This month’s Geneva Auto Show saw some very exciting developments. Lamborghini’s Aventador made its first public appearance. The Koenigsegg Ariga R showed up, ski box and all. Pagani used their Huarya to distribute seizures to several men claiming to be Richard Hammond. But there was group of enthusiasts noticeably absent from Volkswagen’s booth. I don’t mean beanie-sporting espresso addicts swarming around a new Golf. And I don’t mean teenage girls giving the new (yet unrevealed) Beetle hugs. I mean hippies, who should have flocked like birds of a feather to the VW’s new microbus concept, the Bulli.
A polished, chrome-bedecked hatchback with a tall roof, the Bulli debuted as an all-electric people mover capable of a theoretical 186-mile range. Top speed? Chill. Zero-sixty? Who cares, man? It is, after all, a new microbus. It sports a giant VW hubcap on its nose. The bi-color paint scheme pays homage to the three-buttons-open-shirt-color pattern of the original microbuses, which are famous for travelling in long convoys behind Grateful Dead tours. (If you don’t know who the Grateful Dead are, you’ll recognize the microbus as the Dharma van from Lost.)
And that’s about where the similarities end. Gone is the third row of seats. The Bulli optimistically seats six, unless you’ve just left a Chinese buffet. Gone are the sliding side doors. These open just like any Scion xB doors. Funny I should mention that? No. Because that’s what the new Bulli “microbus” most resembles.
Just last week, ze Germans let slip that the Bulli would head to production. Their target in America? You guessed it- the Scion xB. I’m guessing they’ll flesh out the extreme minimalist interior and lose the iPad 2 that comes in the dash. They’ll also probably add some way to shift the vehicle from park to drive, but I’m not holding my breath for a stick. I’m guessing, however, that the biggest change will be under the stubby little hood, and that it will come with a standard, gas-burning engine.
What we’ll end up with is another xB. And frankly, VW already has their teeth in the American hipster crowd with their sporty little hatches, mentioned above. Volkswagen has made the classic mistake of trying to be all things to all people, and has ended up with a rather awkward car that isn’t really suited to anyone.
The fact is, the Bulli would do better in America as a van. And it isn’t because hippies used the original microbuses for apartments and needed the extra seats for picking up hitchhikers. It’s because there’s an untapped American market for an exciting van. Volkswagen’s Routon minivan hasn’t fared well in the American market, and parents bored with minivans but needing the space would buy up the unique-looking Bulli like the day-old bread at Wal-Mart. If you’re part of that demo and don’t believe me, look up the microbus concept VW showed way back in ’01, then tell me under polygraph that you wouldn’t consider it over the daubs of beige on the market today.
The Bulli is a good-looking and creative little car, it just shouldn’t be a car.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.