VW shows 170 mpg tandem diesel hybrid two-seater


September 15, 2009

Feather-light and with miniscule drag, the Volkswagen L1 will be the most fuel-efficient car made

Feather-light and with miniscule drag, the Volkswagen L1 will be the most fuel-efficient car made

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Volkswagen rocked the automotive world at a lunchtime press conference on the first day of the Frankfurt Motor Show with a carbon fiber, half width, 1-liter hybrid electric diesel tandem two-seater car named the L1. When the car makes production in 2013, four years from now, it will almost certainly be the most fuel efficient car available with a combined diesel fuel consumption figure of 1.38 l/100km, thanks to its frugal motor combo, feather-like weight – 380 kg in total - and an aerodynamic drag co-efficient of just 0.195!

Seven years ago, we reported on the development of Volkswagen’s tandem 1-Liter car. At that time, the prospect of a production version of the radical two-seater, which achieved fuel consumption of one liter fuel per 100 kilometers, was so remote as to be unthinkable.

Though the car was driven from Wolfsburg to Hamburg as a public demonstration by Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, at that time Chairman of the Board of Management and today Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Volkswagen Group, it was clear that a production version lay in the far future, if ever.

The L1 is the second generation of the 1-liter car, and close to production readiness. And its dimensions are intriguing - the length of the L1 at 3,813 millimeters is still similar to that of a Volkswagen Fox, and its height of 1,143 millimeters nearly matches that of a Lamborghini Murciélago, while the car’s aerodynamically optimized width (1,200 millimeters) has no comparisons in the world of today’s production cars.

In developing both prototype generations of the L1, Volkswagen questioned everything that typically characterized an automobile, and clearly in the case of the L1. The key starting point was body construction, and a core question was raised here: How would a car have to look and be built to consume as little energy as possible? The logical answer: extremely aerodynamic and lightweight. Yet these objectives had to be achieved under a non- negotiable precondition: a maximum of safety. The approach taken: a narrow two-seater with a CFRP body!

The seat layout fitting this design goal was dictated by the uncompromising aerodynamic form of a glider: One seat behind the other. Entry to the concept car is also similar to that of a glider; through a roof cover hinged at the side. On this second generation of the L1, the concept has been further honed; each component has been redesigned, a special chassis with aluminium components was developed, and above all the crucial CFRP technology from Formula-1 racing and airplane construction was transferred to automotive manufacturing. This has been combined with a unique form of hybrid drive to create a near-production vehicle.


If Computer modelling has radically speeded up the design process,how does it take 11 Years to put such a design into production? do a retro homage to the Messerschmitt bubble car!

Gerard Gallagher
There is not a chance they will produce this car. It's way to radical for them. Not that it shouldn't be produced, just it will be by a new company, not VW. Plus it's ugly. Aero does not have to be ugly. jerryd

Wow !,,,,,,,,,,, things are getting exciting in the automotive industry,,,,,,,,,,the Messerschmitt bubble car was an awful vehicle,,,,,,,,,,so no comparison there please !


I would buy one for commuting if the price was right. There's one big safety problem though. If the car rolls even onto its side you'd be trapped.

Jon Shurtleff

It's interesting that one of the comments says that this car is ugly.

I think this is a very beautiful car.

I would rather have this car than any other car that I could think of.

The only problem is that they will add bells and whistles and expensive extras so that it will be between 30 and 40 thousand dollars for the vehicle.

I hope they make a bare bones, less expensive version. Maybe replacing a little of the carbon fiber with aluminum. But I don't know.


I still think, that when small living business villages are built, 1000 people will be able to share 500 or even 250 cars, without A problem, & that therefore, each car will be able to cost twice as much upfront, permitting the construction of vehicles that are otherwise ahead of their time. When you DOUBLE the price of effectively the same vehicle, it can become a gorgeous and hyperefficient thing.

Robert Graham

This illustrates the factor in efficiency that has been overlooked by the technically challenged in the auto "green" press - frontal area. Aero drag is a function of drag coefficient, area, and speed. It's gotten harder to achieve reduction in drag coefficient, but rearranging the seats reduces frontal area by nearly half.

The future of the automobile looks to me very much like a diesel, hybrid-powered Bic pen on wheels.


An aging motorcyclist, I, I would love to own one of these! I would gladly purchase an Aptera hybrid for that matter.

It's the handling, the ease of transport, the freedom of movement down the road that appeals...

The weather? Not so much. I don't even have enough hair left to grumble about helmet laws anymore. The 'wind whipping across your naked scalp' just doesn't have the same ring.

C'mon VW! Bring it in under $20K. I'll contract for one and begin payments tomorrow!


Production schedules, "bells & whistles" and appearances aside, it most likely won't be available here (in the United States). It's hard enough to find decent diesel options here. Add in that it "looks weird" (to average Joe-Sixpack), means it will be kept out for perceived lack of interest. Since "all" cars look a particular way, burn a particular fuel, that OBVIOUSLY means that it should stay that way. I think it's a load of BS, but that's unfortunately how things are done. That's why we can't get "real" Opels here: We get Opels that have been stripped of what makes them good, and packed full of genuine GM crap, and a "Saturn" logo.

Jeff Sell

It sucks. Yes, unfortunately I do have to agree with Jeff. You will not get the real thing here.


Sorry VW its fugly...

Too complex

Too expensive

Too narrow in the track. 1650mm would be better

My 'Duo' tandem Design (1/4 scale model due for display in 4 months) will eat this L1 Concept alive...and will be better looking, cheaper, simpler to construct and much more marketable...

A 0.195cd is not required for this type of vehicle. 0.25 cd would have been adequate and contributed to a far better style/function comprimise.

For a car company like VW to make serious mistakes of this nature is quite extraordinary!

Andrew B

Nice! Finally a commuter vehicle you can see out of both sides -equally. Light and agile to avoid accidents - rather than SUV style where you must plow straight ahead (otherwise a quick swerve will likely make an suv roll over and you get smashed) Shocking as it might seem, all \'Americans\' are not of the same mindset about vehicles -thousands want max efficiency in a lightweight, highly maneuverable, economical, easy to park vehicle. This looks like an excellent solution to me! p.s. The 4 wheel Messerschmitt Tiger blew off all the bigger iron a number of times in autocross racing!


Sharp! Sharp, sharp, sharp! I would own one.


The design is good but I would be afraid to drive one until there are more smaller cars on the road. With a very light weight, how would it handle to strong winds blowing from the side? VW has not stated the price but if it can be kept low, it has an excellent chance of being accepted. I live in an area with hills so do not know how it would perform going uphill. Downhill, I am sure it would run well. If gasoline goes above $5/gallon, then I believe this design will be taken seriously.

Adrian Akau

I think their first model had a cleaner look. I too would like to own one but I fear it will never happen due to price point issues. They may be able to get away with the narrow design by having the drivetrain and battery packs located low in chassis for a better cg. As a American, the only decent choice for us right now is the Aptera (which I feel has a better shape) but again, it\'s the price point. As far as design, a tadpole 3-wheeler 3-seater with a little wider, tear-drop shape in front seems the best. Like the first responder \"Gallagher\" said, we need a modern version of something like the Messerschmitt, just basic inexpensive transport! One more thing, I like the in-line design of the two power sources. I\'d like to see another article on this vehicle, targeted on the drive train and maybe performance specs, cornering, etc.

Will, the tink

Why is Volkswagen going BACKWARDS in fuel economy?!

Dave Narby

One quick turn and it\'s going to roll like a tootsie-roll.

Jim Bentz

If a tilt mechanism is able to maintain centre of gravity between the lateral wheel base, then it cannot roll over, but this doesn\'t appear to have tilt built into it..

The dimensions are still lower than the height, and all of the upper structure is the canopy and roll cage... Batteries, engine, motors etc should be able to all be very low... making it stable.

Sure it is fugly, but you will get used to that, just as you have gotten used to the 90s and 2000\'s cars....

Light weight doesn\'t have to be expensive.... (but you will have to pay for that fuel saving, if you will bave 20k fuel saving in the life of the vehicle, expect to pay 20 or 30 k more for the vehicle, the car / oil / solar energy conglomerates want their cash, better now rather than later... (Present Net worth, rules economies)

Just because carbon fibre is used doesn\'t mean the same weight and strength can\'t be achieved with foam core fibreglass (for a lot less in cost, slightly thicker but much cheaper)

For some applications, steel is still better than cored fibre reinforced plastics...

Bad use of Carbon, is worse than good use of steel. (and aluminium can often achieve a getter outcome, though the tooling costs are often higher...

It is really horses for courses.... Note Planes are not tested by crashing them into mountains.. cars are, so the requirements are different.

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