Volkswagen Says It Will Build 2-Seat, 260-MPG Plug-In Hybrid

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What's good gas mileage? 30 mpg? 40 mpg? The 50-mpg combined rating of the 2011 Toyota Prius, the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. this year?

Nah. How about 261 miles per gallon? Or, for the Europeans in the house, a mere 24 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

You heard right. The Volkswagen XL1 plug-in hybrid concept shown here, being launched at the Quatar Motor Show this week, achieves a fuel efficiency of 0.9 liters per 100 km, which for North Americans translates to a bit more than 260 mpg.

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Enlarge Photo

Designed to build

It's the third iteration of VW's "1-Litre Car" project, which has now spanned almost a decade.

And this one, says the company, is designed so that it could practically be manufactured if there proves to be a market for such a hyper-economical two-seat car.

UPDATE: Just prior to the media launch in Qatar, VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech told reporters the company would build a small run of XL1s, starting in 2013. Initial models will go to Germany and then other European countries. The U.S. and China will follow. Another VW executive said total production volume could be as low as 100 units, however.

Looking like nothing so much as an updated and crisper version of the legendary GM EV1, the XL1 has a long tapered tail, rear wheel spats, and a steeply raked windscreen. VW's aerodynamicists follow the same laws of physics as GM's did, and they managed to eke out a drag coefficient of 0.186.

Half a diesel

Its powertrain is a tiny 0.8-liter two-cylinder TDI turbodiesel producing 47 horsepower--essentially half of a Volkswagen 1.6-liter diesel four. It is paired to a 20-kilowatt electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack (of unspecified capacity) and a seven-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG).

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Enlarge Photo

VW quotes an all-electric range of up to 22 miles, and a top speed limited to 100 mph. Acceleration from 0 to 62 mph takes 11.9 seconds, tolerable by European standards. .

The body is made of carbon-fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), using techniques similar to those for Formula 1 racecar tubs.Total vehicle weight is just 1,750 pounds, and that includes the full gamut of safety structures and protection equipment found in any modern vehicle.

Aluminum, ceramic, magnesium

The XL1 is packed with weight- and energy-saving technology, from the LED lights to the aluminum structural and suspension members, ceramic brake disks, and magnesium wheels.

VW's first project along these lines was the 1-Litre Car concept of 2002. Then, in 2009, it showed the L1, an evolution of that theme. The XL1 is clearly a thinly disguised production prototype, launched to gauge market reaction to a car this green that isn't a battery electric vehicle.

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Volkswagen XL1 Concept

Enlarge Photo

More for Europeans?

This is likely to be a car more for European buyers than for North Americans, where cars are larger and two-seaters have never been more than a tiny fraction of the market.

It is also likely to be hugely expensive, as BMW's somewhat similar carbon-fiber MegaCity all-electric urban car will be.

What's your reaction to the Volkswagen XL1? Would you buy it over a two-seat electric car, especially if it had a lower overall carbon footprint than the electric?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


UPDATE: [Automotive News (subscription required)]

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Comments (26)
  1. I'd have to say no. A similarly built pure EV would, I expect, turn in better performance, have less particulate emissions, would not need endless servicing and oil changes and of course would not be dependent on foreign oil.
    EV's aren't just a one-trick pony, I want everything :-)

  2. Is this 260 MPG like the volt is 230 MPG, i.e. in an EREV sense. Or is this really 260 MPG?

  3. @John: The figures are from the European NEDC driving cycle test, presumably the combined figure.

  4. I suppose if I absolutely couldn't get an EV, I'd consider this but it would have to be cheap to buy and cheap to own.

  5. @John Voelcker,
    Thank you for the reply. I still wonder if the 22 mile electric range is thrown into the calculation as a free-by. This is the way Chevy treats its electric only range and that allows 250 MPG, or infinite, or whatever.
    Let's assume that this is for real 260 MPG for a 1750 lb car. Can't they easily make a 100 MPG car with four seats? If so, why were they not in the X-prize competition? Why did the X-prize winner struggle to get 100 MPG in an 800 lb car. Something does not add up here.
    But if they really could do this, I think I have found my new daily commuter car.

  6. @John: I don't know the details of the NEDC duty cycles or how it splits engine-on and engine-off mileage. It's all in the assumptions:

  7. I would say yes. But I would rather it were designed and built by Honda, Toyota, Hyundai or
    Ford. I just hear too many bad things about VW. I want something dependable. Somebody speak up in VW's defense if they think I am wrong.

  8. The range is listed as 550km, and the fuel tank is 10L. That is a lot less FE than 0.9L/km.
    There is a bunch of specs:
    This car has come a long way, and they have shown their chops!
    Great looking car. If they can build 'em with even half that FE and for a price affordable by mere humans, they will sell a lot.

  9. @Neil: The fuel economy is 0.9 liters per *100 km*, not per kilometer!

  10. @Neil,
    Thanks for finding that. I knew something was wrong with the 260 MPG.
    Using the 10 liter fuel tank we can calculated the "gasoline only" fuel efficiency. The range is listed at 550 KM for gasoline and E-drive combined. But the E-drive is 35 KM. That means 515 KM on gasoline. So 10L/515KM = 1.95 L/100KM or 121 MPG. OK 121 MPG is more believable and still really impressive.
    The Toyota Prius benchmark to 50 MPG has stood for long enough. It is time for someone to make the Prius look like a gas-guzzler.
    Regarding VW reliability, I had the same experience. Beautiful VW Jetta with leather interior. High maintenance bills starting from year 2. Dead at 60,000 mile due to oil burning.
    Looking around in the media, I could not find anyone calling VW out on the 260 MPG issue. If X-prize taught us anything, it should be that achieving 100 MPG is very difficult. So when someone claims to have a 260 MPG car, our BS detectors should go off. Perhaps the media's BS detectors are broken.
    John C. Briggs

  11. So this sounds like a Plug-in Prius type of drive train rather than an E-REV drive train in the Volt. Is that what you guys get out of the press release? Seems like the need to rely on both gas and electric during heavy loads.

  12. The Volt also uses its gasoline engine to help turn the wheels at high speeds. Evidently a pure serial hybrid is just too inefficient. I think it's great that VW is using a small diesel engine in a hybrid automobile. That's the way to get the best mileage.

  13. The XL1 is a very interesting concept and may have some kind of market in Europe.. but look at the low market penetration of the Smart FourTwo in the U.S. An analysis would be worthwhile to understand how much its poor driving dynamics, 2-seat config, styling, reliability each played a part in its US market failure. If the XL1 had exciting driving dynamics and superb fuel efficiency and a reasonable price.. then it may find a meaningful market in the US. But given the diminishing returns (and perceived value) of fuel savings (as a percentage of average family income) beyond a certain point (50 to 100 mpg?) it isn't clear an expensive XL1 will find a large buyer base with slow 12 0-60mph acceleration and small engine/motor sizes. Why not just build a PEV with compelling performance/handling with conventional materials for about $35k?

  14. The PNGV cars were all 70 mpg in 1999. Add more batteries and a plug, we had this more than 10 years ago.

  15. I feel like it only looks nice from the front. The covered rear wheels are ascetically unpleasing. Is that just because I am not used to it?

  16. It is a concept rendering, the original Honda Insight had rear wheel skirts and it did not sell well. Rear wheel shirts are fashion, if the car gets 100 mpg people might get used to them.

  17. Great progression of this line of thinking. Quality Diesel is easily produced from many sources. I could live with half the "mpg" if the non-recyclable and expensive carbon fiber were instead something like Honda's new affordable and recyclable lightweight, high strength steel.

  18. Well there is more than just a rendering. The videos can be seen here.

  19. Thanks for the videos, my point is that it is still a concept car, the design could change. The rear does look odd, but I assume that it improves mileage.

  20. Looks like an updated EV1. Not a lot of style, but very functional, just like the original. Whats the beef?

  21. Looks like an updated EV1. Not a lot of style, but very functional, just like the original. Whats the beef?

  22. @Gint Federas,
    No beef really. I am always a little disappointed when it turns out that fuel efficient cars are unattractive. Personally, I might get a Nissan LEAF, but that cars is fugly.
    John C. Briggs

  23. Ugly might become the new beautiful if peak oil causes price rises and availability shortages. If this is a plug diesel that gets over 200 mpg it could start to look real pretty.

  24. Honestly I could care less what it looks like, I really wish car makers still offered full boattail vehicles with fender skirts like they did in the 30's, its very unfortunate that the highest fuel economy cars ever made were all in the early section of last century, you would think with our tech we could improve upon that. I would also like to see the car lengthened to seat 3 people as well but am not holding my breath, I would buy it if they can keep the cost under control and actually sell it for real. 100 units isn't for real in my book.

  25. I'd like to hear VW back up its claim of 261 MPG when the math (above) is SO far off. I also can't say that looks AREN'T an issue, but I'd find it pretty easy to love a whole big bucket of ugly for that kind of economy. Why is a 12 sec 0-60 time derided so greatly?

  26. In the 1970's the "average" car had 0-60 or 14 seconds. So 12 seconds doesn't seem that bad.

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