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Friday, December 4, 2009

Volkswagen Up! Lite hybrid concept breaks cover

Volkswagen revealed another member of the Up! City-car concept series at the Los Angeles auto show. The Up! Lite is a three-door, four-seater version of the future VW small car powered by a hybrid powertrain.

Utilizing a 0.8-liter two-cylinder turbocharged diesel and a 10-kilowatt electric motor out of the L1 concept, Volkswagen claims that the Up! Lite is capable of 70 mpg on the highway. Combined output of the diesel engine and electric motors is about 64 hp. Bolted to the hybrid powertrain is a seven-speed DSG transmission. Additional fuel-saving technologies include regenerative braking, a stop/start system and an Eco button that reduces engine output.

Lightweight construction also plays a part in the Up! Lite's efficiency, with the car weighing in at just 1,532 pounds. The light curb weight is achieved with the help of high-strength steel and aluminum used for the majority of the body. Carbon fiber also is employed for the roof, front-bumper cross members and spokes in the 18-inch wheels. In addition, the exterior's aerodynamic design returns a 0.237 Cd to further improved fuel efficiency.

For the interior, Volkswagen adopted a minimalistic approach, placing a few buttons to the left of the steering wheel to control lighting and buttons to the right of the steering wheel to start the Up! Lite. Shifting the DSG transmission into gear is done with a control ball in place of a regular shift lever that feels like an oversized computer mouse.

All other functions and displays are controlled or seen on three monitors throughout the cabin. One is placed directly in front of the driver for speed, odometer, powertrain status, outside temperature and time information. The second is a touch screen at the center of the dash to control climate, phone and audio functions.

The final monitor is placed where a traditional rearview mirror would be and displays images from three exterior cameras: one rearview camera and two side cameras mounted in place of the outside mirrors. Activating the turn signal automatically displays the image from the side camera on the corresponding side, which makes actions such as changing lanes and merging easier.

Expect to see a production car based on the Up! concept series in early 2011.

This is the fifth in the series of Up! concepts from Volkswagen. It all began with the up! at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show, followed by the space up! at Tokyo, space Up! blue at Los Angeles and the electric-powered E-up! in Frankfurt again.

This Up! Lite can go up to 1.86 miles on electricity alone, using the battery pack it has.

While series production will begin in Germany in 2011, don't look for a production Up! in the rest of the world until 2013, maybe even 2014, according to VW's head of R&D, Ullrich Hackenberg.

When it does come up for production, what will an Up! look like?

"The chassis is indicative of a production car," said Hackenberg.

So we still don't know what it will look like for sure, though a VW spokesman said the Up! Lite shown here is more like what a production car would be.

The first U.S. Up! may well be an electric car.

"By then [2013], we should know the acceptance of electric cars in America," said Hackenberg.

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