To say that Volkswagen has struggled in the last few months would be an understatement. The company and associated automotive brands were found to have intentionally bypassed emissions controls for the vast majority of diesel engine-based vehicles produced since 2008. Since the news broke, the conglomerate has suffered massive turnover in senior leadership and, while penalties for the emissions violations are pending in most countries around the world, VW is moving forward with damage control for its retail brands, starting with an almost name change from “VW” back to its roots: “Volkswagen.”
In parallel to the new marketing spin, the automotive giant appears to be putting an eye towards the future of mobility with several clean energy vehicles in the works in the hopes that the reduced emissions might clean up the air and its image. To further pump its green creds, the concept has solar cells embedded on the roof so it can trickle charge when the sun is shining.
At CES 2016, Volkswagen unveiled the latest iteration of an old concept — the modernized version of the iconic mini-bus which packs some neat tech and tricks. The BUDD-e concept is a zero-emissions, all-electric vehicle with an estimated range of up to 373 miles / 600 kilometers (New European Drive Cycle estimate) and up to 233 miles / 375 kilometers (US EPA drive cycle), powered by an impressive 101 kWh battery pack.
This range is built using a new battery technology that brings much-needed charging capability improvements. Specifically, the battery can be charged up to 80% of capacity in about 30 minutes; marking an operational breakthrough for non-Tesla EVs.
The BUDD-e concept represents the juxtaposition of two Volkswagen worlds — 1) next-generation, production-volume, electric vehicles, and 2) connected, immersive infotainment.
Showing that Volkswagen has an eye towards the future, a new platform for electric vehicles called the Modular Electric Platform (MEB) underpins the new concept. The BUDD-e concept is the first car to use this new platform, which was likely a much larger investment than a single concept and is something that can be directly utilized in a production vehicle vs something that will only ever see the spotlight in a concept.
The development of a dedicated EV platform is consistent with what other forward-looking automotive companies such as Tesla, Chevrolet, and now Faraday Future are doing, which is not a bad list of cleantech peers to be included in.
BUDD-e also kicks infotainment up to the next level, leaning heavily into exploring what’s possible vs just implementing the latest and greatest practical solutions. Stepping inside, the world of the Smart Home and the Smart Car collide, with the car attempting to connect two disparate worlds into a user-friendly interface that lets drivers access their home while on the road.
- Integrated interfaces for both the driver and passenger signal a shift from driver-focused vehicles to entertainment-focused vehicles.
- A focus on intuitive interfaces seamlessly blends the entertainment experience and the driving experience. This obviously becomes more relevant after autonomous driving technology is implemented.
- The BUDD-e concept enables passengers to digitally access their homes and workplaces to perform tasks such as controlling the air conditioning, turning lights on or off, or simply looking to see if their kids are home.
The BUDD-e brings with it a new suite of gesture-based interface technologies for full control of the vehicle’s functions. The new system uses cameras to register if a passenger in the rear compartment wants to open the sliding door, for instance. Gestures have also been implemented in more traditional applications on displays, but this takes it to the next level with projections that can assist the driver and passengers while driving.
A selection of gestures can be used passively as well, without having to queue up the gesture recognition system, which indicates that it is always watching. Some may find this awkward, but it brings with it a whole suite of specialty assistance applications.
While it is clear that Volkswagen is putting significant effort into the new electric platform and the array of innovations piled on top, the fact that all of these technologies are stuck in perpetual concept mode is a bit disheartening. It would be great to see a commitment from the German company to move forward with a production vehicle that makes use of the core electric drive platform.
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