Volkswagen goes Up!
Instead of adapting current designs and technology, VW has decided to work from the ground up for its new small car for emerging markets and those with an eye on a less profligate future.
Among all the horsepower- dripping supercars and multi- hundred thousand dollar footballers' wives-type roadsters, the star of Frankfurt's Motor Show, which closes this weekend, has been without doubt VW's Up! concept car.
It may be a concept, but this back-to-basics idea is very much in line for production and we could see the car on public roads as early as 2010.
Based on a completely new platform and drivetrain and measuring just 3.45 metres in length the Up! marks the return to a rear-engined layout like that seen on the original Beetle more than 70 years ago.
The Up! concept was designed by a team overseen by chief designer of the Volkswagen Group, Walter de Silva, and marks the debut of a fresh design direction for the company using simple features while retaining what Mr de Silva calls an instantly recognisable Volkswagen face.
At the rear is a tailgate section constructed entirely out of a transparent material, inset into the centre of which is a glowing Volkswagen roundel.
Mr de Silva commented at Frankfurt: "The Up! is not a car whose form will become obsolete within a very brief period of time. The Up! is a clear and strong statement for future Volkswagen design".
The challenges facing the Volkswagen engineering team, led by director of concept development Ralf-Gerhard Willner, were considerable. The Up! concept is intended as inspiration for a new family of small, extremely efficient vehicles.
The up! can be powered by a choice of compact two- or three-cylinder engines, depending on the specific market.
With no details of the engine lineup being available, much time was taken by pundits at the show to speculate on how the power units would be formed, using several reams of napkins for the project!
In order for a twin and triple-cylinder engine to work on a similar transaxle, it would appear that a flat-twin unit would be out of the question, with most agreeing that a horizontal parallel twin with a modular three-cylinder version most likely, using air-cooling by way of ducting under the rear of the vehicle.
There is even talk of a single-cylinder version of the car for emerging and third world markets, with outstanding fuel economy, though even the likely 1.2-litre flagship triple should be able to manage better than three litres every 100km says VW, with emissions figures in the 90g CO2/km area.
Despite its tiny proportions the Up! concept vehicle is capable of carrying four adults.
The maximum potential interior space was created by pushing each of the four wheels as far into the corners as possible.
This not only frees up space and reduces front and rear overhangs but also improves stability.
The need to maximise efficiency continues to the car's interior.
Each of the individual, lightweight passenger seats, which feature inflatable bolsters to maximise comfort, can be folded and removed from the vehicle if necessary in order for larger loads to be carried.
The Up! concept rethinks the way in which both the driver and passengers interface with the vehicle. Software linked to a touch-sensitive screen has the ability to sense specific hand movements of the user to access the climate, entertainment and vehicle functions.
The car's second screen, mounted ahead of the driver, relays real-time information on the vehicle's systems, along with instant read-outs of the amount of CO2 being emitted.
Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen's board member with responsibility for technical development, commented: "For Volkswagen the response of Frankfurt Motor Show visitors will be a decisive test to determine whether the concept has the same kind of potential possessed by the Beetle at one time or by the Golf today.
"Judging by comments from editors of more than half a dozen international automotive media outlets, including our own, we'd say the Up! could be yours in just a few years."
The clean Walter de Silva styling of the car and its simplicity seems refreshing in the light of technology and money-hungry hybrids and fuel cell concepts which merely appear to put clean modern cars out of reach of the markets that need it.
The Up! could amortise its third-world costs by being built in more than a dozen plants around the world and appealing to those in better-developed markets requiring basic transport again, without compromising safety or emissions.
Car of the Show – irrefutably!
The Dominion Post