Electric Volkswagen Bus Teased Again: Will It Be Real This Time?

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2011 Volkswagen Bulli Concept live photos

2011 Volkswagen Bulli Concept live photos

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The idea is as cool as it is durable: An all-electric reincarnation of the classic Volkswagen Bus, beloved people carrier of the Sixties and Seventies.

It was first mentioned fully five years ago, when Volkswagen showed an all-electric taxi concept based on an updated minivan with all the design cues of the VW Bus.

A further concept followed the next year, an electric Bulli (the German name for what North Americans call the VW Bus).

DON'T MISS: Concepts To Make Electric Cars Cool: VW Bulli, Nissan Esflow (May 2011)

With Volkswagen now selling the VW e-Golf in North America and Europe, and VW Group planning to issue a variety of plug-in hybrid and battery-electric models, the idea of an electric Microbus has come up again.

This time it came from no less a personage than board member Heinz-Jakob Neusser, as quoted in England's Autocar magazine during a New York Auto Show roundtable.

2010 Volkswagen Milano Taxi Concept

2010 Volkswagen Milano Taxi Concept

Enlarge Photo

Neusser said VW vehicle developers and engineers are now working on a revived Bulli powered by a battery pack in the floor that feeds an electric motor driving the front wheels.

It is, in short, an evolution of the current Volkswagen e-Golf powertrain, but likely with a much higher-capacity lithium-ion battery pack.

ALSO SEE: Moving On Up? Volkswagen Considers Producing Electric Taxi (Dec 2010)

Neusser specified three required design elements to convey the classic identity of the Microbus.

First, the rearmost roof pillars must be thick; second, the center section must be boxy and rectilinear; and finally, the hood must have a very short overhang, as close as modern safety engineering will permit to the flat front of the original buses.

2011 Volkswagen Bulli Concept live photos

2011 Volkswagen Bulli Concept live photos

Enlarge Photo

The smaller size of an electric traction motor, compared to the height of an engine-and-transmission combination, Neusser said, would help achieve that last design point.

Any all-electric Microbus would still have to have "an attractive cost base," he noted.

MORE: Volkswagen Shows Concept For All-Electric Milano Taxi (Apr 2010)

And whether such a vehicle could still be priced to lure sufficient buyers with a range of 120 miles or more remains a very open question.

Still, with only one all-electric compact van offered by a global maker in any volume--that would be the Nissan e-NV200--the market would seem to be wide open.

In the coming decade, cities across the globe may push to convert some portion of their taxi fleets--which cover far higher annual mileages than private vehicles--to battery-electric propulsion to reduce emission.

And, hey, how cool would it be to hail an all-electric VW Microbus? We'd ride that one for sure.

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