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Concept photo of Formula XL1 plug-in diesel electric two-seater. (Volkswagen)
Concept photo of Formula XL1 plug-in diesel electric two-seater. (Volkswagen)

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VW moving ahead with radical small car Add to ...

Volkswagen is planning to produce a number of radical new small cars, including a plug-in hybrid and a full-battery electric Golf, a four-door coupe version of the Jetta, and a super-efficient XL1 plug-in diesel hybrid subcompact car.

The cars will go on sale between the end of next year and 2015. But that doesn’t mean that all these vehicles will make it to Canada.

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The lightweight Formula XL1 two-seater is by far the most ambitious of these projects, as it appears to be Volkwagen’s environmental home-run swing. A 0.8-litre plug-in diesel electric two-seater still sounds like a concept, but winter testing spy shots that surfaced this week suggest otherwise.

About the length and width of a Honda Fit, the XL1 sits as low as a Lamborghini Gallardo, and also features exotic upward-swinging doors. Perhaps taking a cue from the market sales flop of the original Honda Insight hybrid, the spy shots suggest that the rear wheels will be uncovered for production – unlike on concept XL1s shown last year, even if this is less fuel-efficient.

Widely referred to as VW’s one-litre car, having evolved out of VW’s original 2002 concept with that name, it is designed achieve fuel economy of 1 litre/100 km. On European test cycles, the XL1 concept averaged 0.9 litres/100 km, or 313 miles per Imperial gallon, according to VW.

To achieve such minimal fuel consumption figures, VW shaved the XL1’s weight down to 795 kilograms using a lightweight but lower-cost version of carbon fibre, pared down the car’s aerodynamic resistance to a mere 0.186 coefficient of drag, and added a lithium-ion battery that powers the concept up to 35 kilometres on grid power alone, before the tiny 800-cc diesel engine kicks in to take over powering the rear wheels. The concept’s two power units combine to provide 74 hp, so it’s far from a powerhouse, but VW claims its low weight helps it reach 100 km/h in a reasonable 11.9 seconds.

Whether the undisguised prototype XL1 snapped doing cold-weather testing recently will be powered by this same diesel-electric powertrain is unknown, as is any official word on a production date for the green halo vehicle. But the appearance of the undisguised prototype suggests it is going through final testing, with an official unveiling likely imminent. VW’s information about the XL1 concept that debuted last year said “its unveiling marks the next step towards the birth of a new class of Super Efficient Vehicles.”

It’s possible that this new class could include both full electric and plug-in hybrid versions of the VW Golf. A battery-only Golf is coming to California and Europe by the end of 2013, VW North America president Jonathan Browning told trade journal Automotive News, while UK magazine AutoExpress recently reported that a plug-in version of the Golf will be on sale for 2015. The Golf BEV will provide a range of about 150 km, while the plug-in hybrid is predicted to travel about 45 km on electricity alone before the gas engine kicks in, for a total range of about 550 km.

Less radical on the powertrain side than the design area will be the Jetta four-door “coupe,” a CC-ification of the Jetta that will offer four seats and a sportier body that’s also set to launch in 2015, Autoweek magazine reported.

Plug-ins have key role, study finds

Electric vehicles, range-extended or pure plug-ins, could play a key role in reducing vehicle emissions in Canada over the next decade, but their potentially critical impact depends greatly on their acceptance by consumers, according to a Canadian study released this week.

The World Wildlife Fund Canada study looked at the total life cycle environmental impact of these plug-in vehicles, and found that even with the dirtiest (most coal-intensive) electricity grids in the country (in Alberta and Nova Scotia), the adoption of EVs would reduce emissions per kilometre driven in all provinces, compared to a similar internal combustion engine vehicle.

Pure battery EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, while PHEV’s battery manufacturing, materials and disposal have been found to only make up 2 to 5 per cent of a plug-in’s overall life-cycle emissions, the study said.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were unsurprisingly found to be much cleaner than PHEVs, which had an advantage but less so over already very clean non-plug-in hybrids, especially on dirtier grids. So the total greenhouse gas emissions advantage of plug-ins over even the greenest cars depends largely on how the electricity that powers them is generated, the report concluded, approaching minimal levels if they are powered by a grid using hydro, nuclear, solar or wind-powered electricity.

But the overall environmental impact of plug-ins will be minimal in the next few years, because plug-ins are still bound to be relatively rare, and their overall impact to the planet will depend largely on how quickly they’re adopted, the report says, which is available online at wwf.ca.

It therefore looked at minimal “business as usual” adoption rates (0.7 per cent of new-vehicle sales by the end of 2020), a moderate increase (3.9 per cent) and an aggressive growth model (10.4 per cent of sales by 2020), which predictably produced the greatest reduction in GHG emissions. However, even that optimistic scenario does not produce nearly the predicted emissions reductions in North America of the increasing CAFE fuel economy standards planned for 2025.

F12 Berlinetta.

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta on top for now

Ferrari has let loose details of its most powerful model, the 740-hp F12 Berlinetta, but has not been quite so upfront that this newly introduced model will be supplanted from the top of the Italian brand’s lofty power rankings by a successor to the Enzo supercar by this time next year.

The F12 Berlinetta, unveiled at Geneva earlier this month, will replace the 599 GTB Fiorano as the front-engine, two-seat V-12 powerhouse in its current year lineup. But traditionally Ferrari’s most serious sports cars have had the engines behind the driver, as with the V-8 in the 458, versus the more real-world-accommodating front-engine designs like the California convertible or all-wheel-drive FF V-12 hatch.

Ferrari CEO Luca de Montezemolo told Automotive News Europe that the successor to the Enzo would be shown to prospective owners before its public debut early next year, likely at the Detroit or Geneva auto show. It won’t be called the Enzo, as that was a limited-edition model, but various online reports suggest it will put out about 920 hp.

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