On the eve of CES 2016, Volkswagen unveiled the Budd-e concept. The latest modern take on its Microbus, Budd-e follows Bulli (2011) and Concept Microbus (2001) as a teaser for the company bringing back its flower power van that's so enchanted people across the world since the 50s.
Last night it had an important additional role though, as in place of the normal press conference bombast, VW Brand Chairman and CEO, Herbert Diess stood up and got straight to the point of saying sorry for the company's recent "diesel gate" scandal.
Budd-e is the poster child for New Volkswagen (their Italics) then. Yes, that's right the company are pitching themselves as "new" and re-invented post the diesel scandal where it was found to have been cheating diesel cars' NOx emissions. Budd-e is designed to say that the company is friendly, approachable, that it cares about tech and the connected car, but perhaps most importantly, that after years of resistance, it's completely throwing its weight behind electric-mobility.
That means Budd-e was billed as all electric, with a real range of 300 miles, which on the US EPA rating scale, equates to 233 miles. It'll also charge to 80 per cent in 30 minutes, and uses a completely new electric architecture with a battery flat under the floor. The car also has something favoured by many American consumers: All-Wheel Drive.
VW Budd-e: Not playing the retro card
After teasing a new Microbus twice before though, the question is whether VW will build the thing this time? Diess didn't quite promise to bring the car to market by 2020, but it feels a reasonable bet. Perhaps the most surprising quality of VW's new concept is how it abandons any attempt to play the retro card.
Think VW Bus, and you might think split front window, dual colour way, van side/windows with sliding doors and maybe even a spare wheel on the front. The Budd-e eschews the split colour-way (at least in any noticeable form) and the split front window. And the overall graphics and form language of the car not only take a serious step away from any Microbus we've seen before, but from VW's design language generally.
The key design device in doing this is the C-pillar, which wraps down from the roof to break up the window side line and step away from the van look. The snub nose, proportions and front grille graphic which wraps to the base of the A-pillars also don't feel very VW.
VW Budd-e: Interior treats
We didn't get in the car last night, VW wasn't allowing journos inside, but there's a host of tech here to excite. Try gesture-opening side doors (there aren't any door handles) and there's extensive use of strobed light graphics on the exterior in the grille and also running down the flank of the car.
The interior dials up the community idea - "designed to allow groups of friends to travel together" - said VW. As such, a large screen on the inside passenger window acts as a surface from which rear passengers can communally create playlists and share content from their devices. VW seemed keen to have passengers congregate and focus around one screen, rather than just stare at their individual devices and ignore one another. The wrap around sofa seat might help with that too, although it'll never make production.
In the front, a wrap-around driver display featured two HD screens (VW wasn't specific about tech) with spare, but crisp graphics and reconfigurable tiles allowing you to drag content to where you felt it needed to be on the screen.
Budd-e's part of the Internet of Things too. In one of the cheesier parts of the presentation, VW showed it allowing you to check how much beer was in your fridge, and teamed up with LG on connected cloud services and DoorBird, an IoT company which allows you to open your front door to people remotely, even if you're not at home.
This effort in Vegas was a clear attempt by Volkswagen to win back credibility in the eyes of the American public and media. It meant ticking the boxes, taking the medicine and VW pushing electro-mobility, the connected car, autonomous driving as hard as it could.
Budd-e is bound to find some friends in America and is symbolic of the company's desire to change, but VW's got a long road ahead to recover its image here in the US. We're keen to get inside and play with the tech, but there was a slight whiff of rushed execution in this concept's design, and desperation from the brand in its desire to be forgiven for its sins by the people of America.