The ID.4's great grandfather was an electric bus.
The latest electric vehicles are proving to Americans that electricity can be a substitute for gasoline. Demonstrating EV's capabilities, the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 stretched its legs on a 6,700-mile road trip across America before surviving 840 miles of grueling off-road racing in Mexico. The ID.4's 260-mile official driving range should prove plenty for most drivers' daily commutes, and this usability is even more impressive when compared to an EV from more than 40 years ago.
At this year's Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, VW wanted to place a special emphasis on EVs past, present, and future. In addition to the company's normal classic vehicle fleet featuring models like an original Beetle and Thing, VW brought out one of its most special heritage models, the 1979 Elektrotransporter.
The Elektrotransporter was one of ten previously used by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga to test how an EV could stand up to work-fleet conditions. VW converted several Type 2 buses to electric power, mounting 72 lead-acid battery cells in a 1,874-pound pack under the floor. These batteries were connected directly to the stock transmission, which was then locked in second gear driving the rear wheels.
With only 23 horsepower and a significant weight gain from the batteries, the Elektrotransporter was painfully slow with a claimed 48-mph top speed, though NASA could only get it to 44 mph. While the EV technology is crude when viewed next to the ID.4, the Elektrotransporter packed some groundbreaking innovations, like an early regenerative braking system. The vehicle was reliable, too, racking up 54,000 miles during an 18-month test period.
"We are proud to have brought a signature Volkswagen mix of heritage and innovative vehicles to Amelia Island that demonstrates more than six decades of EV development," said Mark Gillies, Senior Manager, Product, and Technology Communications, Volkswagen of America. "In its era, the Elektrotransporter drove the streets of Chattanooga, helping to establish key technologies like regenerative braking that EV customers now take for granted. The enthusiasm we saw this weekend reinforces our view that EVs are the future of personal transportation."
Volkswagen of America purchased the Elektrotransporter last year from a private owner and plans to restore it to working condition and preserve it as a piece of EV history.