It's hard to keep up with the Volkswagen up! concept car. In two-and-half-years, the microcar has been unveiled as a better Smart ForTwo, a family of mini cars, an all-electric car, and most recently a lightweight diesel hybrid. VW talks about putting the car into production in a few years, but with each new iteration the timeline moves further back.
When the up! showed up at auto shows in 2007, the micro-car was used as a counterpoint to the company's clean diesels (on the way at the time). Here was VW's chance to talk about a small car that could get close to 80 mpg. The vision of a better microcar—with a sleeker design, better handling and higher fuel efficiency than the Smart ForTwo—was enhanced with the proposal that there would be an array of up! variants, including a short-wheelbase 3-door hatchback and a long wheelbase 5-door hatchback—as well as a sedan, convertible and crossover. The concept 3-door Volkswagen up! was 135 inches long, while the 4-door variant was 141.7 inches. There was also talk of gas, diesel and fuel cell powertrain options.
By the time the up! hit the Los Angeles auto show later in 2007, it had become the "space up! blue," a mini minivan measuring 145 inches long, and boasting interior space comparable to a much larger vehicle. It was presented as an all-electric vehicle capable of a 65-mile range, or a fuel cell microvan with 220 miles of driving, with help from a rooftop solar panel.
Right around that time, UK's Autocar awarded the up! as the concept car of the year. Autocar editor Charles Hallett said the up! was "a brilliant concept car, but importantly a concept car that will become a reality." Car and Driver said it was certainly heading to the United States.
The car reemerged—transformed into an electric car and re-named the e-up!—for the 2009 Frankfurt auto show. The rumored production schedule for the electric up! is around 2013. The e-up! takes the form of a 10.5 foot minicar that seats four—three in front and one in back. Top speed is less than 85 miles per hour, with a 0-60 mph pace of about 11 seconds. The e-up! weighs about 2,400 pounds—with more than 500 pounds coming from the 18 kWh battery pack that can deliver about 80 miles of range from a single charge. The driver activates forward or reverse gear via a rotary knob in the center console.
Automotive News reported that a slightly larger version was being considered for the US market, sometime after a European introduction.
VW suggested that the E-up! could be the “Beetle for the 21st Century,” the same reference it had made from the earliest concept version two years earlier. The VW logo on the V-shaped engine bonnet of the e-up! is more than just an homage to the Beetle. Hidden behind the folding logo is the integrated port for charging the batteries. The concept car has a touch-screen interface that monitors battery state of charge, provides traffic data, and locates available charging stations.
A Game of One (More) Upmanship
A couple of months later, the up! showed up at the 2009 Los Angeles auto show, this time as the "up! lite." This version of the up! combines a lightweight aluminum body, tiny 0.8-liter turbo-diesel engine, electric motor and 7-speed direct shift gearbox to produce a small sporty diesel-hybrid capable of nearly 100 miles to the gallon, according to Volkswagen. VW calls it “the world’s most environmentally friendly four-seat car.”
So folks, take your pick of which up! concept you like the best. Some form of one of them could go into production, if VW delivers on its promise to introduce a “new small family” microcar sometime around 2011.