Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Volkswagen's L1 Concept: All About Weight and Aerodynamics

Volkswagen first introduced their "Concept" back in 2001 or so, but now it is purportedly set for actual production. What is holding things back is the ability to create a carbon-fibre body
cheaply enough so that the car is competitively priced. This car will have the capability to exceed any posted speed limit (75 mph) and is called the "L1" by way of its early antecedent.
The L1 updates an idea Volkswagen has been kicking around since 2002, when Dr. Ferdinand Piëtch, then the chairman of the board, drove the 1-Liter microcar from Wolfsburg to Hamburg. The car drew its name from the fact it needed one liter of fuel to go 100 kilometers. The 1-Liter was a technological marvel built of carbon fiber and magnesium, but it was so ridiculously expensive VW knew it wasn’t practical. Piëtch shelved the project, figuring it wouldn’t be financially viable for another decade.
Note the frontal area. Small. It is all about aerodynamics. Length of a vehicle doesn't matter as far as drag is concerned, so the second passenger is behind the driver. Volkswagen made a similar, less aerodynamic one-person car in the 1980's that was never brought to market. It could not be profitably made. Same with GM. Their "Lean Machine" (a three-wheeler that leaned into turns, created by hot-rod/performance GM engineers) was a rave with test audiences, but could not be profitably produced.
People often buy cars based on the "maximum case" carrying capacity. Ideas like "if I go to the airport and pick up my brother's family, where will I put them if I own an L1?" are reasons they give not to buy this car, even though their brother has never brought the family (or even the wife) on a trip via flying! Or the soccer team which they never transported. Or the camping trip they never took. For such one-off events, for Gawd's sake, rent a proper VAN for a week, pay the $500, and save by driving a small car the other 51 weeks of the year.
Automakers say two-seat cars don't sell, are not profitable. Well, major automakers are not profitable. They have to start accepting alternate variations on the core product.
The Volkswagen L1 could have an even smaller engine, and could forget about carbon fiber, if the car only attained a sub-40 top speed.