BELMONT, California — Volkswagen's innovation outpost here in Silicon Valley has built a one-off battery-electric concept vehicle from an almost 60-year-old 11-window Microbus to showcase some of the automaker's latest toys that are being developed for its future mass-market vehicles.
The Type 20 concept uses the body of a 1962 Type 2 Microbus as its base, but the underpowered gasoline engine and powertrain have been replaced with a 120-hp electric motor and small 10-kilowatt-hour battery with a 2,500-watt onboard charger. A pneumatic suspension system was borrowed from Porsche to adjust the vehicle's ride height via software, including when the driver approaches the vehicle.
It's in the Microbus' onboard electronics system where things get interesting. For example, the Type 20 includes an experimental facial recognition system that employs a high-definition camera in the driver's-side door window to allow access. Three integrated directional microphones, including one on the exterior, allow the driver to interact with the Type 20 similar to how one might interact with a digital assistant. On the exterior, the vehicle responds to driver commands via flashes of its LED headlights and its light-up VW logo.
But in keeping with the Microbus' historical role in California's 1960s counterculture, it's the dashboard that's really far out. There, designers have integrated a Looking Glass II holographic display, generating 3D images that can be viewed without the need for special glasses.
"The Type 20 is a fantastic example of how we celebrate our heritage while striving to advance our technology," said Nikolai Reimer, senior vice president in charge of Volkswagen's newly rebranded Innovation and Engineering Center California, formerly known as the automaker's Electronics Research Laboratory. The Type 20 will remain on display here with other historic VW models and concept vehicles.