Electric Volkswagen Microbus Becomes Reality in New Concept

By · March 01, 2011

The VW Bulli concept is the company's latest revival of the Microbus, this time with a fully electric drivetrain.

Unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show today, Volkswagen's new Bulli concept revives the Microbus in modern form and stuffs it full of batteries to turn it into an all-electric vehicle with a stated 186 mile range. On the surface it's an exciting concept that's very close to something I've been audibly pining for with the German carmaker. But it also feels like a bit of a miss.

Just three months ago I was lamenting here on the pages of PluginCars.com how VW was missing an opportunity by not bringing back the beloved microbus in the form of a plug-in hybrid. I had just come back from a trip to Germany in which I test drove the VW electric Golf prototype.

The electric Golf is a solid effort and will be a welcome addition to the growing EV fleet in 2014, when it hits the road, but it didn't seem like it would be able to stand out from the crowd given that almost every other manufacturer will have released their own electric car before then. Shortly after that test drive, rumblings and musings began popping up that VW was once again at work on a modern revival of the Microbus. It struck me that the perfect combination for VW to establish an electric vehicle name for itself would be to turn a modern Microbus into a plug-in hybrid with, say 30-40 miles of electric range and 30-40 mpg after that. Talk about epitomizing freedom on the open road.

So I pitched for it in a post. I was told that VW would never do it because they are too wedded to diesels and are more focused on aggressive growth right now than being cutting edge. But fast forward to today, and VW has now unveiled an all-electric microbus revival called the Bulli (Americans knew the VW Bus by the nickname "Microbus" and Germans knew it by the nickname "Bulli").

Clearly VW has been planning the Bulli for much longer than the publishing of my post 3 months ago, so I can't really take any credit for that, but at least I now know that I'm not crazy and maybe I should've been a product planner.

Top: The VW Bulli concept from behind. It's wider than the original Microbus, but otherwise smaller in every regard.
Bottom: The interior of the Bulli is dominated by two rows of bench seats and an iPad instead of a center console.

Smaller Than the Original, With Front Bench Seats

The Bulli is an interesting concept in that it's much smaller than the Microbus concept VW unveiled back in 2001, although it does keep the same styling cues (in fact, the Bulli is even smaller than the original microbus). The 2001 concept had room for 7 people seated in traditional minivan configuration. The new Bulli concept has room for 6 people, but it only has two rows of seats.

To fit three people in in each of the two passenger sections, VW used bench seats in both the front and rear rows. When's the last time you saw bench seats in the front of a car? It's kind of a cool thought, but then again it's completely impractical for modern cars. Safety-wise it's a non-starter (not that I'm opposed to it, just try getting it past the crash tests). Given its diminutive size, it's also completely impractical for actually fitting three people shoulder to shoulder in the front. So really, it's only a 5 seater like any other mid size car or small SUV.

186 Miles of Driving Range and an iPad for a Center Console

It's a good touch that they've included plans for 40 kWh of batteries in the Bulli, allowing for more than 180 miles of driving range on a charge—but I wonder how much that would cost in a real vehicle. Who's going to pay $50-60,000 for a vehicle like the Bulli? VW claims the Bulli would be able to go from 0-60 mph in about 11.5 seconds and would have a top speed limited to 87 mph.

It's pretty slick that VW has taken the entire center console out of the Bulli and replaced it with a removable iPad. This is actually something I see happening sooner rather than later in many cars—it's a natural progression of the order of things.

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The Microbus concept VW showed off in 2001 much more closely represented the original spirit of the Microbus.

The Bulli is a Cool Concept, But it's No Microbus

Although it's a concept, VW indicates that the Bulli has the potential to join up with the other people carriers in the VW lineup, saying it "could even become an icon like the [original Microbus] that still trades at extremely high prices today—one of those few vehicles that simply do not fade with time."

When I think of the Microbus concept—freedom, camping, itty-bitty sinks and pop-up tops—the Bulli just doesn't jibe with those notions. One of the main problems is that VW already showed off a concept modern Microbus in 2001 that looks better than the Bulli and represents the vibe of the original Microbus better.

As much of a proponent of all-electric drivetrains as I am, you're just never going to take the Bulli cross country on a trip to Yellowstone with the family. And that's what the Microbus is all about. That's why it needs to be a plug-in hybrid the same size (but a little wider) as the original Microbus. The Bulli is a cool concept along the lines of an electric Scion xB, but it's no Microbus revival. Take a slightly updated version of the 2001 concept and develop a plug-in hybrid drivetrain for it and you've got a winner.

VW, you're getting closer, but the darts are still landing shy of the center.


· Ryann (not verified) · 7 years ago

I agree with you whole heartedly. I was born far too late in the century to have seen many of the original Microbuses, but since I was a kid I have wanted one. I drooled on my keyboard as I looked at the previous concept, but this one leaves me a bit flat. Something in between would be a better way to go.

I want my modern hippy van, darn it!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

Blah blah blah.
CAD drawings like shown here could be produced in a few days.
Wake me when they have the concept vehicle driving around. As an idea it is fine, it really doesn't need to be a hybrid at all. By talking pure EV they are at least saying "me too" on the future automotive trend.
And it isn't a problem at if they continue to embrace diesels, just push them to go plugin-electric-biodiesel and they have a winner as well. -oops, they need to actually deliver cars, not just concepts.
-rant is over...

· · 7 years ago

Anonymous, that's certainly a sour grapes pessimistic attitude :) Concept cars are just that, concepts. How is that blah, blah, blah? That's what they're meant to be. Given that it's VW's second such Microbus concept in ten years, and it's based on a vehicle that is extremely popular the world over, it seems kind of significant.

Actually I'm not really sure what you're trying to say. It seems like you like concepts but they disgust you at the same time? I would also disagree that VW can tell us whatever drivetrain they want is in it and it will be just as significant. A lot of energy went in to deciding that the Bulli concept would be all-electric. Even the size and shape of it indicates it was conceived for pure electric power from the start. That's the problem. The pure electric drivetrain, and the size of the vehicle doesn't reflect the original feeling of the Microbus.

· Adrian Stewart (not verified) · 7 years ago

Children particularly teens have an increasing voice in the family car buying decision and I can see this getting the youth vote when it comes to being delivered and collected from school even though they will have no emotional ties to the original vehicle....

· GermanDame (not verified) · 7 years ago

I am disappointed with the VW Bulli "Concept". It's cute enough and I do LOVE the bench seats. I have hip joint problems and the "cushy" seats are murder on my joints. I've been saying that if I buy another car, I'd like to rip out the seats and put bench seats into it. If I purchased a vehicle like the VW Bulli, it'd be to have more space to move "things" in it ... not just people. I'm not sure this new VW vehicle would accommodate moving a lot of "things" and heavier cargo. I wish it was longer and keep the new width and that it had gasoline backup to accommodate longer driving distances (such as driving from coast to coast). I didn't see the type of plug it has so I don't know if it can be plugged into a regular electrical outlet with a grounding plug or if it needs a special outlet that may not be readily available nationwide. I'd have to see it in person to know if this vehicle is appropriate for me. I also am offended by the name "Bulli" as it implies an intimidating and abusive temperment. I used Translate.Google.com and didn't find a translation for this word. In ENGLISH it is A VERY POOR CHOICE for a name for ANYTHING and, especially, for a vehicle. I'll be disappointed if it's not!

· Jo Borras (not verified) · 7 years ago

A VW Bus you can't road trip in? Epic fail.

· · 7 years ago

Anonymous: You wanted a wake up call when VW had a working prototype driving around. Well, here's your wake up call. Go to Laurent Masson's post today about the Geneva Car Show. He's got a picture of one in the flesh.

· Anonymous · 7 years ago

Too cool for words. Interesting "removable console" concept. I certainly see an issue when little Johnny takes it to play a game with his friends, and you need to car and...

· Westfalia 79 (not verified) · 7 years ago

I am the proud owner of a 79 VW Bus Westfalial pop top camper. This is not what a vw bus is meant to be. It can only hold 6 passengers...and not to well i might add. It has no cargo storage and has no modern features. F-the ipad. Who cares. Make functional stuff. Ipad will break once a sticky fingered 5 year old starts to play with it. I love the attempt. i love the microbus. I love Vw. But Brazil still has the record for making vechicles unique...check this out... http://www.volkswagen.com/br/pt/carros/kombi.html still made the same today as in 1979............... tried and true.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

VW needs to reintroduce the pop top camper in a modern form factor like 2001 concept. This would be an instant success.

· Westfalia 79 (not verified) · 7 years ago

sorry folks, seems I cant spell. Westfalia!

· · 7 years ago

Cool concept. If the battery pack is shaped like a skate, it would leave a lot of room for interior space even with the smaller frame. I don't like the idea of the I-pad console though. It would seem like it would make the car a target for theft even if someone was vigilant about carrying the device with them everywhere.

· Darrell Brown (not verified) · 7 years ago

I enjoyed driving the Micro-bus in 1960, and thought that it was well engineered. I have had two Beetles that I put a lot of miles on too. I never had transmission problems, difficulty getting quality service on a new Beetle even when traveling out of state. In fact, I was living in southern California, and turned 5,000 miles near Redmond, Oregon. The service there was to be bragged about.
The new Micro-bus is going to have a lot of new technology, features that in the early 1960s I would dream about, and frankly - I think that it has better lines. I can only hope that it is as much fun to drive, and that it leaves a new heritage. And good memories for more generations of drivers. (I retired as a Senior Manufacturing Engineeer from a US Aerospace Company, and again form an Electonic Maufacture in South Korea).

· Dave (not verified) · 7 years ago

If it ever gets beyond the concept stage, I think it would become a hit as a surf wagon on the left coast, and hang the cross-country camping car. Ideal taxi too! I love it!

· · 7 years ago

Call it a microvan, a compact crossover, an SUV, whatever. Like the PT Cruiser, it’s basically a station wagon. But a brilliantly disguised station wagon. A great looking, electric, Honda Element with better doors and a back seat that folds usefully. I’d buy it in a second, if VW ever built it.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

I've been wanting VW to bring back the bus ever since they came out with the new Bug. I always said it should be a hybrid and affordable, to stick with the standards of the original. This does not do it for me. First, I can see this car being way over-priced; Too many features that are just bragging rights for the wealthy. Second, while it looks super sharp from the outside, the interior is just awful! No storage space and uncomfortable looking seats is what I see. Lastly, while I like the idea of electric for driving around the city, it's not practical for long road trips. Why not a standard Prius-style hybrid? Are they trying to appeal to soccer moms? Who needs a car you can drive to the mall or grocery store when you can have a cross country ROAD TRIP (say it loud) car. Why do you think hippies lived in their buses? Because they could. Kinda like the old joke, How many hippies can you fit into a VW Microbus... At least one more...and their dog. Not this car though.

· HONEIL (not verified) · 7 years ago

VW should pull out the original tooling from the 1960's or 70's. I have a 1970 and if they have an electric motor with that range I will buy it and put it in my westy. There is room for motor and batteries too - I mean why change the body or interior it works! I would miss the classic vw exhaust smell though

· · 7 years ago

Very nice write-up, Nick. I appreciate the interior pics (also think that the padded church pew approach is a non-starter) and I wonder, as do others here, about the viability of a removable iPad dash display. Yes, the 2001 concept bus looks better from my perspective . . . roomier and certainly a bit more practical for someone looking to haul a real load. Both are cute, though . . . as is that VW Taxi that was shown here about a month or so ago. Now, of course, the real battle is get VW to pick one -any - of them for production as an EV.

The reason for not reviving the old sheet metal on the original Microbus, HONEIL, is that it wouldn't have a prayer of passing any sort of crash testing protocol initiated since then.

· Lee T. (not verified) · 7 years ago

If you want a new version of the old Type II Microbus, this isn't it. Move Along!

This could be a great car though. Ignore the iPad, it is hardly integral part of the design and just their to grab attention. A microvan is a good idea and wanted by many. The throwback visual reference is endearing to some and helps excuse the boxy shape that will be a feature because of the space it could provide. While I think the 3-person front bench is impractical for many, it would be an attractive accomodation to wide drivers like myself.

It actually looks fairly buildable and I'd imagine it's appearance which copies the earlier 2001 concept would be easily approved with few changes. If they produce them, they will be high on my list for my next car and first EV.

· Tan W. (not verified) · 7 years ago

I want one. It has personality. A hundred times better than the current Routan, which no parts of it look like a VW except the badge.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

When I heard "new electric VW bus" on the news, I was momentarily psyched. A few years ago I regularly saw an awesome white Vanagon campervan parked in my community college lot, and then one day, after a long time of admiring it, I spied a "For Sale" sign in the window. Ding, ding, ding! A dream vehicle was sitting right there, up for grabs. I've been told I should've been a hippie in the 60s. And I have a passionate love for recreational vehicles and travel, so I'd dearly adore to have a camper conversion.....or any VW!!...

Sadly, my dad didn't support my idea, holding that the beautiful thing would be 'unsafe to drive' (at least for someone of my age and driving experience at the time), and difficult to maintain and repair. After a
good fight I reluctantly let go of my exciting fixer-upper ideas,
practically deciding that it was for the best; that one would no doubt go to an ideal home, and had been my inspiration for someday finding the perfect VW Bus for me and making it my very own.

So, now, for years I've been lamenting the fact that there's nothing
being made that's comparable to the VW buses. I'd absolutely love to one day acquire an old one, maybe convert it to electric...but to be able to get a new, improved, modern one that's just like the near-perfect old ones in most ways WOULD be pretty amazing, no?

I have to say that I LOVE "boxy" vehicles. The boxfish is one of my favorite creatures on the planet. And I love the Scion xB, Kia Soul, Honda Element, and quite a lot of other things I've seen with unique and recognizable shapes and styles. Just two months ago I got a new car, and had wanted a Nissan Cube. Once again on my dad's well-researched opinion, I wound up with my beloved metallic lime green Ford Fiesta for certain reasons. But anyway, point being, I LIKE the appearance of that new thing--it's just that it looks like a variation of some other modern
vehicles, not a VW bus. But for the logo on the front, I wouldn't even imagine that that's what it's trying to be. I love this IDEA very much, and hope it comes to fruition. The notion of making significantly more environmentally-friendly vehicles practical to purchase and use appeals to me a great deal. Electricity, hybridism, solar power, biofuel--I eagerly await the future development and spread of it all! Especially if and when it becomes more efficient and practical than, and replaces, normal combustion engines.

But again, they ought to essentially recreate the old buses/vans! The pop-tops, the different styles...that's what I really want, anyway. Having it new and improved and so enviro-friendly would be a super bonus. I don't want to judge this prematurely, because as I said, I don't dislike it at all. It just doesn't look different enough from a more average vehicle, now that I really look...it's not what you expect to see when you hear of a new/returned/updated VW bus. Having seen photos of the interior, I have to say, it simply does NOT appear to be one at all. I'm certainly delighted that they're in the process of bringing them back, and in electric form, but, they need to keep working...as it is, this can't replace the oldies, and there've even been better efforts in the past. How hard is it to just build basically the same thing, anyway? Why mess with it? Modernization doesn't always equal improvement...

· art (not verified) · 7 years ago

I think this is a cool looking VW. I would hope they would also make this in a regular gas powered as the electric cars a far from being driver friendly. I want one that can take me more than 187 on a charge. When I go on vacation I usually drive at least 700 in a day, that why I would like one these with a regular engine. But the concept is fantastic!!

· Dan (not verified) · 7 years ago

I've owned a 1991 Westfalia Camper Van since....1991. Hated the Eurovans...no window vistas like mine. Mine is in mint condition as I've
babied it for it's entire life and my mechanic friend still wants to buy it from me, "She's a cream puff." He'll give me what I paid for it in '91.
VW should take the 2001 concept, bring it into the 21st century and put a reasonable price on it. I understand they stopped the Westfalia because West German import taxes were going to sky rocket and nobody was going to shell out $40K for a Westfalia camper.
Granted, the only reason my rig has wheels is to get you to the next campground, but the space I have with the pop-top and the sleeping arrangements both up and bottom, make staying in the middle of nowhere, and I have, really comfortable. Also, the turning radius is smaller than most current autos which makes parking a breeze for such a big vehicle. And it cruises on the highway just fine, for a loaf of bread with wheels! But hey, it's a bus! Far out, man!

· · 7 years ago

For an earlier fully electric VW microbus, check out this archive: http://sloan.stanford.edu/EVonline/diary.htm . Wally Rippel, George Schwartz, and myself -- Caltech's electric microbus drivers in the 1968 "Great Electric Car Race" against MIT -- became the first 3 people to cross the continent purely on electric power (in the last photo, Wally is on the left, George on the right seemingly in black, with me in between).

· · 7 years ago

This is the link I meant to supply: http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/276/1/bust.pdf

· Kevin (not verified) · 7 years ago

Well, for some it may be "Yellowstone", but for many (like me) it is "the beach" or "a gig"... and 100 miles plus is more than adequate. Also, the previous concept was too big. I was excited to hear of it but when I saw the picture I thought "Eurovan" and was turned off. Now they must have heard my thoughts because they made it small like it should be. However, I understand the complaint that it may be too small now. So, I offer this: just a little longer... get a fold out bed in that thing and the van is a rockin' (and you know you don't come knockin'!).

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

This concept is ok but doesn't fit into the large van section of the auto market. It's more like a minivan. If this makes it to production as an electric vehicle then they should make the original microbus concept as a diesel-hybrid. Because as everyone knows to need extra space for luggage and to spread out on long road trips, which the original bus was iconic for.

· Kylie (not verified) · 6 years ago

Well this car looks really awesome and I really want one of the microbusses but with a better engine. I know that a lot of people want to bring back the buses because they were interesting and unique looking and that's what I see when I look at a type of beetle or bus! I am one of those people who are really looking for a different type of car that is both my style and good looking and I see that in the new VW boxer!!!! LONG LIVE THE HIPPI CARS!!!!!!!

· ewolf (not verified) · 5 years ago

As a multi-generational VW bus/van family for 45 years, I would like to see the Bulli a little longer and bigger. Not quite as big as the Eurovan. Also I want to have a vehicle that has personality and versatility. It needs to be safe so families can have piece of mind and feel that though they spent the extra money, the vehicle is safe. Also keep the floor low and flat where possible. Keep a low center of gravity. I like the relatively wider wheel base. The back of the Bulli is boring and the designers need to look at the back of the 1971 VW van or the 2001 microbus concept before redesigning it. I suspect it is because the Bulli is looking like a Scion too much. Please make a modern bus/van looking vehicle. You are close. I would love to purchase an electric one.

· · 5 years ago

Like the idea and the RANGE! The only 'near' 200 MR since Tesla"S". Why the protruding front? Is that collision compromise/buffer? (2001 looked better to me). I appreciated the 70's buses for the "up front" visibility. Wish I had kept one to electrify. It had a half-ton PU carriage capacity for good battery carry. I vote against the i-pad console and the bench seating. Looks spartan and un-comfey, and I liked the center pass thru with flat floor. It had many uses. That could be offered as an "either way" option or pull out thingy. A slider door on the curb side!
With motor down in back and battery under the floor, Tesla style, I'd by one now!.

· · 4 years ago

Think it's a great idea and a great concept. Not enough utility / fun EVs out there yet (or planned as far as I know - Tesla X?). For where I live out in the woods, Bulli would be fantastic.

· · 4 years ago

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