VW shows off new hybrid system, engine in Detroit

At the 2013 Detroit auto show, Volkswagen unveiled two cars using key components for future fuel efficiency: a Passat with a new-generation direct-injection engine, and a concept car with a new hybrid system.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Wayne Cunningham/CNET

DETROIT--Volkswagen has been much better known for its high-mileage diesel models than hybrids. Yet here at the 2013 North American International Auto Show, VW showed a concept car featuring a new transmission that will let it turn almost any car in its lineup into a hybrid. The company also showed a new, more efficient direct-injection 1.8-liter engine making 250 horsepower.

The CrossBlue concept, a diesel hybrid, relies on what VW board member Ulrich Hackenberg referred to as an eDSG in an interview with CNET. The eDSG is a new version of VW's Dual Shift Gearbox (DSG), a transmission with two computer-controlled clutches that incorporates an electric motor for hybrid car operation.

The transmission includes six fixed gears, and the electric motor provides torque to turn the driveshaft. Combining the electric motor with the transmission makes for a more easily implemented component. VW's recently released Jetta Hybrid uses a six-speed DSG and a separate electric motor.

Hackenberg said that the eDSG would fit into any VW model using the company's MQB platform, which means every model except the Touareg. VW could offer almost any of its models as a hybrid by swapping the eDSG in on the assembly line and adding a battery pack.

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The Cross Blue concept, in which the eDSG was first shown, also makes use of a TDI, or diesel, engine, giving it 35 mpg in hybrid operation. The concept is a plug-in hybrid with 14 miles of pure electric range, and VW rates it at 89 miles per gallon equivalent with electric drive taken into account.

VW has not specified which future models might be offered as hybrids, but if the fuel economy is anywhere near the Jetta Hybrid's mid-40s, then it seems like a good move.

Direct-injection pioneer
Along with TDI engines, VW has also been offering direct injection for longer than most. However, recent new entrants using this technology from other automakers delivered better power. To introduce an update to its direct-injection engines, VW unveiled a Passat performance concept.

Volkswagen 1.8-liter direct-injection engine
Plastic cladding hides VW's next-generation 1.8-liter turbocharged engine. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The car itself is not much to look at. It is a little lower than a standard Passat and it seems to have custom wheels, but the white, midsize sedan looks rather benign. The real story is under the hood, which hides a new 1.8-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine. Running on gasoline, this engine produces 250 horsepower, a significant increase over the 200 horsepower from VW's current generation of 2-liter engines employing similar technology.

If this 1.8-liter engine is anything to go by, VW will be able to reduce displacement down to 1.6 or even 1.4 liters and still produce ample power from its engines for most of its cars. The smaller-displacement engines should help cars get even better fuel economy.

Coupling the new generation of direct-injection engines with the eDSG might even put future VW hybrids over the 50 mpg mark.