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The competition among automakers to design and implement innovative and cost-effective electric vehicles is heating up. Volkswagen is banking on its MEB electric vehicle platform, which stands for Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten, or roughly translated from German, Modular Electric-Drive-Building Block.

Essentially, it places the batteries and drive components in a single chassis pan, allowing multiple body configurations to be based on a central mechanical design.

If this idea sounds familiar it’s because VW is no stranger to a similar type of automotive development. In fact, the common pan, suspension and drivetrain layout is the very concept Volkswagen used to put themselves on the map, except back in the beginning the common parts included a horizontally opposed air-cooled four-cylinder engine in the original Type 1, or Beetle. 

The idea expanded into the Type 2 Transporter commonly known as the bus or microbus and its variants, the Type 3 Notchback, Fastback,and Squareback wagon, and the Type 4, or 411 and 412 models, as well as the Type 181, or Thing to list just the most popular models.

General Motors recently introduced the Ultium EV platform, similar in concept the Volkswagen’s MEB design. GM designed the batteries to be modular with cells that can be stacked vertically or horizontally allowing numerous body configurations using a singular base.

Perhaps unintentionally, GM has also hearkened back to a time when they were playing catch-up with Volkswagen, or at least used their formula, to create a compact car with a familiar air-cooled rear engine, independent suspension and unibody construction, the original 1960-64 Corvair.

By using a larger engine than VW, Chevrolet’s Corvair was able to put out the type of power and convenience U.S. car buyers expected, and this layout was used throughout the extensive Corvair line from two-door coupes and station wagons to minivans and pickups.

The coupe and sedan were atypical American cars, swapping ends for their trunk and engine compartments. Chevy's Lakewood station wagon was a small wagon with limited interior cargo space due to the rear engine.

Its Greenbriar minivan was remarkably VW Bus-like and similar to most cargo vans of the time. It was a forward control configuration available with windows and seating for passengers or as a panel van with blanked out sides.

The Corvair line didn’t eclipse VW sales as the GM bosses had hoped, but it wasn’t for lack of creativity. Besides the numerous body options and trim levels like the Monza — whose name would make a return on another Chevy compact car produced between 1975 and 1980 — the mostly aluminum engines were available in various horsepower ratings through the use of multiple carburetors and even a turbocharged Spyder version.

Unfortunately, a young Ralph Nader would use the Corvair to make his mark on the world when he focused on the car in the first chapter of his book “Unsafe at Any Speed," highlighting insufficient safety standards by auto manufacturers. Ironically, Chevrolet had already addressed Nader’s concerns with the redesigned Corvair rear suspension on the 1964 and later models by the time his book debuted in 1965, but the bad publicity and mishandled response by GM didn’t help the Corvair’s popularity.

Still, Chevy produced a second-generation model in 1965 with a sporty redesigned body and other improvements but limited the choices to two-door coupes and convertibles and four-door sedans.

Ultimately, 1969 would be the end of the line for the Corvair. Despite the misconception that Nader’s book killed the Corvair, the truth is a few factors conspired against it.

While “Unsafe at Any Speed” didn’t help, the unconventional car was costly to produce and not as economical to operate as was hoped. The 1965 redesign failed to attract consumers that were gravitating towards the newly introduced and hot selling but conventionally engineered Ford Mustang.

Chevy scrambled to introduce the Camaro in 1967 as a response to the Mustang, leaving the Corvair to coast through the remainder of its production run with little marketing support from corporate. Time will tell whether GM has better luck with its Ultium EV platform.

 Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 26 Portland St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.

Source: The Conway Daily Sun

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