Volkswagen prepares to build the world's most fuel efficient production car


February 21, 2013

The "world's most efficient production car"

The "world's most efficient production car"

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Back in 2009, before the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt were ready for market, the world heard loud, overinflated claims of "367" and "230" mpg ratings. Talk is cheap, and actual EPA testing sent those ratings rocketing right back down to earth at 99 mpg-e and 60 mpg, respectively. Volkswagen is the latest to get in on the 200+ mpg game, claiming its XL1 will be capable of 261 mpg (European cycle). Thanks to a radical approach that slashes weight, optimizes aerodynamics and wrings every last drop of fuel, Volkswagen may actually make good on its claims – or at least get close.

Volkswagen first showed the XL1, an evolution of the 2009 L1 and original 2002 1-liter bubble, in 2011. While it looked like a fanciful green concept designed to make headlines and then disappear into the archives, Volkswagen was clear that it planned to eventually build it and set a date of 2013. Now, the time is here, and Volkswagen is readying the production version for next month's Geneva Motor Show.

Volkswagen calls the XL1 the most aerodynamic production car ever and uses a 0.19 drag coefficient to prove it. For comparison, the carefully aero-optimized, cost-is-not-an-issue McLaren P1's drag coefficient is 0.34. Aerodynamic measures include a narrowed rear-end, wheel covers over the rear wheels, and rear-view side cameras in place of mirrors. It doesn't exude conventional auto aesthetics, but if you're the type that appreciates function over form, it's an absolutely gorgeous design.

The second pillar of the XL1's lofty fuel economy is weight savings. Thanks to a build that's more than 20 percent carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), including the monocoque structure and body panels, along with a thin-glass windshield, polycarbonate side windows, and other measures, the XL1 barely twitches the scale needle to 1,753 pounds (795 kg). It measures 153.1 inches long, 65.6 inches wide, and 45.4 inches high (3,888 x 1,665 x 1,153 mm), which is comparable to the Polo's width and length, but more than 10 inches (254 mm) shorter.

With support from that gaunt build and slippery aerodynamics, Volkswagen gets away with powering the XL1 with a meek 47-hp 800cc two-cylinder TDI engine, 27-hp electric motor and lithium-ion battery. That small, rear-wheel-drive powertrain, in turn, contributes to the low weight. The entire drive unit, including the battery, weighs 500 pounds (227 kg), less than the Nissan Leaf's 660-pound (300-kg) battery and only 100 pounds (45 kg) more than the Chevy Volt's battery.

Armed with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (DSG), the plug-in hybrid powertrain provides up to 32 miles (50 km) of all-electric driving. In electric mode, the engine is decoupled from the drivetrain, allowing the electric motor to act alone. Volkswagen says that the restarting of the engine is a smooth, joltless process, whereby the e-motor's rotor speeds up, couples with the engine's clutch and brings it up to speed. Unlike in other plug-in hybrids, where a comparatively large four-cylinder is tasked with taking over, the XL1's tiny two-cylinder turbodiesel continues to provide ultra-frugal commuting when handed the reigns.

The XL1 is cushioned by double wishbone suspension in the front and a semi-trailing link suspension in the rear. Lightweight running gear materials include aluminum suspension components, magnesium wheels and ceramic brake discs. The XL1 also rolls on Michelin low rolling resistance tires.

Along with the impressive 0.9 liter/100 km (261 mpg) fuel efficiency figures – which make it the "1 liter car" it was aiming for – Volkswagen says the car can maintain a constant cruising speed of 62 mph (100 km/h) using just 8.4 hp/6.2 kW and, in all-electric mode, can travel 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) on just 0.1 kWh of electricity. The company says the vehicle can accelerate from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 12.7 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 99 mph (160 km/h). When needed for acceleration, the electric motor can kick in to assist the diesel engine.

The XL1 puffs out just 21 g/km of C02 with exhaust gas recirculation, an oxidation catalytic converter and a diesel particulate filter used to keep exhaust emissions down. VW has also worked to optimize the efficiency of the cooling system.

The driver takes the wheel of the XL1 by entering through one of two winged, double-hinged doors that swing up and slightly forward. Inside, Volkswagen replaced the 1+1 layout of the L1 prototype with slightly offset side-by-side seating.

Volkswagen plans to build each XL1 with a new "handcrafting-like" process at its Osnabrück, Germany, facility. Many of the major components will be sourced from other VW plants and external manufacturers and put together using a very specific nine-stage process. With that in mind, not to mention the composites and technologically advanced design, we expect that the XL1 will be the toy of trendy celebrities and business executives for the foreseeable future. Volkswagen has yet to confirm pricing but more details should be forthcoming from Geneva.

Source: Volkswagen

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Right, Charles Hart. That's the deal-breaker. I couldn't be less interested. I'd rather continue to feed my truck all it can eat that have to get another mortgage to drive this POS.

Clay Jones

I'm your volunteer in SOCAL for beta testing... just let me know.

Mark A

I would really love to cruise in one of these cars. It looks amazing, doesn't have that stupid geek look that all eco cars have. I wonder what the price tag will look like.


This will be slow as hell.


Been following the PR on this from the late 1990s when it was chopped in favour of Bluemotion R&D. I am saddened by VW - the people's car - that this is going down the route of a 'toy of trendy celebrities and business executives for the foreseeable future' even though these are the author's words, it will be true. Bog off rich trendy people. You'll still have your 5 litre 4x4 in your purpose built garage.

VW should have the balls the manufacture this for the masses instead of the 'elite'. It is after all, how the greatest impact will be felt, not with a few celebs turning up at VIP events in it.

This vehicle needs to appeal and be mandatory to reps covering 100,000s miles. There should be massive corporate tax incentives for 100mpg+ vehicles, not the pitiful VED and BIK rates.

I hope VW is looking at the longevity and Circular Economy of this vehicle, and a degree of DIY servicing. Will the body shell be written off in a slight prang? This would then load the insurance beyond most, and certainly the under 25s.

A great opportunity, potentially hobbled by poor market research which merely follows market evolution than having the balls to move the automotive market on to where it should have been years ago.

Matthew Polaine

I hope it sells really well and shows other brands how to do it. Perhaps wake a few of them up.


Very nice looking car. Love those gull wing doors. I want one.


It looks like a well-engineered car. If they can build it, sell it, and make money doing it - great. But keep the government susidies out of the picture. We're (USA) already broke. $16 trillion debt is more than enough. BTW, with the production of oil on private land, we are well on our way to energy independence. Build the Keystone pipeline and the refinery in SD. Lets quit sending billions of dollars to people who don't like us.

Larry Clement

What a great little car, and thank goodness it will be "as slow as hell" as DaveBG so elegantly puts it, though in fact with that specification, it is not going to be too slow. Anyway, I imagine it will be the forerunner to a range of vehicles designed to suit the needs of larger families.

We live in an age where this type of vehicle is going to be essential. We are now clearly at 'peak oil' in as much as supply is struggling to keep up with demand and the recent increases in America will do little to counter the decline of so many of today's oil fields. Even the massive Ghawar oil field is in rapid decline according to some sources. (See Oil, Smoke and Mirrors on Youtube.)

I take my hat off to VW for having the courage to proceed with such and admirable project. All we need now is for the rest of the industry to wake up to reality. Let's face it, it isn't how quickly you can reach a speed where you can kill yourself that matters to most people, it is how far you can travel on the money you can afford to spend while doing so, which is clearly miles per gallon (or litres per 100 kilometers). While hidden in the background is the fact that this type of vehicle, assuming larger family friendly versions follow, will do wonders for tackling climate change. Let's just hope that it is not too late.

Mel Tisdale

Volkswagon, the name means car for regular people. Can the limited edition and trendy rich pricing and get this thing out to regular people. Though it might increase the weight a bit they should also have an option for larger battery packs giving a bit more all electric range.

Max Kennedy

We don't need an economical shoebox.

We need an economical full size all-purpose car..

A Tesla at $50 K...


but the price is $107,000.

Charles Hart

I'm glad to see VW putting some effort into fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, it looks like it'll be another ultra-fuel-efficient car priced for people who can afford to buy gasoline.

Sonya B

Has anyone considered that governments really don't like these kinds of developments, despite the PR. Increasing mileage to such an incredible extent DECREASES fuel taxes mightily. If you look at how much of a gallon or litre of fuel cost is taxes, you'll realize that those concerned...are concerned!


Thats an Ugly car. I hope it get the mileage they advertise, then work on it's appearance.


i love the tesla. and this car is fine, as is anything that cuts oil down. peak oil, haha...check the tundra, etc.


Interesting to note that Ferdinand Porsche started out building electric vehicles and after looking at the Chrysler mini airflows copied that design. And ended up using air cooled ICE's

Lutz operated in the opposite direction starting out with ICE's and ending up with EV's (He knew that led acid would not work from the get go). But it has to be acknowledged that the GM Vehicles designed under Lutz before the chrisis have placed GM into a good position for the short time being since he was ousted by the idiot. Yet he is continuing with VIA electric trucks.

Covering the Progressive Automotive X-Prize it became evident that hitting and exceeding 100 MPGe was rather easily achievable and the Volt has been known to do just that. And it is interesting that GM endeavored to produce a mass market vehicle bevore coming out with the Glamor beauty. But that Convej has been ruined by the body engineers making subtle, damaging changes. How dare they?!

At the X-Prize the only vehicle to hit the 200MPG mark was the encased motorcycle, the Monotracer by Peraves from Winterthur. The owner of the company pointed out that if Detroit could mass produce it, the price would be dramatically lower.

So it will be fun to see what the Pro engineers will come up with and it would have been nice to see the second generation Volt after the gauntlet was thrown down.

Being an Architect I'd have to say that the Chicago Architect Sullivan had it right... Form and Function must be the same and that will automatically produce beauty... not Form follows function as his chief draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright would later say. Gordon Buehrig proudly pointed out to me that the Transmission case for the Cord was form following function.

Beauty is actually achieved when function is pushed to the limits. And it is interesting here that the wheels appear to be motorcycle like as Bill Allison, Gordon's friend, pointed out to me were all that was necessary.

So is styling necessary... why of course! Ever look at a beautiful woman properly made up? It'll blow your socks off!


Lewis Dickens

The price wasn't listed in this article or for that matter anywhere else. VW hasn't released the price but my guess and other experts in the field have estimated it will be between $35,000 - $70,000 which is the market rate for a vehicle with similar performance values such as the Leaf and Volt.

In the next 50 - 100 years most vehicles will be electric due to the emerging technologies (specifically fission and fussion) and expense of gasoline, so get used to them because your only going to see more and more of them.

Matt Fletcher

Somehow a $100,000.00 car with a 32 mile all electric range doesn't sound good when compared to a Aptera which is "supposed" to sell for $25,000.00 and got just under 200 mile range at the XPrize contest. While the Aptera hasn't shown up yet (Due out starting in June), neither has the Volkswagon and the Aptera has actually produced a working model which you can check out at It's to bad that Aptera had to be purchased by Jonway of China in order to make it to market in the US!

Jerry Peavy

The car is a beauty and will help set standards for the automotive industry. My only concern is whether it will be allowed into the US. The technology is sure to filter down to domestic vehicles. I am hoping that this car will be produced with a small turbocharged gasoline engine to make it affordable to the public. Presently, both Nissan (Micro II) and Tata have small cars that get about 68-69 mpg using turbocharged 3 cylinder motors but both of these cars are not aerodynamic nor light for their sizes. I phoned Nissan to request sales information on a Micro II but I was told that the Micro II did not comply with US standards and would not be sold in this country. The reduction of weight and the improvement of aerodynamic qualities of the XL1 should be able to boost mpg's up over the 100 mark. I think that the weight of the three cylinder arrangement would actually be less than the present design of electric motor plus batteries and diesel and then manufacturing costs would plummet. Presently, the hybrid configuration is too expensive for most people to afford.

Adrian Akau

Doesn't VW already make a diesel car in Tennessee that gets 80mpg that is NOT sold in the US?

Doesn't Fiat's little car also get close to that in diesel form for World distribution but NOT for the U.S.,either?

What about all those other amazing Microcars in Japan and Europe that get amazing fuel mileage? Don't say that they don't pass safety rules- what about all those trashy little scooters,mopeds and motorcycles that get imported?

I see those things on the freeway- on a scooter if you hit a big bump at highspeed you get airborne with the only thing holding you on is your hands on the handlebars- NOT GOOD!

Are they safer?


Hey, where did those guys that are still working on that diesel Avion car go to?

That one "only" got 118mpg going Canada to Mexico.

A car that gets 80mpg that is available for mass consumption is better than a car that gets 1000mpg that nobody can afford!


This new VW bears a close conceptual relationship to the Ford Europe Probe V concept car. Same layout, shape, doors and perhaps even the power train.

The Ford Probe V was the last of five Ford Europe prototypes designed with the objective of achieving 40 mpg in a family sized vehicle. Probe III went to production as the Ford Sierra and was a top seller with a variety of conventional motors and sold in the US as the Merkur XR4 with a performance power train. The Probe IV sold in Europe as the "Grenada" and was the "car of the year" when introduced. Larger and also with a variety of motors ranging from a Diesel 4 to a Cosworth DOHC V6. The top of the line "Scorpio" model with V6 and auto trans sold in the US as the Merkur Scorpio and achieves 30 mpg hwy.

Only two Ford Probe Vs were built and they were middle-motor, RWD two door, four-seat cars. Cd was in the range of 0.15 and power required at 100kph was only 5 kw. Ford canceled this research in the late 80s and it was reported that one powertrain considered for the Probe V was a gas-electric hybrid.

This research was carried out while Bob Lutz was in charge of Ford Europe and the cancellation of the Probe project coincided with his departure to head Chrysler.


Beautiful execution but, alas, too small for any practical application... maybe as small as the Lotus Exige; which is 2100lb and zero to 60 in 4 seconds, but a gas miser if handled with a light foot - and also a monocoque chassis. Love the diagonally-opening wing doors and drive train though.

Better to put in a boxer-config twin-cylinder diesel under the trunk like the smart car (and old VW van). That will give lots of room for a 2+2 on an extended chassis with suicide doors and a cargo hatch - or don't VW engineers like to eat?


And, if the wind is blowing 10mph, or a bumble bee hits the bumper, the car will crash off the road due to its light weight ;)

Rusty Harris

another successful step to make planet greener!

Liaquat Ali

It would really say something if VW were to sell the XL1 at a reasonable price, say 30K before incentives. If they did they would just about eliminate the competition from Nissan and Chevy and really help reduce global warming. I would like to think that a much larger percentage of buyers would purchase the XL1 over not only other PHEV's but also ICE only high efficiency vehicles. As other comments have already pointed out, the XL1 looks a lot better than other hybrids not to mention a lot of economy cars.

Robert Gillespie

Love the looks. Hope they don't reveal the rear wheels in the production model.


Interesting design concept. I like the fully integrated drive train at the rear. It can easily be used on a wide range of models.

I drive a 1999 Honda Insight mark I (The aluminium two seater) This car is similar in many ways but uses 3 liter / 100km. A brilliant car that today still looks as if it rolled out of the factory yesterday. It cost me $5000 to buy.

Exited about these cars not because of peak oil (Bullshit) or global warming (Bullshit) or any other environmental concern. I like things that are clever and efficient. Hauling your ass around town in a 2 tonne lump of steel is crazy from an aesthetic point of view.

But it will take a very long time before there will be a large enough group interested in this type of cars. Eventually it will all be about cost and simplicity (Maintenance)

Paul van Dinther

VW has been an important part of my life and I currently own a 2002 TDI Beatle. I've driven Original Beatles from St. Louis Missouri to Acapulco Mexico and back, and Frankfurt Germany to Madrid Spain, and many miles daily comuting. Drove a VW Diesel Rabbit round trip from Santa Clara California to Cabo San Lucus in Baha Mexico. The trip to Acapulco averaged 30 miles per gallon at 30 cents per gallon. That's 1 penny per mile, but $0.30 in 1963 ($47 for the 4,700 mile round trip) would be inflated to $2.26 today in 2013.

The new VW at 261mpg would compare at $2.61 per gallon to achieve 1 penny per mile in today's inflated pennies. Pretty impressive by any standard. - think I'll get one and head for Acapulco!

Walt Schilling

While the author seems to have been taken in by Oil Industry propaganda, and while I gave up trying to work my way through his writing style, I do love this car. It is the Son of Messerschmidt. I've been watching it for years. The Germans have always made the finest machinery in the world, even if it is sometimes a bit high strung. The fourth wheel will get the car around regressive US motorcycle laws., but otherwise is not needed. It won't be cheap, since the German economy hasn't been sold down the river yet. I suspect it will cost about half what one of those dual-cab 4WD 3/4 ton American pickups cost. As for speed, the office is not a place you need to race to. If you still have a job, that is.


Why do these auto makers seem to go from one extreme to the other such as some hotrod, not practical, and/or expensive sports car.....or some boring, slow (and still not that practical) small car. 261 mpg, why not a mid size car/SUV/minivan that gets 130 mpg, goes 0-60 in 8 seconds....something most people can and want to use. While I'm on my rant, why not work on improving economy on full size cars/SUVs/trucks that get 20 - 25 mpg? (or tractor/trailers, dump trucks, etc.) A 25% improvement in these is a far greater use of resources than a 25% improvement in a car that already gets 40-50 mpg. Ahhhh ranting!!!! feels good :)


Rear wheel drive? Where the heck these people live?! All the smart people who want vehicles like these live up nort' - don't they know that?! SHEESH!

Fritz Menzel

Volkswagen continue their reputation for overpriced fashion accessories. You pay for the badge.


Rip out that wimpy 2 cyl diesel and shoehorn in a Chevy Rat! Now you're talking :)

(Just kidding!!!)


Why do these things always have to be that handcrafted carbon fibre $100,000 price tag crap? Why not make it of aluminum even if it gets then "only" 150 mpg and sell for a reasonable price?

Joe Acerbic

Volkswagen has copied the shape of the Ford Probe V, with the front wheels exposed.

Not a lot of design progress since the Probe V was first shown in 1985.

Gregg Eshelman

The problem with the design is that they used a very expensive electric drive system.

I would use a pneumatic transmission with a 20 gallon (75.7 liter) carbon fiber pressure reserve tank that is powered by a uniflow (intake valves in the head and exhaust ports at the bottom of the cylinder) 2-cylinder 2-stroke turbo diesel compressor. (A crankless design using apposed cylinders with a double action piston compressor in between.) Use a Stirling cycle engine to harvest the waste heat/cold to power the secondary systems. If you were to go for the complication feeding the engine pure oxygen would make the engine run very clean and make the gas compressor immune to oil contamination.

re; Joe Acerbic

Carbon fiber does not need to be Hand crafted. The expense of carbon fiber has kept it used automotively only in limited production vehicles in which hand crafted is the more cost effective solution. Like fiberglass high production levels will result in automated production.

re; funglestrumpet

There are several interchanges in the Denver CO area that I do not use in a car with 6 second 0-60 because there is not enough room to accelerate for proper merging.


Well... Whooptee doo... Puhlease... give me a break and another copy of the " Space Merchants " to read or an update with more bells and whistles... Axial Vector Engine... the original designed back @ 1995-1997 ... a 100 Hp AVEC engine from back then before they spent the last 15 years dumbing it down... would have replaced the V-8 in my Dodge... giving me 300 ft. lb. tq. and 60 mpg on any fuel... on the fly... no need to purge the tank... that's all three military's everything at the pump including diesel, bio-deisel, palm oil, or straight ethanol... ask yourself where Emirate Capitol hid this at?


Axial Vector Energy seems to have gone the way of Pontiac.

Mark A

It looks like a wonderful eco-toy..only for the first...but some of the technology will filter down to less expensive cars later.

However, the truth is that once fuel efficiency passes say 80 mpg, continued increases in efficiency simply have almost no economic impact.

8000 mi/year then will only use 100 gal and cost about $400. Going to 160 mi/gal will save only $200 per year. If it cost an extra $4000 to get to 160 mpg or the usage causes any significant inconvenience, there will be no mass market. It will only be a vechicle for hobbyists who can afford eco-luxuries. Going 12k mi per year does not change these conclusions really.


It cracks me up when people say, "oh this car will never sell, its too small for practical purposes." Then why has there always been a market for little two seater cars like the Miata and Solstice? If it doesn't sell, I doubt it will be because it's a small car. It'll be more like price, range and looks.

Sonya B

All already seen a long time ago - at least in regards of aerodynamics. They could have copied and scaled down a Citroen DS5: Covered back wheels, flat under body covers, why not also the handy hydraulic level control and the moving headlights?


This lacks the fun to drive feature that powers the sports car market.


Just as a small point, I don't think it's a good idea to compare the aerodynamic coefficient of this, a car designed for minimum drag, to that of a supercar, which is designed to have as reasonably high downforce as possible (energy to press the car against the ground is taken from forward motion, thus increasing the aerodynamic coefficient. A formula 1 car might have aerodynamic coefficient of 0.7 when set up for max downforce, where-as a Toyota Prius (2004 model) has 0.24)

Roni Eskola

Didn't the Chevy EV-1 have a COG of 0.19 also? Comparing to a performance car isn't really relevant since the latter has aerodynamic features balanced between drag and down force.


I have read that the real world MPG is somewhere in the neighborhood of 126MPG, and it can be mass produced not like the winners of the xprize. Read.

George Voll

Thanks for the great write-up, C.C. Weiss! CFRPs are made from large sections of woven carbon fabric. Imagine the weight and ‘carbon’ cost-reductions when, instead of “sheets” of carbon fiber, manufacturers use only “shards” (particulate) of carbon mixed in a molded plastic matrix. New developments like the ability to “process model” long GLASS fiber in plastic injection molding - are the precursor to a similar process now being researched by the DOE for carbon fiber “fragments” injection molded plastics. Think of it this way: You can deliver strength similar to carbon fabrics but using much less carbon! Add the fast cycle times of injection molding and a strong lightweight steering tie-rod can be made as quickly as a milkjug. When the strength of carbon meets the speed of injection molding the landscape for lightweighting autos with plastics will change dramatically.

For more on carbon fiber car parts, visit: and

Rob Krebs, Market Innovations, American Chemistry Council

Rob Krebs
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