Blending heritage and current advanced technology with buzzwords and futuristic plans, Volkswagen took the wraps off of the I.D. Buzz concept at the 2017 Detroit auto show. The Buzz is an eight-passenger people mover with an all-electric drivetrain that promises the driving range of traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

VW looked backward while planning for the future, calling the concept a “Microbus for a new era.” The old VW Microbus was sold in various forms throughout the world since the 1950s all the way to this decade. Volkswagen has been teasing a successor for years, with crowd-pleasing van concepts at auto shows generating interest. Hence the name "Buzz" for this latest concept.

In this form, sized like a modern minivan, the Buzz is a rolling demonstration of VW’s electrification plans. The floor-mounted, 111-kWh battery provides the power to drive the two electric motors mounted at the front and rear axles. Each motor produces 201 horsepower that can be appropriated between the two axles. Total system output is listed at 369 hp, and Volkswagen claims the Buzz has an electric driving range of 270 miles. Top speed is limited to 99 mph, and VW says the all-wheel-drive Buzz can go from 0-60 mph in five seconds.

Though the Buzz concept has AWD, a rear-drive configuration is possible. A single 268-hp motor would be powered by a smaller 83-kWh battery.

It will take just 30 minutes to charge the battery to 80 percent full using a Combined Charging System charging interface. 

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Van Concept interior

Inside, VWs plans for the fully autonomous future are highlighted by the ability to make the steering wheel disappear into the dash. This converts the Buzz from manual control to autonomous “I.D. Pilot” control mode. In self-driving mode, the VW uses lasers, ultrasonic sensors, radar, and front and side cameras. The driver will reactivate manual mode by touching the steering wheel or depressing the brake or throttle pedals. Uniquely, the steering wheel is a touch-sensitive pad that allows the driver to operate drive modes, turn signals, and various menus. An augmented-reality head-up display is used to project navigation direction ahead of the vehicle, as if they are on the road. Navigation instructions are “experienced” by the driver in 3D.

Driver information is kept in what the German automaker calls a Volkswagen User-ID. Individual profiles contain settings such as seat position, audio preferences, contact information for friends and associates, and configurations for the navigation system. A User-ID app on a mobile phone is the digital key to open and operate the Buzz.

Volkswagen sees a future where vehicle interiors “will become a sort of a family room, a mobile place where you feel at home.” As such, in the autonomous I.D. Pilot mode, the front seats can rotate 180 degrees to face rearward to facilitate conversation.

A vision for the future, Volkswagen has taught us with past van concepts to not get our hopes up.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Van Concept rear