what we saw Harman working on at CES, Volkswagen is looking at the I.D. Buzz as much as a fleet vehicle as one meant for private ownership. Should Uber or Lyft successfully move into autonomous vehicles, riders could summon one of these vehicles and sign into the car using their smartphone. That would bring up a saved profile, which could include anything from heating and A/C settings to movies and music saved to cloud storage.

Last week, the I.D. Buzz rolled into the Geneva Auto Show, where Volkswagen showed off its tech capabilities and its spacious interior — another advantage of all-electric vehicles is that the drivetrain and battery can be put under the floorboards, opening up tons of space inside. In other words, the next generation of cross-country wanderers are going to be enjoying a lot more legroom.