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Volkswagen's Push for the Ultimate Eco Car

February 20, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 224

Volkswagen has been building concept after concept of the ultimate eco car, based on technology that is very close to production. Unlike some eco startup companies who are just hoping for miracles, VW is looking to build what is today possible.

The first one in this series was the Volkswagen 1 Liter concept car, which appeared in 2002.

This was obviously pushing the envelope in terms of technical innovation but involved no miracles, if a fair bit of expensive technology. The body is made of carbon fiber and the chassis out of magnesium, so it is quite lightweight. It also has a dramatic swoopy shape and tandem rather than side by side seating for the driver and the passenger.

It cheats the wind using a narrower track at the back compared to the front, closed rear wheelwells, and flat wheel covers on the front wheels. The tandem seating, narrow overall width and the low total height help as well.

According to Volkswagen, it is powered by a single cylinder diesel engine of 300cc capacity, which delivers about 8.5 horsepower. This enables it to consume just under a litre per 100 kilometers.

Volkswagen showed another concept car in 2009, the L1.

This was pretty much the same concept as the car in 2002, a tandem two seater. Volkswagen updated the styling to actually make it look cool this time, something they did not bother doing with the original 1 liter car.

It is powered by a 800cc two cylinder turbodiesel, basically Volkswagen's bread and butter 1.6 TDI cut in half. It generates a maximum of 29 hp in this really relaxed eco tune. Volkswagen claims that the L1 consumes just 1.38 liters per 100 kilometers. While it is more than the 2002 car, one must note the differences: The 2002 1 Liter Car used a one off prototype diesel engine, this L1 uses a prototype engine, but one which is derived from a popular mainstream one. On those terms, the L1 is clearly the more realistic solution and clearly closer to production car status.

Note that I said closer, and not close.

What did get close was the next car, the Volkswagen XL1 unveiled in 2011.

VW's answer to the ultimate eco car has marched step by step from the ultimate engineer's prototype to something altogether more civilized and practical. Although the styling is reminiscent of the L1, the marked difference is of course the side by side seating. Suddenly it jumps from being an interesting technical exercise to possibly being in an actual Volkswagen showroom.

Volkswagen says the XL1 weighs just under 800 kilograms, so more than twice as much as the L1 Concept, which was 380kg. It is supposed to consume just about 1 liter per 100 kilometers, but this is no doubt more due to hybrid trickery as opposed to pure efficiency.

Let's think about a lower cost, production variant of this car:

There are 2 main compromises: Let's throw out the complicated hybrid system and just keep the turbodiesel engine, which should be sufficient with its 47hp. Let's get rid of the carbon fiber and replace all that with conventional steel. Now we end up with a heavier car, let's be pessimistic and guesstimate that it consumes double the fuel it does in its original form, so about 2 liters per 100km.

That is still a fantastic number compared to any car you can buy today, so let's really look at what other changes would have to be made to produce this car for real. The gullwing doors would have to go, but that is true of any concept car and perhaps the ride height would need to be raised slightly. Other than that, there are not many reasons why this car could not be produced. Unfortunately, it will not be produced.

Why? Because it makes no economic sense. As simple as that. In this era of the fashionable eco mindset and hybrid BMW X6's and VW Touraeg's this car makes no economic sense.

It is quite a stark indicator of where we are in terms of energy usage and fossil fuels. We have the technical solutions today, but they won't be produced, since economically it doesn't work.

However, this is not quite the end of the story. Part of the reason is that auto manufacturing has come to rely heavily on economies of scale, and such a car would not be able to share too much with other cars under the VW umbrella. It also has something to do with market acceptance of 2 seaters, which is not very good, to say the least.

So, I think Volkswagen's answer to the ultimate eco car will come very soon from the other direction, from a mainstream model, namely the VW Up!

The Up! Lite Concept from 2009 is a preview of what will arrive in the showrooms and sidesteps a lot of these issues. It is a 4 seater, it looks a lot more mainstream, and critically, shares its platfom completely with the standard Up!.

The Up! Lite Concept styling looks like a bridge between the XL1 and the mainstream models from Volkswagen. The question for me is where will the production model fit in that rather large gap?

At one cynical extreme, Volkswagen could take the standard Up!, slap some Bluemotion badges on it, put on some low rolling resistance tires, do lots of small aero tweaks with underfloor panels and wheel covers and plasticky bits and call it a day.

At the other extreme, they could actually produce this aero optimized body, so that it would be sharing just the platform and the interior but not the bodywork with the Up!. But this would be the much more expensive option.

Where do I think this will end up? Probably the first option. I don't think Volkswagen has forgotten the lessons learned with the 3L Lupo TDI.

While the 3L Lupo TDI was a technical success and delivered impressive fuel economy numbers, it was too expensive to be a financially viable product. Since then, VW has produced Bluemotion versions of almost everything it makes, and they are always carefully tweaked versions that have minimal additional costs and slightly better fuel economy. VW plays it safe with the Bluemotion models, and they do not stray too far off the standard donor car. That's why I don't think that we will see the Up! Lite Concept as it was shown go into production.

My best hope would be to see the Up! Lite inherit the front half of the standard Up! completely and to have a its own, optimized body shape from the B-pillar to the back of the car.

In terms of powertrains, it is pretty clear that the 0.8 liter TDI engine is coming, only question is when and how much power will it make, I would guess late 2012 to early 2013 and about 55 horsepower. Fuel consumption numbers are hard to guess but I think we should be looking at around 2.8 liters per 100 kilometers (for a straightforward diesel with no hybrid but just start-stop functionality).

It will actually be interesting to see which name the car carries when it comes to market, whether it will be branded as a Bluemotion following the other VW models predictably, or if it will be badged as an Up! Lite. I think that it will be "just a Bluemotion" if the changes from the Up! are minimal, and an Up! Lite if there is major differences between the two. In case we get the Up! Lite, I would also be curious to know which other Lite models Volkswagen will have up its sleeve in the coming years.

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Source: EzineArticles
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