VW Bulli Concept is retro Microbus redo

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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VW has two iconic models. The mid-70s Golf/Rabbit/GTI aside (a car that reshaped the compact segment and the auto industry on the whole), the most obvious VW icon is the Beetle, but close on its heels is the Volkswagen van, also known as the Microbus, VW-Bus, Transporter, T1 (through T5), Camper, Kombi, Combi (Mexico, Central and South America), or Bulli (a.k.a. Bully), as it is lovingly referred to throughout Europe.

Riding on the success of its recently introduced New Beetle, Volkswagen reignited the Bulli flame in 2001 with the unveiling of the Microbus concept. It was a major hit with show-goers and was slated for production, but for reasons that can only be speculated upon it was kyboshed and the regular more utilitarian T5 (along with the Caddy, Touran, Sharan and Caravelle vans) soldiered on in Europe while the Chrysler/Dodge Town & Country/Caravan-based Routan became the VW-badged minivan in North America – the original Combi is still produced in Brazil, but that's another story altogether.

With the introduction of the Bulli Concept this week in Geneva it appears that the powers that be at Volkswagen want to revisit the retrospective Microbus design, albeit with greener intentions. The new Bulli is powered by a 113-horsepower (85-kW) electric motor with 199 lb-ft of torque energized by a lithium-ion battery pack that Volkswagen says is capable of 300 km (186.4 miles) between charges. What's more, the little van's 40-kWh battery can be fully recharged in less than an hour when plugged into an "electric refueling station."

While neck-snapping acceleration isn't in the cards, the Bulli concept's 11.5-second sprint to 100 km/h makes a smart car seem like its standing still while its electronically limited top-speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) is ample for highway cruising.

Where the Microbus concept was a full-fledged van with dual side sliders and room for seven, the Bulli is more of a tall compact wagon with seating for six and conventional hinged rear doors, but the look definitely rings true to the Microbus of the past. The new concept even boasts a flat floor like the original T1, which is ideal for interior packaging, while those inside are treated to such a full array of tech goodies that any old-school Hippie-van hangers on trying to tune in The Who's "Magic Bus" might think they're having an acid flashback. A removable iPad is used to adjust audio, navigation, Bluetooth and climate controls, and true to its '50s (and '60s) roots it will even communicate to its Fender USA-designed audio system.

So, is the new Bulli concept merely a fun blast down memory lane, a whimsical rolling test-bed to show off VW's latest electric tech? Maybe. But it's possible that the German brand will realize its second most popular icon deserves rebirth just like its original Beetle was morphed into the New Beetle and simultaneously became an important new icon for Volkswagen.

Something said in the Bulli Concept's press release makes the second scenario believable, namely that "the concept can also incorporate Volkswagen's extremely efficient gas and diesel direct injection engines as alternative drives."

If produced and priced below $20k the Bulli would give VW fans an edgy alternative to Kia's Soul, Nissan's cube, Scion's xB, and other youth-oriented niche compacts, while reintroducing the VW-bus to an entirely new generation of would-be hipsters. Tie-dyed upholstery and macramé seatbelts anyone? OK, we'll settle for organically grown hemp carpeting.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Volkswagen, VW, 2011, Bulli,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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