When it was announced that the new VW Microbus-based van concept would be revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show, it should have been obvious that the van would be a piece of overwrought electronic gadgetry. But still, I held out a little hope that the company was finally bringing back a (relatively) affordable and efficient people/gear hauler, one that would be ideal for surf tripping.
This week, the world’s second-largest automaker rolled out the “Budd-e”—an all-electric toy that looks like something from a Pixar cartoon made manifest in steel and plastic and silicon. Yes, it has an all-wheel drive electric powerplant which is pretty cool, and supposedly will run 250 miles or so on a charge. BUT! The interior is lifted from the special-effects extras bin left behind by the crew of the new Star Trek movies. The gauge clusters are just three iPad-looking tablets stacked together. You open the doors and the tailgate with swiping gestures, a luxury (?) that I can’t possibly assume is in demand. And boy is the Budd-e ready for the Internet-of-Things revolution. Approaching your house in this thing sets off a bunch of sensors and, if your home life is set up for it, your TV turns on, the AC starts blowing, your fridge makes ice cubes, the stereo cranks up, and Rosie the Robot-Maid starts wheeling around the place vacuuming (Jetsons joke).
Anyway, it sucks.
What also sucks is that car companies no longer build simple, cheap, reliable vans or pickups or wagons anymore. Oh sure, you could drop $40k on a Tacoma, or $50k on a Volvo wagon, or $60k on a Sprinter van, but holy hell, that’s a HUGE amount of money for a vehicle that you aren’t going to also live inside for the next 20 years (if you are going to do that, by all means, spring for the Sprinter).
All of the nostalgic charm of the VW Microbus that the Budd-e abomination is trading on was wrapped up in the simplicity. You and a friend could practically pick up and carry the old 1.6-liter motor over to a soft Mexican blanket laid down under a palm tree if you needed to work on the thing. Even the Vanagon, which VW stopped making for the U.S. market in the 1990s, was a relatively simple affair. But once the $70k Eurovan debuted, suddenly, the VW van was no longer a vehicle you could really afford to get sandy, or a vehicle that you could afford to own just for its beach capabilities.
Listen, VW: nobody wanted a van like the Budd-e, least of all surfers who have no use for complicated touch screens when our hands are covered in sand and grime. What we wanted was an updated version of a cheap van that we could beat to hell and melt wax in without panicking.
I could actually deal with your diesel-gate scandal, VW. As despicable as that is, at least it was done in the name of heightened performance; those TDIs are awesome to drive. But the Budd-e is just offensive to van enthusiasts everywhere, and in particular, to surfing van enthusiasts who are still doomed to prowling Craigslist for pricey, used Vanagons. Thanks, but no thanks.