Zie Ozzer Germans

Photo credit: Volkswagen

Photo credit: Volkswagen

We know what BMW’s doing, how about the rest?

Volkswagen appears set with the voltwagens.  Not only will the German Giant produce electric versions of their compacts (yielding the e-UP and e-Golf), but they have already begun limited production of their XL1 plug-in hybrid.

The name comes from “1-liter car,” as in the European definition of fuel economy.  There, “mileage” is measured in how much fuel is burnt to go 100 kilometers.  VW had tried multiple iterations of 1L/100 km vehicle.  The 2013 XL1 now claims 110 km per liter of diesel- or, 260 miles per gallon.  And that’s on trips; in town, electricity will take you a claimed 30 miles (at least, per the european test cycle) with no liters at all.  That’s coming up on Chevy Volt range (33-40 all-electric miles per US cycle), on about a third of the battery (~5.5 kWh).  How?

That XL1 body is about as aero as it gets, at least in a format people might actually buy.  Consider it the new GM EV1.  For example, there are cameras, not rearview mirrors.  The body is carbon fiber, and weighs a fraction of what’s average on a North American dealer lot right now.  And VW is about as good as it gets for small diesel engines.

There’s a catch, of course- there has to be.  “Limited production” means 250 units, since very few people spend more than $100,000, let alone €100,000.  Carbon fiber is fine for small pieces and simple shapes, but an entire vehicle body will run you some.  As if price weren’t an issue, it’s a 2-seater, like the EV1.  The Honda Insight and Tesla Roadster demonstrate that only so many people buy 2-seaters.  Fitting a backseat would make the XL1 heavier and less aerodynamic.  Other things that had to go were face-to-face conversation (the two seats are staggered a bit, for shoulder room) and sound insulation (when the diesel kicks in, you’ll know it).

The e-Up and e-Golf, then, will be cheaper and more practical, but without the swoopy styling… and the stratospheric mileage.  In fact, as conversions of existing gassers, the Up and Golf versions should turn in poorer numbers than dedicated EVs like the Leaf.  VW is serious, no doubt; they’re just taking longer.  An XL1 follow-on is widely rumored.  CEO Martin Winterkorn considers some sort of electrification (including hybrids) as the future.  Electrical chief Dr. Rudolf Krebs said: “We want to become the leader in electrification.”

Audi is part of the VW Group, but is not as enthused.  Rumored luxury electrics have been on-again, off-again for a few years now, currently off.  One rumor is that the Tesla Model S, having turned out successfully, forced Audi back to the drawing board.  Let’s see what they come back with.

Porsche is the other part of the VW Group, and much more enthused, oddly enough.  Panamera plug-in hybrids are already on sale, and the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar will debut at the end of the year as a 2014.  The Panamera had been a 4-seat, plain (non-plug-in) hybrid, but got a redesign for MY’14 and a bigger pack.  It yields around 20 miles of all-electric range (AER), not impressive but not a token effort either.  This, while likely beating whatever car you’ve got, 0-60.

…Unless what you’ve got is the first 918 Spyder.  The 2-seat, mid-“engine” 918 scorches to 60 mph in under three seconds, while passing 200 mph easily.  (This likely makes it the fastest production car, depending on your definition of “mass production.”)  Meanwhile a lithium battery provides both 18 miles claimed AER and all-wheel drive.  The catch?  With lots of options, a 918 may drive off the lot at over a million dollars.  (Silently, though.)

Porsche also claims a plug-in Cayenne hybrid is coming, though as a conversion like the Panamera the AER will be low, I’m figuring.  With big 6- and 8-cylinder gassers, the point of secondary battery packs is low-end torque assist, not silent mileage.

Mercedes-Benz– The coming Mercedes B-class, however, will be all about the silence.  A 5-door like the Leaf but a bit bigger, it will be 100% battery-electric courtesy of a big Tesla pack.  Being lower and more aerodynamic, it should be comparable to the Toyota RAV4 EV but with better numbers.  Of course, relying on Tesla systems means the company will be behind on its future models.  Meanwhile, Elon Musk claims funds from its partnership with Mercedes kept the company afloat long enough for Model S production and sales.  Looks like Tesla is the forward-thinking one, not Mercedes.  I look forward to seeing cannibalization of Mercedes sales.

Mercedes-affiliated tuner AMG is not sitting quietly; their SLS electric supercar prototype is comparable to the 918, at least on a track.  Unlike the Porsche, the AMG is 100% battery-electric; also unlike it, you can’t walk into a dealership tomorrow and get one.

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