This is the Type 20 concept, a VW Microbus that’s been given a very high-tech makeover by the German marque’s American development centre, to mark its 20th birthday.

The Type 20 started life in 1962 as an 11-window Type 2 Microbus. It was completely gutted and an electric powertrain fitted into the engine compartment.

Power comes from a relatively small 10kWh battery pack that drives through a 120hp, 173lb/ft electric motor. Considering that the original flat-four engine produced no more than 50hp, that’s quite a step up.

This is hardly uncharted territory. There are plenty of companies out there that will convert your VW bus/van/camper – or your Beetle – to battery power. But this is the first one done by VW itself.

Underneath, the rather idisyncratic suspension has been swapped out for an active pneumatic set-up developed by Porsche.

There’s some very clever tech inside, too. The doors are unlocked by a facial recognition system linked to a HD camera behind the driver’s door window. The infotainment and various other functions are controlled by a digital assistant that’s said to be much more effective than similar systems currently used in VW Group’s production cars. And the dashboard projects a holographic 3D display.

The bodywork is largely standard, but with LED lighting, tinted windows and a tri-tone white/grey/orange colour scheme.

Perhaps the most disruptive elements of the Type 20, though, are the wheels, which have created using a process called ‘generative design’. It’s a software system into which go various engineering parameters such as how strong the piece needs to be, the space available, the material to be used, how it will be made, how much it can cost and so on. The software then runs through every possible permutation, learning as it goes, to come up with the best solution.

The result is an organic-looking, lattice-like structure that’s stronger and lighter than if the piece was made using conventional methods. Besides the wheels, generative design also created the side mirror mounts, steering wheel and rear seat mounts. We think they look really cool and hope the technique finds its way into production cars.

Click here for more information

By Graham King