If Volkswagen Revives the Beloved Microbus, it Should be a Plug-in Hybrid

By · December 02, 2010

volkswagen microbus concept

Last month I traveled to Germany to be one of the first people in the world to test drive the Volkswagen Electric Golf prototype. While I came away from Europe thinking that the E-Golf was a solid effort, especially for a prototype, it also felt underwhelming that all VW had done was take an existing car and replaced all the combustion parts with electric parts. Five years ago if a major car company had converted an existing conventional vehicle to electric and said they'd be putting it on the mass market it would have been something amazing, but today, with examples like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt, not so much.

As I said in my review of the E-Golf, it "felt almost exactly like a Golf except that it was much quieter and in that sense VW has accomplished its mission of making an EV that's instantly recognizable and will feel completely normal—but that's part of the problem."

But wait you say, it's a good strategy to use an existing and very successful platform to bring recognition, familiarity and economies of scale to the world of electric cars—just look at Ford and their Focus Electric or Toyota and their (new) RAV4 EV. Of course that can be a good marketing strategy, but while the Ford Focus Electric is coming out within a year and the Toyota RAV4 EV is coming in 2012, the VW E-Golf (officially called the Golf blue-e-motion, for those that insist on using that depressing name) won't arrive until 2014. By then the market may be close to being saturated with plug-in vehicles, if not over-saturated, and coming out with a first-generation electric car that already has competition on several fronts doesn't seem like the best strategy to me.

VW is a brand that many around the world have a strong emotional connection to—myself included—which is maybe why I was expecting so much more from the company when it comes to our electric future. So, as I thought more about VW's anemic electrification plans, it seemed to me that it was going about it the wrong way. If VW really wanted the attention their electric vehicle plans should be receiving, as well as elicit the strong emotional response such announcements should garner, they should do something nobody else is even thinking of—something that both taps into their heritage and shows how serious they are about solving problems at the same time.

About exactly when that thought drew itself to completion the solution became clear—a plug-in hybrid VW microbus camper van. What baby boomer doesn't have a strong nostalgic reaction when they see a microbus at a campground with its top popped up? What kid with former hippie parents didn't grow up thinking of the VW microbus as a badge of freedom? Seriously, it's perfect. And it wouldn't matter if VW released it in 2014, it would still be a first—not to mention a perpetual anticipation machine.

Think I'm crazy? You say VW doesn't even have a microbus anymore? Well check this out—at the LA Auto Show a couple weeks ago VW's Chief Designer, Klaus Bischoff, told Autoexpress, "I would not be doing my job at Volkswagen properly if I was not thinking of bringing back the Camper." In 2001, VW even showed a concept of what that rebirthed camper van might look like (the image above). On top of that, VW even went so far as to retweet “Klaus Bischoff confirms #VW is working on plans to 'bring back' a new version of the Microbus! Interested?” on their official Twitter feed.

So it seems VW is seriously considering bringing back the camper van. It would be silly if they didn't bring it back as a plug-in hybrid, don't you think? So readers, would you buy a plug-in hybrid VW camper van? Volkswagen, if you're reading this I hope you take it seriously. It may be the musings of one blogger who sometimes considers himself an automotive journalist, but I don't think I'm alone in seeing this as a huge opportunity you don't want to lose.

Case in point: as I sit here writing this during a long layover at the Seattle airport, a 60-ish year old man just leaned over to gawk at the picture above and said "Man that's cool? Can I buy that?" I told him it was a concept car that VW showed in 2001 but that I was writing an article about how it should be made into a plug-in hybrid and he said, "Yeah, that'd be awesome." Two things about that struck me. Number one: it validated my feelings. Number two: if a random 60-ish year old already knows what a plug-in hybrid is, we're doing better than I thought.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.