VW unveils 373-mile range electric Microbus concept

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Las Vegas — Volkswagen AG on Tuesday unveiled an electric Microbus concept with a 373-mile range that is based on a new vehicle architecture the German automaker hopes will underpin all future electric vehicles. VW also unveiled an e-Golf Touch compact car it says is “close to production.”

Volkswagen’s BUDD-e concept Microbus updates the 1960s-era model with controls that recognize voices and a driver’s gestures.

The announcements were made Tuesday night at the CES 2016 technology trade show.

Called BUDD-e, the concept bus is the latest iteration of VW’s famous Microbus, made popular in the 1960s. VW said the futuristic technologies featured in the concept — focused on gesture recognition, voice control and swipes — represents “what electric mobility could be like by the year 2019.”

The size of the concept is midway between the Touran and the Multivan T6, both sold in Europe.

All of BUDD-e’s systems are operated by either gesture control, touchscreen (displays and touch slider) or voice control. The voice recognition will know exactly where drivers and passengers are sitting, so if someone sitting in the left rear seat says, “It’s too hot here,” the system will immediately lower the temperature in that passenger’s zone.

VW said the concept will connect drivers’ homes to their cars for tasks like controlling the air conditioning, turning lights on or off, or simply looking to see if their kids are home. Drivers can peek inside their houses through cameras that will display images on one of the car’s screens.

The concept includes a new “multifunction steering wheel” that uses haptic feedback, meaning a driver would push on a different area of the wheel to activate different functions, eliminating the need for buttons or switches.

The car’s ambient lighting system can also be changed through gestures.

The concept can even remind its occupants if they have forgotten anything in the car through a smartwatch or smartphone app.

The system can alert occupants when something is left behind in the vehicle, and lower heat or lighting based on gestures.

The new “Modular Electric Platform” the concept bus was built on is designed specifically for plug-in vehicles and will enable a series of production cars to have a pure electric range that is on par with today’s gasoline-powered cars by the end of the decade. VW expects the time required to charge the batteries to 80 percent of capacity to be reduced to about 15 minutes.

VW said the new architecture will be a template for the future.

“This significant innovation will lead to huge changes in the development of electric-powered Volkswagens in the years to come, from body and interior design, to packaging and drive characteristics,” the company said in a press release. “The new platform is designed to have the space for electric drive components and large batteries while maintaining interior space and driving dynamics.”

VW is working on its electrification strategy as it is mired in a diesel emissions scandal that has drastically hurt sales of its diesels in the United States.

The e-Golf Touch includes VW’s latest voice and gesture technology, including a “Keyword Activation” voice recognition function that allows the driver to start voice recognition simply by saying “Hello, Volkswagen,” instead of pressing a button or touching a prompt on the display.


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