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Volkswagen’s electric concept van is no Microbus, but that’s okay

We just spent our first time up close with Volkswagen's Budd-e, an all-electric concept van that takes cues from the iconic Microbus. Or at least that's what VW would have you believe; the more I look at the Budd-e, the more I'm near it, the less convinced I am that there's any Microbus DNA at all in this thing.

Isn't the Microbus less of a vehicle and more of an era, anyway?

I'd be curious to hear a Microbus fanatic's take on it, really. But regardless, what VW delivered here is pretty cool: it's a compact all-electric that can get somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 miles on a charge, it has a practical amount of interior space, and it has a bunch of weird, concept-y features that'll probably dribble into the company's production cars over the next decade.

VW wouldn't let us get within about a foot of the Budd-e, but I got close enough to tell you that the interior has basically no basis in reality: there are way too many big screens centered around the driver, and the upholstery looks less than great. The exterior, though, is cute — the concept is done up in a matte copper-over-white scheme that suits the trucklet pretty well. As with many concepts, the Budd-e looks extra sleek without real-world accoutrements like door handles and rear-view mirrors, but voice-activated (and gesture-controlled) automatic door openers seem to get the job done just as well.

I don't know whether the Budd-e, or anything like it, will ever be on the road. But what will be on the road is the Budd-e's underlying architecture: it's real, with actual engineering and thought put into the battery stack and the charging mechanism. What we're really looking at here is VW's big bet on EVs in the wake of its diesel scandal — a competitor to the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 — and the flexible architecture means that it could take many forms on the road.

Still, though, VW should just make this. Keep the name, keep the exterior design, spruce up the interior and bring it down to earth. Sell it for $30,000. Profit.

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