Return of the Thing? VW Considers Reviving the Kübelwagen as an EV ""

By | October 23, 2017

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1973 VW Thing

The Thing from the City of Wolves might be coming back to town. Just in time for Halloween, Volkswagen brand boss Herbert Diess said he’s interested in bringing back the Kübelwagen, the German military equivalent of the Willys Jeep. Diess suggested last week that the company’s upcoming MEB (Modular Electrification Toolkit) battery-electric architecture could be the perfect platform to revive some favorites from Volkswagen history.

With utilitarian vehicles surging in popularity in both the new-car and classic-car markets, Diess said, he is looking at reviving both the dune buggy and the Kübelwagen but not the amphibious Schwimmwagen, which might pose particular problems for the favored EV format. Replacing the Beetle might be the hottest topic of conversation at Volkswagen, but, Diess suggested, the market could be better for a retro utility vehicle.

Surges in interest in its H van and Méhari models tempted Citroën to revive its Méhari as an electric concept, and Diess thinks Volkswagen could do something similar.

“MEB is flexible—rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive—and we have so many emotional concepts,” Diess told us. “I don’t know if you remember the Kübelwagen. This Thing is a nice car. Then there are all the buggies, the kit cars. We have the bus. We have the various derivatives of the bus. We have so many exciting concepts in our history that we don’t have to do a Beetle.” VW has already confirmed plans for an MEB-based electric van inspired by its original Microbus and has shown the I.D. Buzz concept version (below).

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz concept

Volkswagen has built two generations of the Kübelwagen, including the World War II–era Type 82, which we assume Diess isn’t referring to, since it was built by Volkswagen but also by Mercedes-Benz, Opel, and Tatra. Wolfsburg designed the friendlier Type 181 for the West German military and built it from 1968 to 1983. The United States scored a civilian version of the rear-wheel-drive four-door convertible, dubbed the Thing (top photo), in a two-year burst starting in 1973. It was called the Trekker in the U.K., the Safari in Mexico, and the Kurierwagen in Germany. While the original, Porsche-designed Type 82 was built on the original Beetle architecture, the later Kübelwagen employed the platform of the Karmann Ghia coupe because it was wider.

2016 VW Beetle

2016 Volkswagen Beetle

All of that, though, leaves a major question still in the air: Will Volkswagen replace the current Beetle? If it does, the probability is that the next Beetle will be an electric car, but Volkswagen would first need to decide if it’s worth repeating at all after two lukewarm modern iterations of the classic model.

“No decision yet,” Diess admitted with regard to future Beetle plans. “The next decision on the electric cars will be, ‘What kind of emotional concepts do we need?’ [A decision] might happen next year. This Beetle won’t go electric; the next one might, if there is a next one. We have a good chance on the electric side to do derivatives and emotional derivatives. It’s probably more efficient to do so than in [internal combustion] cars.”

“We could [build an electric Beetle], because it is rear-wheel drive, no grille. If we wanted to do a Beetle electrically, it would be much better than the current car. Much closer to the history of the Beetle. [But] I think the Microbus is a much better emotional concept for the brand than the Beetle. If you go to California, everybody would say it’s the bus.”


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