FRANKFURT: Seventy years after its first model rolled off the factory line, Volkswagen is reinventing the VW bus, symbol of the hippy movement, for today’s climate-conscious generation — but some of its former afficionados remain to be convinced.
The German automaker will on Wednesday evening unveil the camper’s latest iteration, known as the ID.Buzz, part of the flagship ID line with which Volkswagen is leading a multi-billion-euro charge into the electric car market.
Reviving the “icon” was a “priority”, group CEO Herbert Diess said recently in a question-and-answer session on the online forum Reddit.
The new model, with its curvy resemblance to the original VW campers that had their hey-day in the 60s and 70s, was a “turning point” for Volkswagen, according to German car market expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer.
Alongside the eye-catching passenger bus, Volkswagen will also present a “particularly important” cargo model with a potentially larger market, Dudenhoeffer says.
The design classic was the inspiration of Dutch importer Ben Pon, whose eye was caught by an employee-built transport vehicle, when he visited the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg in 1947.
Following his eureka moment, Pon drafted the first plans and convinced VW to start production in March 1950, christening its second model after the Beetle.
The chubby camper, a symbol of liberty and free-thinking, was particularly successful in the United States, where it was embraced by the Californian surfer community.
The bus has become a pop culture mainstay, transporting Scooby-Doo through his adventures, as well as the cast of the cult independent film “Little Miss Sunshine”.
Volkswagen is hoping to build on the camper’s positive image. The bus which “contributed to the history of the flower power movement” is now the car “for the Fridays for Future generation” and “hippies of the climate crisis”, according to Dudenhoeffer.
Winning over classic van-owners to the new electric model however might prove to be a little harder.
The ID.Buzz had “taken on the V-shape” on the bonnet of the original T1 camper, says Melanie Wolf, 33, member of a VW Bus-lovers club in Bavaria.
With her partner Tobias Toplak, 43, she regularly hits the open road in her 1973 camper van model, most recently taking it on a tour of Norway.
“I am interested to see how Volkswagen pulls off the mash-up between the hipster world and the ‘Bulli’ mindset,” says Tobias, using the camper’s affectionate German nickname.
The spirit of “liberty and independence” on four wheels was difficult to match with the limited autonomy offered by electric motors, which need to be recharged, he says.
While there are no official figures, the ID.Buzz’s range has been estimated at about 400 kilometres (250 miles) by the German motoring association ADAC.
“In the most beautiful places, when you spend the night in the middle of nowhere, there won’t be charging points even in another 20 years,” says Roland Graebner, 52, who owns a quartet of old campers with which he has “crossed Europe”.
The fossil fuel-powered models “are just so flexible”, his partner Britta Kellermann, 53, says, even though she finds the electric model “fascinating”.
With the ID.Buzz “the adventures you can have will certainly be different”, concludes Hans Toma, 62, proud owner of a T2 camper from the late-70s.