September 1st, 2020 by Steve Hanley
Germans have a reputation for being some of the best engineers on the planet. In general, they are not known for their humor, however. Nevertheless, there is a group of folks within the Volkswagen Group who do seem to appreciate a bit of whimsy now and then. When Porsche needed a fast chase car to support its Paris to Dakar rally team, they shoehorned a Porsche Turbo powertrain into the back of an otherwise stock VW microbus, creating perhaps the fastest version of that vehicle ever made. And last year at the annual Pebble Beach concours event, they brought along the ID. Buggy, a modern day take on the iconic Myers Manx dune buggy that was all the rage in America in the 60’s and 70’s.
In 1969, when Europe was struggling to create a modern day version of the stalwart World War II Jeep, the German military prevailed upon Volkswagen to create the Type 181, a bare bones vehicle based on the Type 1 drivetrain and the Type 2 rear suspension used in the Transporter. It meet the military’s need for cheap, reliable, and durable transport and a civilian version was released in 1971 for sale in Europe and Mexico. The Mexican version was sold under the Safari name. The following year, the Type 181 went on sale in the United States and was known simply as the Thing. According to Hagerty, the Thing was sold in the US through 1975 when it was withdrawn from the market because of new safety standards. It continued to be sold in other markets until 1980.
Now according to AutoWeek, Volkswagen has filed for a trademark in Europe for the name “e-Thing,” which suggest an electric version of the car based on the MEB chassis may be in the planning stage somewhere within the vast Volkswagen Group empire. Or not. In May, VWIDTalk revealed the company had filed for trademarks on the names e-Beetle, e-Kubel, and e-Golf Classic.
Volkswagen tells AutoWeek it trademarks names for all sorts of things and to not read too much into it. Often companies will trademark names simply to keep others from using them. You may remember recently Tesla was mightily annoyed to find Ford had trademarked the name Model E before Tesla got around to it, forcing Tesla to call its smaller sedan the Model 3 instead.
Is there an e-Thing in the company’s future? Probably not. It’s hard to see how the company could make a business case for such a low volume car. Sadly, that probably means the outrageously fun to drive ID. Buggy is also little more than a one-off car for the international show circuit. But what all this name game does show is that once a company has an electric skateboard fully developed, almost anything can go on top of it, which is precisely what Canoo is planning to do with its proprietary skateboard — putting what it calls “top hats” on top.
The whole thing harks back to the golden age of automobiles when coach builders used to manufacture custom bodies based on production chassis from established manufacturers for their wealthy clients who desired something a little different from what ordinary people drove. Safety regulations probably preclude such coach builders thriving again but anything is possible in the electric car era — even an MEB based e-Thing sitting in the garages of certain customers who prefer not to drive ordinary cars.
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