Tesla’s Model S may have been 2012’s Car Of The Year, but the folks at Volkswagen think they’ve got another industry changer — and once again, aluminum is a big part of it. The Volkswagen XL1 is still an experimental vehicle, one that will see limited production over the 2013 calendar year, though it’s certainly notable for its eye-popping 261 MPG. That’s two gallons of fuel required to drive between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. It also features an all-electric mode that supports a range of 31 miles.
The XL1 weighs in at approximately 1700 lbs — in comparison, the Model S weighs in at 4600 lbs while the Toyota Prius comes in at 2900 lbs. This mass savings stems from a variety of design choices, including heavy use of aluminum and composite (carbon fiber-reinforced plastic) as primary materials construction. From Plastics Today:
A total of 21.3% of the new XL1, or 169 kg, consists of CFRP. In addition, Volkswagen uses lightweight metals for 22.5% of all parts (179 kg). Only 23.2% (184 kg) of the new XL1 is constructed from steel. The rest of its weight is distributed among various other polymers (e.g. polycarbonate side windows), metals, natural fibers, process materials and electronics.
Thanks to CFRP, the XL1 is not only light in weight but also very safe as well. This is due in part to the high-strength and yet lightweight CFRP monocoque. In an emergency, it provides driver and passenger with the necessary survival space. The intelligent design of the load paths, including the use of sandwich structures in the monocoque, is responsible for this. In addition, the aluminum structures of the front and rear sections absorb the majority of the impact energy.
These principles were likewise implemented in the design of the CFRP doors, where an aluminum absorbing beam is responsible for the absorption of the energy; moreover, a stiff CFRP door frame minimizes the intrusions into the CFRP safety cell. The rescue of the passengers was also given a great deal of attention: In case the XL1 overturns and comes to a rest on the roof, pyrotechnical separating screws facilitate the opening of the doors (swing doors).
Of course, the XL1 isn’t going to be available at your local VW dealer. Only 250 vehicles will be produced in 2013, primarily for the European market. Still, with the world’s focus on fuel efficiency, it makes sense that this concept car may go from a mid-2000s pipe dream to occupying dealership space at a lot near you…someday.