Did you know? VW already built an electric van in the 1990s (and it lived on an island)

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This image was taken in October 1992 - VW Elektro Multivan and Golf CitySTROMer
This image was taken in October 1992 - VW Elektro Multivan and Golf CitySTROMer
  • Volkswagen built specialist electric vehicles for the German government to test in the 1990s.
  • These vehicles were used on a resort island to provide emissions-free mobility solutions.
  • In the 1990s, these vehicles could cover a maximum of 80 odd kilometres between recharges. 
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24

Volkswagen has kept no secret that its future lies in the electrification of its vehicles. We've already had a chance to experience the Volkswagen eGolf and the ID.3, and next year Volkswagen South Africa will bring a fleet of ID.4s to South Africa for ongoing testing and evaluation. 

Volkswagen South Africa's spokesmen say the company is in, however, no rush to market. Wolfsburg's local arm will continually evaluate the South African market regarding its readiness for EVs alongside mainstream customer appetite for electric cars. Globally, the company forges ahead with new EV model introductions.

We're looking forward to the next vehicle on VW's launch horizon, arguably, the most, as it's the new ID.Buzz, and it pays tribute to the original Volkswagen microbus, albeit with contemporary styling and an all-electric powertrain. According to VW's latest reports, the ID.Buzz will offer seating for seven, and it will come with at least 225kW on tap to ensure you can move with gusto. 

What type of EV appeals to you most? Sportscar like the new BMWi4, a multi-purpose vehicle like the new ID.Buzz, or all-electric bakkie like the Ford F-150 Lightning? Let us know in the comments, or please send us an email here.

VW Elektro Multivan and Golf CitySTROMer
VW Elektro Multivan and Golf CitySTROMer charging up.

Not the first electric bus from Volkswagen

While we're very excited about the ID.Buzz and how that vehicle will transform the multi-purpose vehicle segment, we were surprised to learn about Volkswagen's attempt at building an electric van in the 1990s during a recent private virtual presentation on electric cars and the impact these vehicles will have on the planet in the coming decade.

Volkswagen's road to making electric vehicles such as the forthcoming ID.Buzz bus a reality for consumers, stretches back many decades, from the beginnings of the auto industry, in fact, to its current crop of global electric cars like the Volkswagen ID.4 SUV that we'll be evaluating in South Africa in 2022.

One of the side roads Volkswagen took on its path to electrification involved converting an entire island to electric transportation and creating a Rad-era VW van. In the early 1990s, the German government asked automakers to push the boundaries of what was possible with current day EV technology.

Germany set up a long-term test on Rügen, the country's largest island and a resort destination in the Baltic Sea, to create a real-world environment for testing EVs. The island provided daily driving demands that were well suited to the limited EV ranges of the time, and as much of its electricity came from wind power; the vehicles had a low carbon footprint.

Various German automakers contributed 60 custom-built EV models to the experiment between 1992 and 1996, with 19 cars and vans from Volkswagen.

Volkswagen made nine Golf III CitySTROMer models available – an evolution of prior EV prototypes that had several innovations, including an alternating-current synchronous motor, flexible battery location and the ability to use a variety of battery chemistries, from lead-acid gel to sodium-nickel chloride.

VW ID.Buzz
VW ID.Buzz is expected to make its global debut in 2022 in production form.

Limited range, but it worked at that time

Ten Volkswagen Elektro-Multivans used similar technology, updating Volkswagen's work since the early 1970s exploring electric cargo movers. Due to low energy density, the CitySTROMer vehicles only made about 16kW of power, with a range of roughly 88 kilometres – which, while limited, was enough to handle daily driving around the island.

Over three years, residents of Rügen put tens of thousands of kilometres on the CitySTROMer and electric van, but the experiment demonstrated the need for longer-range batteries, more engine power and charging infrastructure. All of those challenges will have far more advanced answers when the production version of the ID.Buzz electric van debuts in the not-too-distant future, according to Volkswagen.

If you're interested in experiencing a Volkswagen electric vehicle, you are advised to contact your local Volkswagen dealer to ask about the eGolf test drive programme and the ID.3 test drive programme for customers that will be running around the country throughout 2022. Volkswagen South Africa will be using these test drive opportunities to talk to potential customers about the vehicles, the technology underneath them and how the dealer network will evolve to accommodate a growing car parc of EVs in South Africa.

VW ID.Buzz
VW ID.Buzz interior could be very different from past microbus interiors.
VW ID.Buzz interior
What the inside the new VW ID.Buzz could look like.

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