1973 Volkswagen Thing
As it gears up for volume production of battery-electric cars starting in 2019, Volkswagen Group spends a lot of time talking to the press about its future plans for the vehicles.
We already know its first electric car that year will be the compact hatchback Volkswagen ID, and the first to be sold in the U.S. will be the VW ID Crozz utility vehicle, in 2020.
More than a year ago. Green Car Reports suggested the next generation of the VW Beetle might even go electric.
DON'T MISS: Could future VW Beetle return to rear (electric) powertrain? (Oct 2016)
That report was confirmed more than a year later, this November, in an article by the British magazine Autocar, which attributed a statement that VW was "actively considering" such a plan to Volkswagen brand chairman Herbert Diess.
All indications are that a new electric Beetle hasn't yet been approved for production.
If it were, it almost certainly wouldn't arrive before 2023, perhaps later, after production of the Volkswagen ID Buzz electric Microbus—in both passenger and commercial truck versions—starts in 2022.
Volkswagen ID Buzz electric bus concept with 1964 VW Microbus
But a couple of weeks before the November Autocar article, another publication quoted Diess as suggesting a different retro electric alternative.
Enthusiast magazine Car and Driver interviewed Diess, who mused that perhaps the VW Type 181 or Kübelwagen, "the German military equivalent of the Willys Jeep," might offer better commercial possibilities than the Beetle if revived.
U.S. drivers of a certain age may recall the U.S. Volkswagen lineup briefly included a version of the light-duty German military vehicle, sold here from 1972 through 1974 as the "Volkswagen Thing."
Built on the floorpan of the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle, the bare-bones four-door convertible was one step away from a dune buggy and, like the Jeep Wrangler, was sometimes be seen on roads sans top, doors, and sometimes even most of the seats.
The Type 181 was produced from 1968 through 1983, and carried different names in various countries: the Kurierwagen in West Germany, the Safari in Mexico and South America, the Trekker in the United Kingdom, and the Pescaccia in Italy.
It was built not only in Wolfsburg, West Germany, but also in Mexico and Indonesia.
1960 Volkswagen Beetle from the Jerry Seinfeld collection - Image via Gooding & Company
A revived Volkswagen Type 181, or VW Thing in the U.S., might offer better sales than an electric Beetle because it could be sold as a sport-utility vehicle roughly akin to the new Jeep Wrangler.
That icon was entirely redesigned for 2018, and received by far the most media attention of any vehicle that debuted at the recent Los Angeles auto show.
We already know the MEB electric-car architecture that will underpin the three Volkswagen ID vehicles shown to date, along with a sedan and other variants to come, has been designed for all-wheel drive.
That will be offered in the Volkswagen ID Crozz, which will have the standard rear motor that powers the ID hatchback, but also a second motor between the front wheels for AWD on demand.
It's been more than 40 years since VW has had anything akin to the tough, open-air, four-wheel-drive utilities represented originally by not only the Jeep Wrangler but the International Scout, the first-generation Ford Bronco, and others.
So far, the Bollinger B1 electric utility vehicle seems to be the best take on an all-electric version of those vehicles. Whether VW follows suit remains to be seen.
Diess did note to Car and Driver that VW was unlikely to revive a different version of the Kübelwagen: the amphibious Type 166 World War II version known as the Schwimmwagen.
While the idea of an amphibious all-electric convertible from one of the world's largest automakers has huge car-geek appeal, it appears the commercial potential for such a car would be low.