Battery technology has advanced to the point where consumer vehicles like the Tesla Model S can go between 300 and 450 kilometers on a single charge. It’s pretty great, but you’ll pay for it, because high power density batteries don't come cheap, and neither do Teslas. At Volkswagen’s Electronic Research Laboratory in Silicon Valley, they’re developing what VW calls a “quantum leap for the electric car” in the form of batteries that are somehow smaller, more powerful, and way, way cheaper.
Oh, and they’re also making a three wheeled electric scooter that fits in your trunk. Why not?
All of this information (and there isn't much, to be honest) comes from an interview with the CEO of Volkswagen AG, Martin Winterkorn, by the German newspaper Bild. Here's the relevant bit:
"VW is researching a super-battery in Silicon Valley in California, that is cheaper, smaller, and more powerful. An electric Volkswagen that can travel 300 km (186 miles) on electricity is in sight. It will be a quantum leap for the electric car.”
Three hundred kilometers (under ideal conditions, we’re assuming) can't touch the range of the Tesla Model S. But, it’s substantially better than the Nissan Leaf (200 kilometers), and if Volkswagen can make batteries that allow them to undercut the cost of the Leaf (and other electric cars) significantly, it could make eco-friendly vehicles accessible to people who would want to use them now but can’t afford to.
Winterkorn also revealed that Volkswagen has been working on this bundle of joy:
All we've been able to find out about this thing is that it's called the "Last Mile Surfer," it's smaller than a Segway, and it costs less than 1000 Euros (about US $1,100).
The way to think about this scooter is not as an independent mode of transportation. Think about it as a way to make your primary mode of transportation, your car, more useful. For example, instead of wasting time and gas trying to find a parking spot right next to where you want to go, just park wherever you happen to see a spot within a mile or two of your destination and take your scooter the rest of the way.
We should point out that Volkswagen is not the first car company to have this idea: in 2007, GM/Opel/Saturn presented the "Flextreme" concept car, which had the capability to deploy a pair of Segways from a compartment beneath the trunk:
Volkswagen does seem to be the first car company to take this idea seriously, though, which means that they're either bold visionaries, or completely bonkers.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.