DETROIT -- Volkswagen could launch a self-driving electric minivan in five years if there is enough interest in the retro-styled I.D. Buzz concept, whose design harks back to the iconic hippie-era Microbus but also previews a potential ride-sharing people-mover to challenge ride-hailing companies such as Uber.
VW is presenting the concept at this week's Detroit auto show. It could come as early as 2022 if management signs off on the project, VW brand design chief Klaus Bischoff said.
"We're hoping that showing this will increase the chances of realization," Bischoff told Automotive News Europe at a press event here Sunday on the eve of the show.
The I.D. Buzz is the third concept off the MEB electric car architecture after last year's BUDD-e and I.D. hatchback. Its name is a word play on "bus" and refers to the silent "buzzing" of the drive system.
The concept can seat up to eight people and has a 270-mile (434 km) range under U.S. standards or 600 km (373 miles) under the more generous EU testing cycle.
Bischoff said the MEB's flexibility, with its chocolate bar-style flat battery housed in the floor, finally allowed designers the freedom to recreate the proportions of the original Microbus with its flat nose.
It takes less than 30 minutes to charge the 111 kilowatt-hour battery to 80 percent capacity at a power of 150 kW, and can additionally be recharged wirelessly via induction. An electric motor on each axle means the system can deliver just over 200 horsepower.
The concept also accommodates an electric architecture that allows not just for augmented reality-enhanced heads-up displays, it can also offer piloted driving.
VW claimed the I.D. Buzz is world's first fully autonomous multi-purpose vehicle. A production version could be used by VW's new Moia mobility services division set up to challenge Uber and other ride-hailing companies in the growing car-sharing market add.
The concept can be switched to the fully autonomous "I.D. Pilot" mode by a slight push on the steering wheel, which makes the steering wheel retract into the instrument panel. Drivers can then turn their seats towards the rear, facing their fellow travelers.
Still reeling from the legal aftershocks from its decade-long diesel emissions fraud, Volkswagen aims to sell 1 million battery electric vehicles worldwide by 2025. In the process VW brand CEO Herbert Diess told reporters in November that the brand was reversing its strategy and would no longer offer diesels in the U.S. in the future. "We are making electric mobility the new trademark of Volkswagen," Diess said in a statement.