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Volkswagen has (silently) rolled out a six-seat van concept dubbed the ID Buzz at the North American International Auto Show, tying together the traditional and much loved Kombi of yesteryear with a futuristic electric drivetrain and autonomous capability.
With an emissions-free powertrain, the ID Buzz previews the German car-maker's plans to populate its range with electric and hybrid models from 2020, following in the tracks of the ID hatchback concept unveiled at the Paris motor show in 2016.
The Detroit show van styling is somewhere between the Paris show car and the current Transporter van and is unmistakably related to the cult-followed ‘dub' vans with two-tone paint and boxy proportions.
Like the classic rear-engined Kombis that had no radiator at the front end thanks to air-cooled engines, the ID Buzz has a grille-less snout that in fact hides a radiator for the power management system, but lighting in the form of LED headlights, illuminated badge and yellow ambient exterior lighting is purely futuristic.
At the back, slender tail-lights frame the generous rear hatch opening, while aesthetic air vents mimic the engine cooling air intakes of the original transporter.
With a 4943mm length, 1976mm width and 1963mm height, the ID Buzz is similar in proportions to its production-equivalent Volkswagen Multivan, which measures in at 5304mm long, 1904mm wide and 1990mm tall.
Like its ID hatchback sibling, the ID Buzz rolls on the VW Group's Modular Electric Drive (MEB) platform with an extended wheelbase of 3299mm and has a motor on each axle for a combined power output of 275kW.
With a hearty power figure and plenty of low-down electric torque, the ID Buzz can accelerate from zero to 97km/h in 5.0 seconds – a sniff under the same time it takes a petrol-burning Volkswagen Golf R to get from standstill to 100km/h.
Under the floor of the ID Buzz is an 111kWh lithium ion battery which will propel the camper to a range of about 600km and can take an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes from a special 150kW charger, or longer from a household outlet.
The third row seats transform into fully-flat beds.
Thanks to the modular platform, VW says the ID Buzz could be simplified to a 200kW rear-drive version with a smaller 85kWh battery if such a variant was required in specific markets.
In addition to its environmentally-sensitive powertrain, the Dub van has extensive self-driving systems that gather information about the surroundings through an array of lasers, radar sensors and cameras.
Driving the ID Buzz is like any other EV until the ID Pilot mode is selected. In this mode, the steering wheel retracts into the instrument cluster and the interior lighting switches from a vibrant white to a more relaxing soft yellow.
Once the car is driving itself, occupants are free to reconfigure the cabin thanks to a flexible seating system offering inward-facing arrangements and folding seat backs that convert into tables.
For rest stops or camping trips, the third row seats transform into fully-flat beds.
A touch of either a pedal or steering wheel-mounted button will hand control back to the driver for more conventional motoring.
This concept vehicle is the world's first electric multi-purpose vehicle to be equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode.
The VW van also debuts a number of other advanced features including an augmented reality windscreen which presents the driver with information and navigation images over the real image of the road ahead.
Also, a separate User-ID system that recalls a user profile can set up seating position, audio settings and lighting preferences via a smartphone-integrated digital key.
While such technically advanced concepts may seem like flights of fancy to some, Volkswagen member of the board of management responsible for development Dr Frank Welsch said the ID Buzz is a peek into the future.
"The ID Buzz is a next-generation vehicle based on the new Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), offering comfort and plenty of space," he said.
"The overall concept of the ID Buzz points the way to the future. This concept vehicle is the world's first electric multi-purpose vehicle to be equipped with a fully autonomous driving mode.
"It carries the feeling of freedom of the Mircobus over to a completely new era of mobility."