Volkswagen E-Bugster: Will VW’s retro ride go electric when it loses its top?

Volkswagen E-Bugster top viewVolkswagen is electrifying its redesigned Beetle with a battery-powered concept car. The E-Bugster debuted at January’s Detroit auto show with a chopped roof and “speedster” styling. Now, a convertible version is charging up VW’s booth at the Beijing Motor Show. The E-Bugster convertible previews the upcoming Beetle convertible, and hints at future electric Volkswagens.

To make a Beetle into a Bugster, VW did more than cut off the roof. The E-Bugster’s windshield is lower by 3.5 inches, while a tonneau cover with headrests smoothes out the area behind the seats. Both features probably won’t make it to the production Beetle convertible for reasons of practicality. No one wants bugs in their teeth, and the tonneau cover will have to go in order to make room for rear seats and a folding top.

The E-Bugster also has LED daytime running lights, which should save some energy while giving the retro Beetle a more techie look. The 20-inch chrome wheels are a bit excessive for a normal car, but maybe VW will make them an option.

Sporty styling cues aside, the E-Bugster is more of a cruiser than a sports car. It is powered by a 114 horsepower electric motor, which gets it from 0-60 mph in 10.9 seconds. A Nissan Leaf will hit 60 mph in 9.4 seconds, and it’s a five-door hatchback. A 28.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack stores electricity, giving the E-Bugster a 110-mile range. That means it can drive slightly farther than a Leaf. The E-Bugster can be charged in as little as 35 minutes from a special DC charger, or longer (probably a few hours) from a conventional AC outlet. The car also recovers energy during braking and coasting.Volkswagen E-Bugster side view

With no roof, more people will be peering into the E-Bugster’s interior. VW added lots of white trim to match the car’s white exterior. It makes the interior look a bit like an Apple Store (or a Chevy Volt) and probably get dirty very quickly. The layout is essentially the same as a regular Beetle’s, with added readouts for driving range, battery state, and charging state.

A production Beetle convertible will arrive at some point, but will it be powered by electricity? Volkswagen has no current plans to produce the E-Bugster, but it is developing electric cars. The company recently started a test program with electric Golf hatchbacks in major American cities. VW wants to collect real-world data on electric cars, and the way consumers use them, before committing to a production model.