VW Takes a Stab at Lightweight, Aerodynamic Design With “Up! Lite”

The way Volkswagen describes its latest concept car — the Up! Lite diesel hybrid coup unveiled today at the Los Angeles Auto Show — you might think the German automaker has taken some cues from the American startups Aptera Motors and Bright Automotive. VW says in its release that the Up! Lite design (variation in the same family as the electric E-Up! concept shown in Frankfurt this year), “underscores just how fascinating a car tuned to aerodynamic perfection can look,” and features ultra lightweight body construction.

But on the outside, the Up! Lite bears very little resemblance to the three-wheeled Aptera 2e or 2h (which prioritize aerodynamics) or the utilitarian Bright IDEA (a fleet van prototype based on the concepts of lightweighting and aerodynamics championed by the Rocky Mountain Institute). The Up! Lite doesn’t achieve the triple-digit miles per gallon boasted by Aptera and Bright. But the sleek and cutesy coup — which VW says “might be launched globally” — gets 70 MPG for highway driving (not too shabby for a four-seater hybrid), according to the automaker, and produces about 40 grams of CO2 per mile.


For comparison, Toyota expects the plug-in version of its popular Prius hybrid — which made its North American debut today at the LA Auto Show — to get about 75 MPG (combined city/highway), and produce less than 37 grams of CO2 per mile. Meanwhile, the 2010 Prius (not a plug-in) has an EPA rating of 50 MPG.

The Up! Lite four-seater employs a two-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, an electric motor, regenerative braking, start-stop technology, and in its all-electric mode for short distances at low speeds it runs on lithium-ion batteries.

Up! Lite

Of course, this is a concept vehicle, and automakers that pull out all the stops to parade something impressive at an event like this week’s auto show often rein in budgets and unproven elements for the models that actually make it into the pipeline for production.

For now, however, the Up! Lite (which VW says can reach speeds of up to 100 MPH, and can go 0-60 MPH in 12 seconds) features a safety frame made from aluminum, carbon fiber and steel, is longer with a lower profile than the E-Up! concept (pictured at left), and has “no edges except for the upper tornado line, the wheel wells and a connection line integrated there.” Like Renault’s original concept for the Z.E., VW’s Up! Lite concept has small cameras instead of side mirrors to reduce wind resistance. The front radiator inlet opens only when the engine needs to cool.

Beyond the fuel-saving elements, VW has included a touch screen to control features including “ventilation, Internet, telephone, MP3, video, trip computer, radio,” and others. But it’s also loaded with gadgetry for better fuel economy. As Automobile Magazine explains, drivers can select an “eco” drive mode that limits the engine power, and “seeing as the TDI is shut off during stretches of coasting, the car’s navigation system can route drivers on roads that offer long stretches where the engine won’t be needed.” According to VW, the setting brings in the additional parameter of topography for routing computations.

If the Up! Lite makes it past the concept and development phase (where the Bright IDEA and Aptera 2e have encountered hurdles), and finds strong demand, it could help drive more resources to the design innovations that these startups have helped to invigorate.

Images courtesy of Volkswagen