VW Unveils World’s Most Efficient Road-Legal Hybrid

By the end of the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show, Volkswagen will have unveiled as many as nine world premier vehicles. What’s the common denominator? “Maximum efficiency,” according to VW. The coolest in the bunch are the L1, a two-seat hybrid concept that could get hundreds of miles per gallon, and the E-Up! all-electric minicar. With these concepts, VW is pointing to small innovative platforms, new levels of aerodynamic design, and electric or hybrid drive.

Today’s car shoppers should not get too excited. The L1 and e-Up! are futuristic models with little or no chance of going into volume production. Referring to the E-UP!—perhaps the more practical of the two concepts—Martin Winterkorn, VW chairman of the board, said, “To be a genuine success, such an electric car must be affordable to a broad customer base and must be uncompromisingly practical in everyday driving. Only then, in high volumes, and ideally on all continents, can one truly speak of the beginning of the electric age in automobiles and a perceptible reduction of their environmental impact.”

Winkerton indicated that production numbers would need to approach levels of the VW Polo, and that would probably not happen until 2020. He said, “That is why our highly efficient TDI and TSI engines are the most important waypoints of the present.”

L1: World’s Most Efficient Road-Legal Hybrid

The L1 is powered by a turbo diesel and electric motor and weighs only about 840 pounds. Its narrow body is made of carbon fiber, and its drag coefficient is 0.195, lower than any production car on the road today. The L1 name refers to the European concept of a “1-Liter” car, meaning it uses no more than 1.0 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers, or about 235 miles per gallon. The L1 is capable of a top speed of 100 miles per hour, and 0-to-62-mph acceleration in a leisurely14.3 seconds.

The L1’s 0.8 liter TDI is the smallest diesel engine intended for production applications every built by Volkswagen. It’s derived from the 1.6 TDI just introduced a few months ago. The 1.6 TDI is making its debut in Frankfurt in cars such as the new version of the Golf BlueMotion and Passat BlueMotion. The engine is mated to a 10-kilowatt electric motor and a 7-speed direct-shift gearbox—all situated at the back of the car. Volkswagen calls the L1 the “most fuel-efficient road-legal car hybrid drive in the world.”

The passenger sits directly behind the driver. You enter the car through a roof cover hinged at the side. All instruments and controls are arranged over a 180-degree radius to the driver. To start the L1, the driver pushes a button on the right side of the steering wheel. When it is rotated, the round start button simultaneously serves as a gear selector switch and is used to activate the electronic handbrake. The driver controls the on-board computer, navigation and entertainment systems, via keys in the steering wheel. Due to the driver’s low seating position, there is an additional window in the roof used to view traffic lights.

E-Up!: Beetle for the 21st Century

Volkswagen’s other piece of green car eye candy is the E-Up!, a 10.5 foot minicar that seats four—three in front and one in back. Top speed is less than 85 miles per hour, with a 0-60 mph pace of about 11 seconds. E-Up! weighs about 2,400 pounds—with more than 500 pounds coming from the 18 kWh battery pack that can deliver about 80 miles of range from a single charge. The driver activates forward or reverse gear via a rotary knob in the center console.

Volkswagen E-Up!
Volkswagen E-Up!

VW is suggesting that the E-Up! could be the “Beetle for the 21st Century,” although its design is decidedly current, more closely resembling previous VW concept vehicles, such as the Up! city car and Space-Up! microvan.

The VW logo on the V-shaped engine bonnet of the E-Up! is more than just an homage to the Beetle. Hidden behind the folding logo is the integrated port for charging the batteries. The concept car has a touch-screen interface that monitors battery state of charge, provides traffic data, and locates available charging stations.


  • Lost Prius to wife

    The L1 is really good looking. Unfortunately, the two seater will require a backseat driver! Will it be me or my wife? Dumb question – forget the question! May have to buy two just so I get a chance to drive.

    Actually, all kidding aside, this car may be worth waiting for. A little slow for the 0 to 60, but the mpg is in the right ballpark.

  • Phillip U.

    Neat concepts. Particularly the blending of their TDI engine and an electric powertrain. Article didn’t mention if either are parallel or serial hybrids. Personally, I wouldn’t buy either, they’re too small for my young family but it’s nice to see an effort to use a fuel-efficient turbo diesel ICE in a hybrid setup.

    Throw this setup in their Touareg without going all performance crazy and I’d be interested. Especially the plug-in version. Let’s say 30-40 mile full-speed all electric range (maybe with ICE assist during hard acceleration) and an overall range of 300+ miles and I’d pay 65-70K for that.

  • Dan L

    The L1 is impressive for a concept car. Most concept cars seem to be an opportunity for designers to show off ideas that they think are neat, but would never put in a production car. The L1 seems more like a legitimate attempt to sell into a very real market niche. If VW can make a commuter car that gets dramatically better fuel economy than its competitors, it will sell. A low price point wouldn’t hurt, either. I hope that they build it.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I guess this continues to prove that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While I laud the use of a diesel, there is no need to add the complexity and expense of the Turbocharger or Direct Injection (TDI) in a hybrid. The electric motor is a much more efficient way to give extra torque (obviating the Turbo Charger) or to efficiently provide torque at different speeds (Direct Injection).
    VW, as with all the other auto manufacturers refuses to let go of their current technology an embrace the future.
    This smacks of Honda’s aborted Accord Hybrid although maybe not quite a stupid.

  • sheckyvegas

    What is the point of these car manufacturers bringing out these “show” cars and then tell us, “Well, don’t get your hopes up. We’re not planning on actually building these things.” Who gives a crap if you make an electric car that gets 500 miles a charge, seats 17 people, and makes hot coffee for you, if YOU’RE NOT EVEN GOING TO BUILD IT???!!!

  • Anonymous

    a45044446655

  • @ndrew

    like the design of the L1. the headlamp bar on the front reminds me of the first-generation taurus/sable. now if only ford would’ve kept up that momentum…

  • G.

    Some of the best advances are keeping it simple and vw has surely considered this in the design and matching of current and future technologies. Look forward to your new lines and advances forward into the future.

  • Daniel13-14

    is this car better than a citreon ax which does 60mpg