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VW Up Lite: Small car, smaller carbon footprint

Volkswagen unveiled one of the few new concepts at the 2009 LA auto show, a tiny hybrid concept called the Up Lite.

VW Up Lite concept
Half of a TDI engine plus an electric motor equals twice the fuel economy. That's our kind of math. Josh P. Miller/CNET

Volkswagen unveiled one of the few new concepts at the 2009 LA auto show, a tiny hybrid concept called the Up Lite concept (or Up! Lite, if you have a penchant for gratuitous punctuation). This small turbo-diesel hybrid possesses a small physical footprint--being much smaller than the VW Golf--and a super small carbon footprint, reaching an astronomical 70 US mpg fuel economy on the EU testing cycle.

To create the power train for the Up Lite, VW took its 1.6-liter TDI engine, chopped it in half, and slapped an electric engine on the back. Of course, we're sure there's more that went into the development than that, but what you end up with is a two-cylinder 0.8-liter TDI engine mated to a 10kW electric motor that spins its flywheel to the tune of a maximum of 64 horsepower. However to attain the Up's insane 70 US mpg, the drive train must be placed in ECO mode, which limits output to 34 horsepower. Putting that power to the front tires is a seven-speed DSG gearbox.

The electric motor is a multitasker, performing as a motor, a regenerative brake, and as a starter for the diesel engine. Able to be operated in an all-electric mode, the Up Lite is a full-fledged hybrid. When in EV mode--for coasting, at low speeds, and when stopped--the small grill opening at the base of the front air dam slides shut to reduce aerodynamic drag. Like any good full hybrid, the electric motor can also work in tandem with the TDI engine when maximum acceleration is necessary.

The Up Lite is thrifty, but obviously not very powerful. However, thanks to the torquey nature of electric and diesel powerplants, the up is still able to hustle to 60 mph in just over 12 seconds before reaching a top speed of 100 mph.

While the Up Lite's hybrid power train is mostly responsible for the lofty fuel economy and low emissions, it does get a little help in the form of weight saving and aerodynamic measures. Besides just being physically small, the Up Lite keeps its mass down through extensive usage of aluminum. With the exception of its carbon fiber roof and plastic bumpers, all of the Up Lite's body panels are made of aluminum, as are parts of its underlying unibody.

To cut down on aerodynamic drag, the Up Lite utilizes a narrow and long body and the aforementioned opening and closing grill. In place of turbulence creating side mirrors, the Up Lite has a pair of cameras that work in tandem with the rearview camera to offer a blind-spot-free panoramic view of the road behind you. Expect practical mirrors to be back in placer before this puppy reaches production.

Up Lite interior
In addition to loads of green tech, the Up Lite concept features a good array of good ol' fashioned cabin tech. Josh P. Miller/CNET

In addition to green technologies, the Up Lite will be equipped with a full array of safety features (airbags, stability control, etc.) and a cabin tech package that includes MP3 playback, hands-free calling, video playback, and a trick navigation system that utilizes traffic, time, and terrain data to find the most fuel efficient path from point A to B.

The Up Lite concept is the harbinger of Volkswagen's new small car platform that should bear fruit in the form of a production Up Lite as early as the second half of 2011.