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VW Kombi to be revived

The Kombi Beach (2006) was one of the most recent revivals of the Kombi, but the next generation will be completely different.

After teasing the world in March with a concept van called the Bulli at the Geneva Motor Show, a Volkswagen insider has revealed to Carsguide that there is a definite production plan for a 21st century Kombi.

The born-again Kombi is coming as Volkswagen makes big changes to its small-car lineup, starting with a new-new Beetle and confirmed production plans for the city-sized Up. The Kombi van - a nickname that came from Germany and stuck around the world - hauled a generation from just after World War II through the hippie era and surfside lifestyle in Australia.

It still stars Down Under in a Bigpond television commercial. But safety problems with the rear-engined van, and a change of focus for the VW workhorses that provided the basic package, led to its death and the next Kombi will be comparatively smaller, substantially safer and even more versatile. Based heavily on the Bulli, the six-seater hybrid or petrol-diesel van is expected to go on sale in Europe by late 2012 and possibly in Australia the following year.

Carsguide can confirm that Volkswagen is so serious about the Kombi that it recently organised a photography session in the USA with the Bulli alongside a 1950 Kombi van. The new Kombi move comes after an earlier proposal was ruled out because it was too big and costly. Now Volkswagen communications director Christian Buhlmann says the economic key is to fit the Bulli concept onto the same modular mechanical platform to be used by the new Up range of city cars.

The platform - known by its German initials as MQB called MTM in English for Modular Transverse Matrix - is intended to be the base for up to 60 Volkswagen Group models in petrol, diesel and electric-hybrid versions. Its use in so many models - including those from Skoda, Seat and Audi - will slash design and production costs.

Most importantly, MTM will be the basis for the Up range of small cars that will be first shown in production form at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September before going on sale later this year in Europe. MTM will go into action for the first time as the platform for the new Audi A3, but the VW Up will come as three-door and five-door hatchbacks sized smaller than Polo. The Bulli will become Up's third derivative as the MPV version.

"Up is designed to be a range of efficient vehicles for the city,'' says Volkswagen's Buhlmann. "It will have small engines or electric motors but also will be offered with CNG (compressed natural gas) which we see as an excellent alternative fuel.'' Volkswagen has recently taken to the track with CNG-fuelled production cars, as well as competition models running on ethanol. The Up hatchbacks and Bulli are expected to be available with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder diesel or 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine made to the high-efficiency, low emission BlueMotion specifications. It also has been confirmed that an option will be a plug-in hybrid using a small diesel or petrol engine and an electric motor with lithium-ion batteries.

MTM can reduce the number of front-wheel drive platforms from 18 today to just two. It allows for large variations in track width, wheelbase length and vehicle length and can support all-wheel drive systems and - specifically for electric and/or hybrid vehicles such as the Up models - a channel in the spine to carry batteries or fuel tanks.

Neil Dowling in Germany
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