Volkswagen, reeling from its emissions scandal, unveiled Tuesday what it surely hopes will be a symbol of brighter days ahead: An electric Microbus concept called the BUDD-e.
The German automaker says the BUDD-e could get up to 373 miles of range on a single charge, while the battery system would reach up to 80% charge in a mere 15 minutes (that range estimate is based on a European metric that's on the generous side).
The bus is built around what Volkswagen is calling the "Modular Electric Toolkit." That's essentially a method of building electric cars that keeps all the important make-car-go stuff as close to the front and rear as possible, creating more space for human and non-human cargo alike.
That's all fine and dandy. Where the BUDD-e really shines is in the design, both exterior and interior. On the outside, you've got a sleek rethink of VW's classic vans. Inside, Volkswagen's engineers have blended the infotainment systems and driver dashboards on an "information hub" that resembles a panel from Star Trek's Enterprise.
The BUDD-e concept is already being well-received among automotive fans. But it's hard to predict if it will be enough to resurrect Volkswagen's tarnished brand. U.S. sales of the automaker's cars fell 25% in November after it was revealed the company was cheating on emissions tests with millions of its diesel vehicles. Another 9% drop followed in December, while the U.S. Justice Department this week joined a long list of parties seeking financial damages over the fiasco.
Still, there is opportunity in crisis, as the old saying goes. Volkswagen's smartest move may be going all-in on automotive's greener, cleaner future. The BUDD-e looks to be a step in that direction.