The I.D. Buzz is part of a trio of planned models on the company's new MEB platform, which will rely on what the automaker calls a "chocolate bar battery" to power vehicles with a range of some 270 miles per charge.
The planned batteries are flat and thin, positioned under the floorboard of the vehicles to eat up as little cabin space as possible.
Klaus Bischoff, head of Volkswagen brand design, said the move to an electric powertrain allows for a more open and flexible interior -- again, for either passengers or commercial cargo. But it also permitted designers to give the van something he said has been lacking for decades: "a sympathetic face."
"Our vans had to have grilles to permit air flow for their engines," Bischoff told Automotive News during the Pebble Beach unveil. "Cars have been moving to more aggressive grilles. It's not a friendly look."
He pointed to the grille-less front end of a 1960s-era VW bus on display at the event. It featured a flat, colorful body panel with a large round VW logo instead of a metal grille.
"We want to return to a happy look," he said, "and the EV approach makes that possible."
Earlier in the day, Volkswagen brand CEO Herbert Diess wanted to see for himself just what Americans think of his vans.
Dressed in a sports coat and a typical European raincoat, Diess and an entourage traveled to a nearby California beach to take photos.
The cheerful yellow and gray Microbus concept vehicle, with a surfboard on its roof, was parked at the beach.
Like seagulls appearing at the sight of breadcrumbs, beachcombers walked over to Diess and his entourage and began asking questions, peering inside the soon-to-be-publicized I.D. Buzz, and doing that thing that American consumers tend to do when confronted with a VW bus – they began sharing their personal memories of VW campers in the 1960s and 1970s, of Grateful Dead concerts and friends and family traveling across the country.
Diess, recruited from BMW just two years ago, said it was an eye-opening moment.
"It really is part of the California culture," Diess marveled later.
"We've tried six or seven times to bring back the microbus over the years," he said. "It was never right. When you added an engine to the design, it changed everything.
"But now, with our new platform, as an EV, we can finally design it like it should be."