DETROIT — Volkswagen AG is out to capture the emotion of the original Microbus with its new concept vehicle, and designers are turning to plastic to help grab aficionados.
The Microbus, which was introduced Jan. 8 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, features a floorboard that uses urethane over aluminum. The materials are designed to play off the cool texture of the metal and soft touch of the plastic.
"This is one of a hundred different ideas which are in this," said Rudiger Folten, a member of the Volkswagen design team based in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The concept vehicle is not guaranteed to go into production. The company gave engineers and designers a free rein to their imagination, Folten said. Volkswagen will test consumer reaction to the urethane and aluminum floor, as well as other features.
"It's the idea of a designer to have this effect or that effect," he said. "We're playing with it."
Volkswagen produced its first Microbus in 1950. It reached cult status through the 1960s and 1970s.
"The Microbus was no van, no [sport utility vehicle], no hybrid," said Jens Neumann, a member of the Volkswagen management board. "It was in perfect harmony with the people who drove it."
Like the "new Beetle," the concept Microbus retains much of the look of the original vehicle, but with extensive interior redesign, including video screens for passengers, electronic seat adjustments and more overhead lights.
Consumer reaction will play a part in any future design, he noted. Volkswagen once tried a concept teak floor in a vehicle. It did not take with the public.
"Wood is good for boats," Folten said. "Not so good for cars.
"Designers are always playing with new materials, but it will take time to reach the customers and introduce them to the new materials."
Volkswagen is not alone in using plastic flooring systems at the auto show. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s Model X concept vehicle — a cross between a small SUV and a truck — uses plastic extensively. Designers were looking for a material that would put up with both the cleaning habits and lifestyle of an active man in his early 20s.
"Have you seen a college frat house?" quipped Eric Schumaker, exterior design manager at Honda R&D Americas Inc. in Torrance, Calif., and design project leader for the Model X.
"I can see this thing being like a Little Tikes bucket inside. You can't destroy it — floors, dash, seats are all wipe-and-wash."
The company has not earmarked a specific material it would use if the concept became reality, instead referring to it as "SKP" for "some kind of plastic."