Battery-powered bus concept is a modern take on the classic Microbus.
Battery-powered bus concept is a modern take on the classic Microbus.

Detroit Motor Show - The term ‘green’ meant something altogether different back in the day when the original VW T1 'Kombi' was the vehicle (and often home) of choice for bands of travelling hippies. The newest one, a concept on show at this week’s Detroit Motor Show called the I.D. Buzz, is a battery-powered and fully autonomous bus designed to save the environment, rather than smoke it.

The two-tone Buzz, which takes some obvious styling inspiration from the first 1950 T1 split-window, is based on the same MEB (Modular Electric Drive Kit) platform as last year’s electric I.D. hatch concept, but lengthened to accommodate a bigger body with seating for up to eight people. In its floor is a pack of batteries with enough power to juice the Buzz for a range of up to 600km, if you trust European test cycles.

Each axle gets its own electric motor and total system output sits at 270kW, meaning this all-wheel driven and nearly silent people mover can do 0-100km/h in around five seconds flat with a top speed of just under 160km/h. VW says the Buzz’s 111kWh batteries can be charged to 80 percent in under 30 minutes.

When activated, a fully autonomous drive mode called I.D. Pilot sees the steering wheel retract and the two front seats swivel around to face the rear in a sort of mobile chill circle layout. In self-drive mode the Buzz relies on a series of radars, ultrasonic sensors and laser cameras to make its way safely without driver input. The centre console, which houses a tablet displaying vehicle data slides rearward along a silver birchwood floor to become a central table, and cabin lighting switches from white to a more relaxing warm hue.

The Buzz’s three seating rows can also be configured into an overnight arrangement with a double bed at the back and two lie flat middle chairs complete with a selection of individual scattercushions. The moveable centre console also houses a set of Bluetooth speakers from Beats which can be removed and used outside the vehicle. Hippies rejoice!

The windscreen also serves as an augmented reality display, projecting things like navigation instructions, virtually and three-dimensionally, onto the road ahead; and the LED headlights signal vehicle status mimicking human eye gestures.

When off the lights take on a sleeping look with thinly lit slits, and when unlocked the ‘eyes’ are awakened together with illuminated VW logos and 360 degree wraparound LED pinstripes. The headlights also get brighter and wide-eyed with acceleration, and look left and right when turning or when pedestrians or cyclists are detected. Spooky. We can’t help but imagine a stoner mode with red bloodshot LEDs too.

Don’t expect the I.D. Buzz to hit showroom floors anytime soon. This concept car is only a demonstration of technologies planned for 2020 when Volkswagen will kick off its big electric car offensive. VW plans to sell one million cloud-connected EVs annually by 2025.