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CES 2016| After The Big Scandal, VW Introduced Its Flagship Smart Car Concept

It’s never too late to make things right. — Anonymous

2015 was not a good year for VW at all. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many VW cars sold in America had a “defeat device” (specialized software) in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested and change the performance accordingly to improve results. To fix this problem, VW will recall 8.5 million cars in Europe, including 2.4 million in Germany and 1.2 million in the UK, and 500,000 in the US as a result of this emissions scandal.

And while the new year has just departed, the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil suit against VW seeking up to $48 billion in damages under the Clean Air Act. This could put an end to one of Germany’s biggest carmakers.

But there is still something that gives us a faith in VW. It’s called BUDD-e.

At CES 2016, VW presented an incredibly smart car concept, which applies the new modular “MEB” electric car architecture. This new platform uses a thin, flat battery pack that occupies most of the floor space between the front and rear axles, providing all-wheel-drive motivation with a claimed top speed of 93 mph. Its 101 kWh battery provides a range of up to 232 miles. The platform maximizes interior space, with HVAC equipment nestled ahead of the front axle and the wheelbase stretched to the far corners of the 181-inch overall length of the vehicle.

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VW says that with the BUDD-e, it is demonstrating what electric mobility could be like by the year 2019. The MEB platform will enable a production car to have pure electric range that is on par with today’s petrol-powered cars, and the time required to charge the batteries to 80% of capacity is anticipated to be reduced to about 15 minutes by then.

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Inside, VW went all-out with the future-tech, which you might only see in sci-fi movies. Instead of a traditional dashboard divided into driver-facing gauges and central infotainment system, BUDD-e’s instrument panel is one wide expanse of digital readout. A small segment to the left of the steering wheel shows vehicle status and trip data; directly above the steering column, an new map and navigation instructions that VW called eD are highlighted; to the driver’s right, the largest area shows infotainment, weather, communications, and more. Because this is the future, all that display real estate is controlled by using touch, gesture, or voice control—for example, back-seat passengers can verbally request a climate control adjustment specific to their seat. Meant to encourage a social environment, the seats of the main part of the bus face toward each other.  

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It gets even more futuristic: the multifunction steering wheel works like a smartphone touchscreen, with a smooth surface and haptic feedback replacing physical buttons. The door-mounted side-view mirrors have been replaced with cameras feeding to internal display screens; instead of door handles, BUDD-e uses infrared sensors to read a passenger’s hand gestures (or in the case of the tailgate, foot gestures) to open or close the doors. Oh, the doors can also be opened via voice command.

But what makes BUDD-e an interesting concept is the Internet-of-thing features. You will be able to access your home to perform tasks such as controlling the air con, turning lights on, or simply checking if the kids are home yet. In cooperation with LG, the BUDD-e can obtain information from a smart fridge, smart home stuff, you get the drift.

There’s plenty more it can do, but I like this one the best. BUDD-e can remind its occupants if they have forgotten anything in the car, via their smartphone or wearables. The “Home-Net don’t forget” app has an inventory list where one can see everything that has been put in the car — and if they are still there.

The amazingly smart “Reminder” serves way beyond your imagination. One of the examples is that it can notice which particular items should be remembered. If rain is forecast, BUDD-e will notify the driver if there isn’t an umbrella in the car. Relevant items are fitted with a transmitter (in the form of a small sticker) in advance, making it possible for the car to locate them. No more swearing under your breath and turning back.

VW reckons that in the near future, consumables such as windshield wiper blades, or other kinds of personal items could not only be ordered from the car, but also delivered to it using a “Drop Box” that is accessible from the outside. The vehicle “reads” an access code to open the Drop Box for authorized parcel delivery services, using a digital key, essentially making the vehicle a mobile mailbox.

VW has done a great job introducing the BUDD-e concept. However, its future is still a big question. As angry as I am towards their scandal, I’m hoping for a second chance for VW to make this brilliant e-concept a reality.

Connie loves to hear your feedback, so feel free to email her or add her on LinkedIn.

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