Over the decades, automakers have been fond of rolling out fantasy-in-chrome concept cars, but few have pushed the design and engineering envelope as far as the Volkswagen Space Vizzion Concept making its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.
With its over-the-top design, long-range battery-electric drive and digital technologies that include an augmented-reality touchscreen appearing to float in space, the Space Vizzion show car might seem to have rolled off the set of a nearby movie studio. But VW insists it's more than a sci-fi fantasy. The automaker says a production version will come to market "in late 2021."
Make that multiple versions, as VW plans to tweak the design slightly to reflect regional differences. The wagon-like shape of the concept car would better fit European tastes, while a more SUV-like take on the Space Vizzion Concept would better connect with U.S. buyers, a spokesperson for the company suggested.
How much of the concept will carry over into production remains to be seen.
But VW notes that this is the seventh prototype it has rolled out over the last several years based on the modular, all-electric MEB "architecture," or platform, that is being used for production models such as the ID.3 hatchback that recently went into production for the European market. It also will underpin the ID.4 electric SUV that will follow next year. All told, the MEB will underpin dozens of vehicles that will be sold through the VW, Seat, Skoda and other brands making up the Volkswagen Group.
The flexible architecture can be outfitted with a variety of different all-electric powertrain packages. In the Space Vizzion Concept, a single, rear-mounted motor produces 275 horsepower. But the German automaker says it could readily add a second motor up front, giving the vehicle another 80 horsepower – and all-wheel-drive.
The Vizzion Concept can launch from 0-60, VW claims, in just 5.0 seconds, and top out at 109 mph.
Like virtually all new, long-range battery-electric vehicles, the VW show car mounts both motors and batteries below the load floor. Here, it uses an 82 kilowatt-hour pack that would yield 590 kilometers, or 366 miles, using the European WLTP test cycle. Using the U.S. EPA measurement system, however, that would dip to around 300 miles.
Key elements of the exterior will also show up in production, many of them designed to enhance the Space Vizzion's aerodynamics. Cutting wind drag is critical to enhance range – while also helping cut wind noise and improve performance. Up front, VW designers took a cue from Tesla, essentially eliminating the concept vehicle's grille. There is a small opening for air to flow in from between the headlamps and them pop up and then rush across the hood.
VW has put a premium on lighting, including matrix-style LED headlamps that can be left in bright mode – selectively dimming just select LED elements to avoid blinding oncoming drivers or those in the vehicle ahead.
It's in the cabin that the Space Vizzion concept looks its most, well, spacey. That starts with a minimalist instrument panel that eliminates almost all traditional gauges and controls. Almost all of information that normally would appear on the instrument panel instead is projected, seemingly in space, using an augmented reality head-up display, or AR HUD.
Additionally, says a VW news release, "All information, entertainment, comfort, online functions, and vehicle settings are grouped together on a 15.6-inch touchscreen which appears to hover in mid-air."
Most vehicle functions can be controlled by voice and there are indicator lights that show that the digital assistant has heard and responded to those commands.
One of the advantages of going all electric is that it frees up space normally devoted to the passenger compartment. Some of that can be repurposed, providing what industry designers like to call a "size-class larger" interior, as well as a "frunk," a trunk-like space under the hood.
Even seemingly mundane things like the shifter have been redesigned in Space Vizzion. Here, the driver uses a small switch on the side of the steering column to go from Park to Drive to Neutral and Reverse.
In keeping with recent automotive trends, VW has adopted vegan-style interior materials. It's also eliminated environmentally unfriendly materials like chrome, using a chrome-like paint, instead.
VW is trying to position itself as a leader in the push to electrify its vehicles.
It plans to have nearly 50 all-electric models on sale in various global markets by mid-decade, committing more than $12 billion to that program. But it faces several challenges, including the still-slow market adoption rate of all-electric vehicles.
There's also the fact that there's growing competition for what market there is for battery-cars. As a result, that could make it difficult for manufacturers to achieve the volumes they need to turn a profit.
This year's L.A. Auto Show underscores that challenge, with a broad array of carmakers pulling the wraps off new battery-electric vehicles – as well as conventional and plug-in hybrids. These include new entrants like Bollinger, as well as established brands such as Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Ford, the latter over the weekend unveiling its first long-range all-electric model, the Mustang Mach-E.