This is the new Volkswagen ID. Buzz, the long-awaited modern-day manifestation of one of the most iconic Volkswagens of all time, the Volkswagen Type 2. So named because it was second VW product after the original Beetle, the Type 2 was the original multi-functional utility vehicle. Produced as a passenger van, a transporter, a pick-up, a camper, and many, many other variants, the Type 2 became that rarest of things, a cult object that was also hugely successful. Introduced in 1949, the Type 2 evolved into the distinctive T2 of the late 60s, and the basic design brief survives all the way up to the newly introduced T7 Multivan, which currently co-exists with the T6.1 Transporter range for commercial customers.
The ID. Buzz is different. As VW’s first all-electric commercial vehicle, it complements the regular hybrid and ICE range and comes in as a new flagship, available as both a passenger vehicle and the ID. Buzz Cargo panel van. Electrifying the latter seems like a no-brainer for crowded, polluted cities, and private customers are also crying out for a distinctive electric people carrier. The Buzz has certainly been a long time coming. Not only does the design reference the original 1949 machine, but it also has strong doses of the 2001 Microbus, an extremely well-conceived concept that was allegedly taken all the way to production readiness, only to be canned at the very last minute. In 2011, the basic shape re emerged as the electric Bulli Concept, which was followed by the 2015 BUDD-e Concept. In 2017, the ID Buzz finally broke cover in concept form.
It's taken five years for that concept to reach production, during which time battery electric vehicles have improved substantially in terms of range. The one-box form sweeps back from the raked front end, where the focus falls naturally on the central ‘VW’ logo, just as it did all those decades ago. A generous glasshouse occupies the top third of the body, with sliding rear doors allowing easy access to a capacious interior. A seven-seater is on the way, and the interior features recycled plastics on the seats as well as ample connectivity. VW has also opted to make the ID. Buzz ‘bidirectional’, meaning the vehicle can supply energy from its own battery, whether for camping, or even providing domestic electricity to the home for short spells.
The ID. Buzz has taken a very long route to market and will finally be available to buy later in the year. For now, Volkswagen’s heritage will give the ID. Buzz an unassailable lead, with its attractive blend of practicality and personality. But as more and more people see the benefits of mono-box styling in an electrified, increasingly autonomous age, other start-ups are gearing up to steal some of VW’s magic.
So here are five alternatives to Volkswagen's ID. Buzz; available now, or in the (hopefully not too distant) future.
01. Canoo Car
We’ve already chronicled the imminent arrival of Canoo, an LA-based company whose boxy lifestyle vehicle is billed as a 'loft on wheels' and is due to start shipping this year. There’ll be a delivery vehicle version as well, with the most basic Canoo starting at $34,750. The spacious interior has wraparound seating and there are plans for more rugged, all-terrain versions as well.
02. Arrival Car
Other companies have partnered with ride-sharing firms, believing that the quickest route to market is to cater to their very specific requirements. Next year should see the appearance of the Arrival Car, the first in a suite of transport and utility-centric vehicles from this UK-based company. Your only chance of getting into one of these sleek compact MPVs is to hail one, for the first batch of Arrival Cars are destined solely for Uber drivers. The company is claiming an innovative manufacturing approach, with localised ‘Microfactories’ capable of building cars that are tailor-made for each neighbourhood, thanks to a modular style of construction that’ll eventually be applied to buses and cargo vans.
03. Waymo Zeekr
Not to be outdone, Google’s Waymo mobility division has paired up with Chinese manufacturer Geely to create a bespoke machine that will hone and refine the company’s autonomous technology. The Waymo Driver system will be integrated in a new vehicle from Geely’s Zeekr electric sub-brand, a pared-down minimalist modern taxicab with twin sliding doors and a full suite of sensors for the autonomous drive system.
04. Budget Airline Car
Cambridge-based Car Design Research offers another, rather more speculative, take on the utility car. Their Budget Airline Car concept doesn’t sound especially glamorous. Instead, the concept is an attempt to find a new mode of transportation to replace an environmentally maligned niche; the low-cost, short-haul flight. Noting that comfort and convenience are almost inevitably sacrificed to price, CDR’s Chinese-Indian team came up with a long, low electric six-seater designed to whizz efficiently up and down tomorrow’s highways. The pared-down interior features individual seats and space for luggage, and with an efficient electric drivetrain, the C02 emissions per passenger mile would be considerably lower than flying.
05. Hyundai Staria
Finally, there’s the Hyundai Staria, a car you can buy right now, albeit only in certain global markets and with a conventional internal combustion engine. The wedge-like minivan splices the long-standing influence of the VW with another important car, Renault’s pioneering Espace MPV from 1984 (which in turn dated back to designs from the 70s, including Mario Bellini’s iconic Kar-a-Sutra). Although a hybrid is in the works, a hydrogen-powered Staria is also on the cards, due for release in 2023.
Volkswagen ID. Buzz, from c£50,000
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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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