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VW’s Original Electric Microbus

by Green Car Journal EditorsJanuary 7, 2022
Volkswagen’s coming ID Buzz electric microbus is generating loads of interest. The idea of an electrified reincarnation of the iconic VW bus isn’t new, though, as Volkswagen showed its intentions back in 2007 with its Space Up! Blue microbus concept.

The past few decades have seen plenty of electrified concept vehicles come and go. Many were merely design or technology exercises to generate interest and excitement for an automaker’s future direction. Some concepts led the way to production vehicles in the short years ahead. One that stands out as being well ahead of its time is Volkswagen’s Space Up! Blue concept that was unveiled in 2007. The interesting thing about this concept is that it clearly shared a vision that has led the way to the VW I.D. Buzz concept of today, and the production version of this newest iteration of the microbus that’s being revealed this coming March. This article shares details of VW’s early exploration of an electrified microbus some 15 years ago, presented as it originally ran in Green Car Journal’s Winter 2007 issue.

Take a look at the Volkswagen Space Up! Blue concept car, and the company hopes you’ll conjure up fond memories of the 1950s VW Microbus. With four roof windows, butterfly doors, and a motor at the rear, the concept resembles a modern, 7/8th scale take on the original. But unlike the ‘hippy van’ of yore that came to symbolize the eco lifestyle, this concept’s powerplant actually bears it out.

Replacing the boxer engine is a 60 horsepower electric motor that draws its power from a dozen lithium-ion batteries. These batteries provide enough energy for a 65 mile all-electric trip. After that the Space Up! Blue is either refueled by  plugging into an electrical outlet or seamlessly powered by an on-board fuel cell for another 155 miles. A nice touch is provided by a large solar panel on the roof that feeds up to 150 watts to the battery.

Fueled by an underbody compressed hydrogen tank, the fuel cell is a new high temperature unit developed by VW’s dedicated research center in Germany. A new high temperature membrane and electrodes allow operating temperatures of up to 320 degrees F, far beyond current low temperature fuel cells whose water-containing membranes are limited to water’s boiling point. VW points out that higher  operating  temperatures mean a much simpler cooling and water management system is needed, making the whole system more compact, affordable, and efficient.

The Space Up! Blue concept is the third variant of VW’s new small family of concept cars to appear at major auto shows in just a few months, following the Up! concept  from Frankfurt and the larger Space Up! concept from Tokyo. Despite the resulting unwieldy naming scheme, the concepts collectively offer VW’s vision for a new kind of small car that is cleverly packaged and simply styled. Now with electric drive, plug-in capability, and advanced fuel cell technology, we like where this vision is aimed.