Transport

Volkswagen Previews Driverless Electric Microbus

The recent scandals at VW have triggered a huge shift for the automaker, as it attempts to reinvent itself as an electric vehicle specialist.

<p>Volkswagen</p>

Volkswagen's recent and colossal public relations troubles have triggered a huge shift for the veteran automaker, as it attempts to reinvent itself as an electric vehicle specialist.

In terms of strict cool points, VW took a giant step forward this week with the unveiling of the I.D. Buzz, a new iteration of the classic 1960s microbus for the 21st century.

Announced at the Detroit Auto Show this week, the Buzz is still technically a concept vehicle at this point, but there's no doubt that VW is serious about its electric vehicle initiatives. The automaker provided a few glimpses of the overall I.D. concept back at the Paris Motor Show last fall, and it teased a different kind of electric microbus earlier in the year.

Designed to be a very green machine indeed, the Buzz has an estimated 270 miles of range using two electric motors, according to VW. The 111-kWh floor-mounted battery that can be juiced up at charging stations or via a standard household outlet. By comparison, the upcoming Tesla Model 3 has an estimated range of 215 miles. But keep in mind that deliveries on the Model 3 are slated for later this year. There's no time frame yet on the Buzz.

The new minivan has some other fast-forward elements that are likely to keep it in development for a while. The I.D. Pilot autonomous driving mode assumes a future of truly driverless vehicles and infrastructure. Flip the switch and the front seats literally turn around 180 degrees, then slide toward the rear. The rectangular steering wheel retracts as an array of disc-shaped laser scanners rise up from the roof. The networked navigation system takes full control of the vehicle at that point.

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Inside, the Buzz is all about modular design principles that turn every little something into something else. The seats can be folded out into recliners, tables, footrests or fully horizontal beds. When arranged traditionally, the Buzz seats six.

The center console, called the I.D. Box, serves as control panel for the driver and slides back when in driverless mode. It can also be detached and pulled out as a separate Bluetooth-enabled sound system. Cameras and displays replace the traditional rear-view and side-view mirrors.

Volkswagen

The Buzz is also equipped with an augmented reality head-up display in the windshield, in which information such as navigation directions are projected as virtual images ahead of the vehicle. "The effect is astonishingly realistic," according to VW press materials. Noted!

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There's a ton of other little stylish touches and gadgety tweaks, including wood floors, options for ambient mood lighting, and full integration with your smart phone and any other devices you might bring on board. You can dig into the details over at the VW website.

One interesting final note: Just as details on the I.D. Buzz started making the media rounds on Monday, word got out that Volkswagen executive previously in charge of complying with U.S. emissions regulations was arrested over the weekend in Florida. For those prone to conjecture on digital age distraction techniques, it's curious timing. Anyway, here's a quick demo video on the Buzz from Detroit:

click to play video