Will Volkswagen Offer A Hybrid Beetle? Kansas Students Aren't Waiting

Three weeks ago we attended a press conference at Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Lab in Palo Alto, Calif., where VW chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn presented the automaker’s plan for hybrid and electric vehicles. I checked my notes and there was no mention of an upcoming Beetle hybrid but Britain’s Autocar.com is reporting that their sources have confirmed a hybrid model is planned for the new “Peoples Car,” which is scheduled for next year.

When it debuts next January at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show—will it be named the New, New Beetle?—Autocar says it will have a “radical design,” that is a completely fresh, modern take on the classic “People’s Car.” Several industry pundits have already tagged the 2005 Ragster Concept as the guide for the car’s new styling. If that’s so, it isn’t a radical design when compared to the current model. In fact, the Ragster is not much more than a George Barris chop job from the 1950s.

Regardless of the Beetle’s new exterior design, it won’t be a difficult task to incorporate a hybrid system. It is fashioned from the new 2011 Jetta platform, and the hybrid version of that car arrives in 2012. That would seem to validate Autocar’s report that the hybrid Beetle will be equipped with VW’s twincharger TSI in-line four cylinder, which incorporates both a supercharger and a turbocharger. The TSI engine will make its first U.S. appearance in the Jetta Hybrid, according to Dr. Winterkorn. And, if it duplicates the Jetta, it will be a full-hybrid system, enabling the car to be powered by the electric motor(s) only, the gasoline engine only or both.

Beetle Hybrid DIY

So, VW will focus on the Jetta Hybrid first, and get around to a hybrid Beetle in perhaps late 2012 or 2013? That’s not fast enough, at least according to a group of engineering students at the University of Kansas. The students took things into their own hands and built one themselves.

This group of environmentally-conscious engineering students, led by assistant professor Dr. Chris Depcik, took a beater 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle and converted it to a plug-in series hybrid with 25 miles of all-electric range. And not just any plug-in hybrid; it burns 100 percent biodiesel made from cooking oil collected from the campus kitchen.

Calling themselves the EcoHawks, these greenies figured out how to engineer 10 lead-acid batteries, an electric motor and a biodiesel generator to fit in the VDub relic. Along the way, they cherried out the body and the results after a year’s worth of hard work is a very nice looking Beetle that can travel 25 miles without a recharge and has city fuel efficiency of 52 mpg.

“My role was to send the students in the right direction,” said Depcik. “These students are the ones who solved all the engineering problems and made this project move. They have all worked extremely hard and have kept up with other classes, as well, which makes this success all the more impressive.”

Ecohawk Beetle Hybrid, detail

Next up is improving the design and equipment to reach the goal of a vehicle that gets 500 miles per gallon. A lofty goal for sure, and to come anywhere close will require, among other things, lighter lithium-ion batteries.

The EcoHawks received a $10,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant and plan to build a small-scale smart grid system. Next spring, Depcik and his students are expected to travel to Washington, D.C. to present their project, which has a chance of receiving an additional $75,000 from the EPA. That funding would be used to extend the smart grid system to the refitted Beetle.

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  • JamesDavis

    That’s really great UK, but we all cannot stop by McDonalds to pick up some grease on our way home…too many of you college engineering students hanging out there. You already have the chicken (car), you should’ve built the egg (battery) first.

    Professor Depcik, go on Scientific American and read about the liquid metal battery and the liquid salt battery and then have your students build a batter something like them…they can hold a super charge.

  • DutchInChicago

    So a couple of students build a 52 mpg car in their spare time with a 25 mile all electrical range. Shame on you GM, shame on you Toyota. I hope that you guys are suitably embarrassed.

  • calvin

    As a baseline comparison, the 1967 Beetle weighs 840kg and gets around 35 mpg on a 54hp flat 4. The 1974 Beetle would be around the same specs. For another comparison, the 2009 Prius weighs 1379kg and gets 60.3 mpg city.

    Still, what they did was pretty impressive. I wonder how they built/designed the hybrid transmission system and computerized the engine. How much of this was off-the-shelf solutions, and how much was self-made? Are critical gas-electric hybrid components cheap enough these days to be affordable for a college project? How much of a budget did they start with?

    I also wonder what they left out of the vehicle to gain so much fuel economy with minimal resources. (e.g. Does this plug-in hybrid have regenerative braking?) And is this a more economical way of getting hybrids on the road? How many people would settle for a 60hp sparsely-furnished vehicle without the modern amenities we’re used to (e.g. spacious interiors, airbags, sound-proofing, etc.)?

  • David

    Just for the record, on average, that 1967 Beetle would put out approximately 100 to 300 times more pollutants and greenhouse gases than the current model.

  • Kathleen Farmgirl

    YOU GO ECOHAWKS! You make me proud to be an American. And I want you to hybridize my Punchbudgey, as my grandkids call it. AWESOME JOB young people!!!

  • Max Reid

    While automakers are so slow to introduce plugins and electrics, on the other side the renewable industry is rapidly expanding their technology base.

    A marine turbine which could generate 1 MW

    Windenergy has already increase their installed base to 160,000 MW.
    Where are the plugins & EVs to draw power from them.

  • tapra1

    ” that is a completely fresh, modern take on the classic “People’s Car.” Several industry pundits have already tagged the 2005 Ragster Concept as the guide for the car’s new styling. If that’s so, it isn’t a radical design when compared Latest Tech News

  • lamia japler

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