2023 Volkswagen California concept

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The California by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is a statement, a motoring way of life: a full-value VW bus suitable for every day of the year, which can also be converted into a fully-equipped camper van for adventures of any kind from one minute to the next. It is this versatility that has made the California the world's most successful camper van in its class. And now - after selling 260,000 units of this product line - Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is presenting a world premiere of the new California Concept at the 2023 Caravan Salon trade fair in Düsseldorf. The show vehicle opens a window into the future of this iconic vehicle. It features state-of-the-art powertrains and the latest assist and infotainment systems as well as the next generation of camper van equipment. The VW California Concept is based on the long version of the Multivan launched in 2021, which makes it larger than its predecessor, the California 6.1.

A California for tomorrow

First things first: the California Concept will also be equipped with a pop-up roof at a height of almost two metres. This element is shared by all generations - from the first California launched in 1988 to the California 6.1 of today. While the iconic details have remained the same throughout this time, each generation of this product line has featured brand new developments. And the new Volkswagen California Concept marks yet another major step forwards. Its technical features make it the ideal camper van for the modern age. For the first time, the California Concept offers the advantages of plug-in hybrid technology. The concept vehicle has a hybrid drive on board: with its electric range, it acts as a bridge to the world of electric mobility and is able to deliver emission-free driving for everyday urban life, while also offering huge overall ranges for long journeys. Lithium-ion batteries on board the vehicle provide an almost completely autonomous 12V power supply.

Life in the great outdoors

The camper van's living and kitchen areas have undergone a complete makeover. For the first time, this California is equipped with a sliding door on the kitchen side as well. This allows extended use of the space around the vehicle and adds a new dimension to summer camping in the great outdoors. In the past, all California models based on the Transporter series had a kitchen area stretching down to the B-pillar on the left-hand side and a sliding door on the right-hand side; this door was the main entrance - both in everyday use and when camping. The folding camping chairs, folding table and awning were therefore always also installed on the right-hand side of the vehicle. From now on, the addition of the extra sliding door on the driver side of the California Concept and the kitchen area that now is now located further back in the vehicle - just like in the larger Grand California - mean that the left-hand side of the vehicle can now be opened up when camping. This means the California as a camper van is now more versatile than ever before. As the concept vehicle is fitted with a folding-arm awning on the left and a sun sail on the right, both sides of the vehicle can be protected from either sun or rain. The sun sail can be set up for use in a matter of moments. The awning also comes with an integrated crank, which is stowed safely in the awning housing.

Three-zone concept

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is presenting a three-zone concept for the first time with the show vehicle. These different exterior and interior scenarios for camping and day-to-day driving significantly expand the possibilities for use of the California.

Zone 1 (outside)

With its sliding door, the right-hand side of the vehicle provides a safe point of entry and exit on the pavement-side of the vehicle, just like in the current California 6.1. Loading and unloading the vehicle is therefore also easy and safe. On the campsite, the sun sail turns this area into an open-sided tent, enhancing the feeling of life in the great outdoors.

Zone 2 (inside)

Behind the height-adjustable front seats - which can rotate through 180 degrees - the entire vehicle interior is an ideal passenger compartment for day-to-day driving, offering the familiar flexibility of a Multivan. Compared with the current California, it is fitted with individual seats that are lightweight, removable and very comfortable.

Thanks to these variable seats, boards and bikes can now easily be transported inside the vehicle. When used as a camper van, the Volkswagen California Concept's seating area can quickly be converted into a flat chill-out area or face-to-face seating for joint mealtimes or games. The solid rear bench seat in the California 6.1 therefore makes way for variable individual rear seats with bed functions in the California Concept. The seats are upholstered with a hard-wearing and haptically pleasant fabric in Mélange design.

Zone 3 (outside)

Thanks to the additional sliding door on the driver side and the new concept for the kitchen unit and awning, a new outdoor area is created on the left-hand side of the vehicle - never seen before in conjunction with an outdoor kitchen in any other California. For day-to-day driving, the second sliding door provides an additional point of entry and exit and an additional loading option on the drive at home or at the supermarket. When camping, this also creates a separate area for cooking and eating and long summer evenings spent under the awning. That is because the kitchen - including the sink, sliding induction hob and refrigerator - is now also accessible from outside. In addition to the 230 V induction hob, there is also an integrated gas cooker familiar from previous generations of the van. A 230-volt socket on the outside of the kitchen and an external folding table add the perfect finishing touch for life at the campsite. The kitchen drawers can be accessed from both inside and outside. Another highlight is the compact grill, which is stowed in the kitchen unit and can be conveniently removed from outside the vehicle. Like in the Crafter-based Grand California, the refrigerator offers practical benefits as it can be accessed from outside and is equipped with a drawer: it now takes even less time to serve breakfast. What is more, fresh summer produce can be loaded straight from the shopping trolley into the refrigerator.

The second sliding door also offers a further advantage for right-hand drive markets like the UK, Australia and New Zealand, where users can now enter and exit the California safely on the pavement side. One thing is certain: the dual concept - use as a VW Bus for day-to-day driving and as a versatile camper van for leisure - has now been enhanced even further thanks to the new three-zone concept.

Intelligent interior design, right down to the last detail

The show vehicle's interior design has been perfectly thought-out down to the last detail and offers a host of new features and benefits. It all starts at the front: since the Multivan is fitted with an electronic parking brake instead of a manual brake, the space between the driver and front passenger seat towards the rear can be put to much better use. Practical drawers under the front height-adjustable swivel seats and the individual seats at the rear also offer extra storage space. There is now space behind the driver or front passenger seat for items such as a removable dry-composting toilet. There is also plenty of storage space in the top and bottom kitchen cupboards, which are located behind the refrigerator. In addition, there a separate storage area under the bed extension. The vehicle interior is illuminated in pleasant light by all-round, dimmable background lighting in the roof frame. With a range of colours available, the background lighting on the cupboards can be adjusted to suit individual moods. To create the right atmosphere outside, the kitchen unit has an integrated removable table light to create a cosy feel around the camping table. If more light is needed, the LED lights on the awning arms bathe the vehicle's "terrace" in pleasant light.

Pop-up roof and high-quality roof bed

A VW bus as a California without a classic pop-up roof is inconceivable. So the California Concept is no different. It comprises a lightweight aluminium roof shell and a triple- layered bellows with a large panorama opening at the front. Large windows at the sides provide incredible panoramic views. Like in all California model, the highest position for the pop-up roof is at the front. USB-C sockets and LED lights provide power and light in the pop-up roof. A high-quality roof bed with spring plates also guarantees a good night's sleep beneath the stars.

Controlled by a camper van control unit, smartphone or the infotainment system

The roof's pop-up mechanism is controlled using a vertical, multifunctional tablet on the cupboard at the C-pillar. All of the features relevant for camping can be controlled on the touch display. In addition to the pop-up roof, this includes information on the fresh and waste water levels, the interior lighting functions including background lighting, power supply status, refrigerator and auxiliary heater. All of these functions can also be controlled on a smartphone using the "Cali on Tour" app or in the infotainment system. The infotainment system can also be used to access an inclination display that enables the camper van to be levelled.

However, the tablet does not just provide information about the vehicle, but can also provide good entertainment. For instance, it can be swivelled out on an articulated arm and positioned so that it is easily visible from every position in the passenger compartment. It can also be rotated by 90 degrees, meaning there is nothing in the way of an entertaining evening watching your favourite TV series.

The California Concept shows that Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will accompany all VW bus fans on their journeys across the world in the future as well thanks to its innovative camper van concepts. This future will become a reality in 2024 with all drive systems of the Multivan.