Some days I dream about driving a zippy two-seater. Others, I long for a camping-friendly family van. And every once in a while, I wish I had a pickup truck that could handle the freight of a Home Depot run. So like most suburban stereotypes, that means I’ve settled for a high-horsepower crossover, a vehicle that does all of these jobs with mediocrity.
But what if there was another way? What if you could buy a car that transformed from car to van to truck, à la Inspector Gadget? That’s the promise of the eBussy, a vehicle that looks something like a VW bus crossed with a USB charger, by the German vehicle manufacturer Electric Brands. Starting at approximately R 320 000 and topping out at R 570 000, it’s a completely customizable modular electric vehicle. You can configure its seats and storage space when you buy it. Or you can swap out those details later by hand, when you bring it home. The eBussy launches in the U.K. next year, assuming that Electric Brands, which has only built scooters to date, can pull it off.
The eBussy offers two styles of chassis—one typical, and one with a higher profile for off-roading—and 10 different body styles. By mixing and matching options, you can create a two-seater or a four-seater with a bench or individual seating and battery capacity that can vary from 200 kilometres to 595 kilometres. The actual vehicle you build can be a pickup truck or a cargo truck or a van or a Jeep-like open-air vehicle or a camper complete with a bed, fridge, TV, freshwater tank, and sink. You can add a solar roof to charge out in the wild, and on every model, you can actually go so far as to slide the steering wheel from one side of the car to the other, because the drive system is fly-by-wire (or controlled by computers rather than mechanical inputs—just like on commercial jets).
Each of these configurations changes your purchase price, but even after you buy the design, you aren’t stuck with it permanently. According to the company, you can change it yourself (details TBD). But you’d need to own multiple components, such as cargo room or seating, to swap them out.
“The eBussy was developed according to the ‘Lego principle’ . . . you can adapt your eBussy easily and quickly and as often as you want to your usage needs,” the company explains on its site. “You do not need any special tools for this, you do not have to have worked at NASA, you just need some help to remove one module and put another on it.”
How can one car manufacturer build so many different vehicles on a single platform? Electric drive trains make it possible. While combustion engines take up a massive block of space in a car, electric vehicles hide tiny motors in each wheel, with small battery packs squeezed in wherever they can fit. Electric vehicles on the road today are still mirroring gas car aesthetics, but they don’t need to.
The eBussy’s design is feasible, and it’s easy to imagine the auto industry copying its approach. More and more, major auto brands are agreeing on shared platforms, with engines, battery technologies, and chassis used between companies in the interest of lowering costs through scaled production. In other words, auto manufacturers are already playing Lego with design, putting what we perceive as unique cars on top of nearly identical foundations.
Furthermore, we’re seeing that consumers demand customization, and the auto industry is just beginning to see how one car can be sold to offer diverse experiences. The new Ford Bronco, brought out of retirement earlier this month, was heralded by many auto critics for its diverse configuration options. Instead of selling you a car, Ford is offering its Broncos as a line of experiences, dubbed names such as Badlands, Outer Banks, and Wildtrak. Each of these Broncos is tweaked for how you’ll use it. One has a waterproof, marine-grade interior that can get as soaked as you like. Another offers suspension that’s thrilled to climb through mounds of mud. Yes, inside all this adventure branding is the sort of tiered entry-to-premium pricing model we’ve come to expect from auto manufacturers, but it’s not quite as simple as good, better, best. The Bronco urges you to specialise toward specific adventures.
eBussy offers even more customization options than the Bronco, while also offering buyers the option to change their configuration on their own after purchase.
Studying the eBussy’s design options, which also offer pull-out drawers for small cargo, it seems that this EV is being designed in part for those last-mile delivery services from companies like Amazon, and in part to any mainstream consumer who wants to buy a van, car, or truck. That approach makes the eBussy’s potential addressable market more or less unlimited, in theory. While preorders are open now for buyers in the U.K., eBussy will still need to prove that it’s capable of actually building not just a great electric vehicle, but a great van, a great truck, and a great camper, too.
Article originally published on fastcompany.com