This article is part of an IEEE Spectrum special report: Top 10 Tech Cars of 2010.
How do you build a practical car that’s highly fuel efficient? Easy: Make it small and light, give it a diesel engine, and make that engine part of a hybrid power train. Strangely, no such creature has yet hit the road. Several automakers are, however, fixing to correct that oversight. In particular, Volkswagen is testing the waters with its Up Lite concept car, which shares many components with VW’s ”New Small Family” of cars, which the company will begin offering buyers by 2012.
The Up Lite is, as you might expect, quite light: 695 kilograms (1532 pounds). VW shaved its weight by keeping it small (the car is just 3.84 meters long) and making many of its parts out of aluminum and carbon composites. Some axle components are even made from magnesium. Small and light? Check.
The Up Lite’s engine is a two-cylinder, turbocharged, direct-injection diesel of just 0.8 liter displacement—a truncated version of the larger turbo direct-injection diesels Volkswagen is well known for. Diesel engine? Check.
The Up Lite gains 38 kilowatts (51 horsepower) from its diesel engine and another 10 kW (13 hp) from an integrated electric motor, which, in addition to powering the vehicle and providing for regenerative charging of the car’s lithium-ion battery, replaces the usual starter and alternator. Hybrid power train? Check.
This engine-motor combination is connected to the wheels through a seven-speed ”direct shift gearbox”—think of it as an automated manual transmission—which is said to accelerate the car from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in 12.5 seconds, to provide a top speed of 160 km/h (about 100 mph), and achieve 3.4 liters per 100 kilometers (70 miles per gallon) on the highway.
The Up Lite sports plenty of other eco bells and whistles, including rear-facing video cameras instead of drag-inducing side mirrors, a front grille that automatically adjusts to engine-cooling needs, and power-train settings that can be altered using a touch screen mounted near the center console.
This article originally appeared in print as "VW’s Concept Car Marries Electricity to Diesel."
To Probe Further
Check out the rest of the Top 10 Tech Cars of 2010.