While SUVs dominate Western Europe's new BEV passenger car market, with August just failing to breach 60% market share, a reincarnated new model in town threatens to shake it up. Despite its dimensions, don't call it a cute SUV in stealth. We drive VW's new all-electric halo ID. Buzz.
With an early morning flight to catch from Berlin to Copenhagen for the press drive of Volkswagen's highly anticipated rebirth of an old icon – the will it/won't it ID. Buzz – the ubiquitous silhouette of the original T1 and T2, that was in production for over half a century, was on view everywhere. On at least three occasions, before the plane had even taxied to the runway on a bright August morning, the instantly recognisable T1 camper silhouette was omnipresent, underlining the gaping legacy hole this model has to fill. A tired-looking child sat in the plane's first rows, proudly wore a psychedelic-looking VW camper T-shirt, while a replica model made out of plastic bricks had been spotted moments earlier in the airport's Lego store. Finally, just before passengers were instructed to pull out all headphones before take-off, there it was again, on the trusty iPhone display, sitting on the streets of Greenwich Village, on the 1963, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album cover.
The rebirth of the old iconic design began with a hard rain falling on Wolfsburg back in September 2015 as the dieselgate scandal was made public for the first time during the German auto industry's flagship Frankfurt IAA auto show. The phoenix rising from those acrid ashes, was the first conceptual meeting of the electric modular scalable MEB platform, on which the Buzz rests. It took place within one month of that tumultuous day. Herbert Diess, that eventually took the reins from Martin Winterkorn as Group CEO, following a relatively short stint from Matthias Müller, parachuted in from Porsche, recently said that that first initial meeting to reboot VW was one of his proudest moments.
With over-engineering and quality-freak, Winterkorn, and effectively Piëch too, out the door, the New Auto strategy could begin. Agile, a word not previously associated with the slowing moving oil tanker which Volkswagen had become, could almost suddenly be used in the same sentence. From concept to start of production, the MEB architecture took just four years to develop and began rolling off the converted Zwickau production line in November 2019 (ID.3), much to the delight of then Chancellor Angela Merkel, that was in attendance. The decision to focus on a skateboard architecture meant there were ample opportunities for the Germans to leverage their muscle across their various brands enabling a relatively broad assortment of products and styles. The model that attracted the most excitement though was understandably the ID.Buzz concept that many sceptics didn't believe would see the light of day. And according to Diess it almost didn't, with some controversy about if it made business sense and if it should be made in a passenger car or commercial vehicle plant, such as in Hanover, the home of Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge (Commercial Vehicles). With much perseverance, Diess managed to get it through the vast number of hoops which a company employing almost 700,000 workers inevitably has. With the former CEO now having left the VW bridge, he can arguably call the Buzz his legacy model, where previous OEMs such as Winterkorn left their signatures on more traditional models such as the over-engineered and ego-driven VW Phaeton, making the shift tangible. Piëch however, bridged the two models with the quirky small-scale VW XL1 1-litre car.
While Winterkorn would never have signed off on a cute looking people carrying van, that rationally makes no sense with MPVs dead in the water, the cost-cutting savings that are required to make EVs profitable such as the overtly use of hard plastic, would have had the former boss pulling his hair out. The cost savings are in plain view but are a necessary evil for now to make the EV business model work and offset the high investment costs alongside the costs of the batteries, among other things.
But while with the ID.3 there may be some frustrations with the build and software quality, sitting in the comfort of the captain's chair of the Buzz and peering down over fellow motorists gives a highly emotional sensation that makes one more forgiving perhaps. But as with flying these days, the days of getting a free drink and peanuts are over, and every cost-saving penny counts. It would just be nice to have that option and choose a higher trim level with the better quality soft-touch materials fitted. The emotional exterior design is the real talking point however. This was underlined as a motorcyclist dressed head to toe in racing leathers pulled up alongside the vehicle while crossing the Öresund bridge separating Denmark and Sweden, giving a thumbs up, before speeding off towards Malmö, almost like a scene from the Swedish series, The Bridge.
The ID.Buzz is not hard to miss and certainly punches a statement. After all, one certainly can't help oversee a vehicle that sits over 50mm higher than the latest Range Rover and is covered in a bright yellow and white two-tone classic livery (over colours available). Starting at €65,000, with over 10% of that likely accounted for by the 77kWh battery alone, which supplied a range of around 400km on southern Scandinavia's flatlands, it's not cheap. The price tag certainly puts the vehicle out of the range of "the people" and can be seen as more of an aspirational model. It becomes VW's second most expensive model, just behind its full-scale Touareg SUV (€68,895), which shares its platform with Porsche's Cayenne. The comparison with the large SUVs doesn't stop there however, with the 3-metre long short-wheelbase version, featuring a 77kWh battery (a long-wheelbase aimed at North America customers with a larger battery option is on the way) tipping the scales at a mighty 2,471kg, it is equivalent to a Range Rover. With a maximum payload of just over half a tonne, loaded with five adults, that leaves just around 100kg over for luggage. To put the weight into perspective, it tips the scales at almost twice the level as the entry-level Golf VIII, which incidentally has an almost identical turning circle of 11.09 metres.
The Buzz isn't just a retrospective model, it is fitted with ample amounts of contemporary aspects, such as the abundance of eight USB ports front and back, the digital infotainment system that has received a lot of criticism, but like a good wine, can age well with time thanks to over-the-air updates, and even features an impressive self-parking memory function. You won't, however, find flower vases in the interior such as in the mildly disappointing "New Beetle" that VW attempted to revive but ended up killing-off again in 2019. The Buzz, is unlikely to succumb to a similar fate, being about as Zeitgeisty as one can be right now, with a healthy balance of modern contemporary design seasoned with just the right amount of nostalgia which may finally even end up rebooting their US plans.
With this new model, VW completed what they wanted to achieve in bringing a new halo model to market and transporting the Germans into a new, cleaner and leaner, era. Having chatted with Diess on the fringes of the official vehicle unveiling in Hamburg last summer, he didn't see this type of vehicle upsetting the stampeding SUV fraternity but appeared more than content that it was finally here. So far, just over 10,000 orders have been taken across Western Europe, according to Volkswagen. VW will see one in five of its West European vehicles delivered with a plug this year (17.4% YTD). Diess may well have left the building, but he likely still has a smirk on his face, thanks to the fact that he finally got his way and got this thing to market. The Times They Are A-Changin'.
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*Western Europe 18 Markets: EU Member States prior to the 2004 enlargement plus EFTA markets Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, plus UK