VW's 261-MPG XLI Could Come to the U.S.

By · March 29, 2013


There will never be a lot of XL1s, but as many as 20 could come to the U.S.

NEW YORK CITY—The highlight of Volkswagen’s press conference at the New York International Auto Show Thursday was the introduction of the new Golf. The company’s fuel-economy champ XL1 wasn’t even on the company’s stand.

In February, I said the two-seat XL1 is “the best plug-in hybrid that Americans can’t buy.” It's largely aimed at Europe. But perhaps I spoke too soon. After the Golf was teed up, I approached Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, and asked him about the aerodynamic and ultra-lightweight (1,753 pounds) XL1, which is claimed to get as much as 261 mpg from its miniscule 800-cc TDI diesel engine and 27 horsepower electric motor.

“We’re only building 250 globally,” he said, “but we could bring in a few to the U.S., probably less than 20. We will make a decision on that soon.”

Would it be Legal?

Of course, there’s the question of whether the XL1 will be legal in the American market, given the need to meet crash standards and other regulations. Browning was upfront about not knowing if there are exceptions made for very limited production vehicles.

I don’t know, either, but I have reported on the Bill Gates exception. The Microsoft founder lobbied for and got permission during the Clinton Administration to bring his non-federalized Porsche 959 into the U.S. under the new “show and display” rules, which don’t allow for all that much driving.

Apparently, the exemption has also been used to bring in a bunch of non-certified European cars, from the McLaren F1 to the Jaguar XJ220. Of course, the XL1 isn’t the kind of prize you keep on a stand and never drive. What’s the point of a 261-mpg car that never hits the road?


· · 5 years ago

Good. Bring the XL1 to the US of A.

Rather than inhibiting the wholesale importation of lightweight and efficient vehicles from foreign shores, the US, instead, should be limiting the weight of all general-use passenger vehicles sold here.

· · 5 years ago

261mpg is a "fake number". It doesn't include the electricity usage...

· · 5 years ago

Just remember last year when VW/Audi announced bringing the A3 eTron to the US at TED. The cars were for corporate employees only, to “develop greater insight into electric vehicles and how American driving conditions affect use of the progressive technology in everyday life”. Don't get your hopes up.

· · 5 years ago

I guess it would all depend where the electricity is coming from, MMF. If a prospective owner has enough PV solar on their roof to run their home and charge the car, that electricity is essentially free (OK . . . amortize in the cost of the panels, etc.) But I think all would agree that the XL1 is hyper-efficient. Numbers, schmumbers . . .

It's also a given. Kei, that with just 20 or so coming to these shores, those XL1s will end up in the hands of a very carefully chosen demographic. But it's typically been the case with Volkswagen that, whenever they've shown a car like this, they'll build just one or two and then rub our nose in it. This time, they've said 150. That it was originally going to be European only didn't surprise me. What different this time is there is no talk of a handful actually crossing the Atlantic. That is a bit of a surprise.

· · 5 years ago

Typo above. "no talk" should have been "now talk."

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead

I favor freedom of choice....

I want them to stop spraying chemicals on me.

I do not want to tell other people what to do.. if they are not harming me.

I define harm as poisoning my well water by fracking, making it impossible for me to get a mortgage, and decreasing the value of my property by an order of magnitude, also by preventing me from drinking my own water, or getting sick by taking a shower in it.

I define harm as breathing nano sized Aluminum particles 67,000% of 'background'.
I define harm as breathing Barium Oxide, and Strontium in similar amounts.

Except, now that the Monsanto Protection Act has been passed, I can no longer sue the responsible parties. And you can never effectively sue Uncle Sam, unless you get really lucky and have deep pockets to experiment.

· · 5 years ago

Anyways, how come no one says how much the car will cost? Or what other features it will have?

· · 5 years ago

Limit the weight per passenger. Limit the coefficient of drag per passenger. Limit the fuel consumption per passenger mile. Limit America's right to waste what we please for the sake of conspicuous consumption. Yeah, that will work.

· · 5 years ago

I'm simply sick and tired, Bill, of the continuation of the late 20th century business model of American supersized cars, with both domestic and foreign auto manufacturers stating that they refuse to sell their better and more efficient products here because it's perceived - accurately of not - that we're all too fat and consume way too much. That limits my choices. In these hyper anti-government times, saying such things instantly brands me a proverbial Kenyan Socialist. Well, so be it.

· · 5 years ago

I think is was stated in another article on this blog that the XL1 would be in the neighborhood of $50+K. The features, if you want to call them that, are exceptional efficiency. Acceleration (also mentioned elsewhere) is meager . . . decidedly wimpy, even. But I'm going to guess it has a pretty good radio and a heater/AC that works as well as most cars do nowadays. That describes the performance and features on my '95 Saturn. Unfortunately, my old ride is only good for a little under 30mpg around town and a little over 40 on the freeway when driving under 65mph.

I'd like to see a detuned and more mainstream (hence, less expensive) version of this car and many more of them. The 261mpg number has already been questioned. But, for the argument of using that probably imperfect measurement as a benchmark, it seems reasonable that car approaching a theoretical 150 or 200mpg could be marketed for considerably less money. It's got . . . what? . . . a 5+kWh battery (we all know the battery is the most expensive thing on an EV) and an ICE that's about as large as one found in a medium sized motorcycle? It can be done. All people have to do is ask for it. I just did.

· · 5 years ago

Well, personal preference is one thing. Its quite another thing to force other people to do things you want. The views of reasonable people differ.

I happen to like small engines, and big batteries. I'm not going to ban absolutely everything else just because it doesn't agree with my preference. Other people could want exactly the opposite. Bully for them.. Its because I realize its just my personal preference and nothing more.

I'm talking proportion here. If a neighbor down the street 2 blocks away buys a Hummer, its not going to kill my livelihood, or cause me to start gagging. I can't say the same thing about chemtrails...

By the way,
$50,000 seems to be more or less reasonable pricing for a low volume unique item.

· · 5 years ago


One of the big problems in the US is that we have come to believe in so many entitlements (or choices as you put it). We are, IMHO, significantly brainwashed into thinking that we NEED those big SUVs and all that physical mass around us when we drive. We further seem to think, and I am somewhat in this group as well, that we NEED to be able to do 0-60 in "under 6.0 seconds" or we are driving some kind of dog sled.

All these are beliefs that we have come to hold that lead to our demand for "choices," but these very beliefs are all part of an unnecessary and dysfunctional set of social/chauvinistic/egocentric indoctrinations. In other countries with a different set of cultural experiences growing up, simply having "mobility" is the goal.

Do we honestly need "300+ horsepower" or vehicles that weigh 4000+ pounds to be "safe" and to get to and from work or even across the country? Back in my transition to graduate school days, I drove from California to Michigan in a Renault Dauphine, loaded to the gills with everything I owned and powered by around 50 hp max. Yes, going up the big climb out of Salt Lake City was not fast, but I made it.

I too, "like small engines and big batteries," but I think we need to find a way to encourage (maybe even force....?) others to reconsider THEIR driving expectations and values. The world is changing in terms of the number of cars per 100 persons per nation. The US leads in that access statistic at around 76 cars per 100 people, but countries like India and China are getting on board the "mobility train" and the world cannot afford to have all these people driving fuel wasting big heavy cars. The US should help lead the way to better transport values, not dig in our heels and deny this changing reality.

· · 5 years ago

@George in Sacramento

Well George, I guess that is why you enjoy living in California. I'm not particularly happy about where I am in NY State (although there are worse places, and this forgotten corner of the state is basically the way I'd have it), but then I don't know any place in the States that is better. I'm sure there is a better place. Houston I hear isn't so bad, but its getting inceasingly hard to find a little spot where you can be left alone and not be harrassed. As mentioned I'm increasingly concerned about pollution, but I'm talking about hydraulic explosive gas and oil fracturing, radiation, genetically modified meats, vegetables, and salmon, and chemical spraying. Its not fair all this is being done to me and I have no choice but to 'take it', and my tax dollars paying for it, against my will. I'm fighting this on my own time by going to concerned citizen groups, as time permits.

The problems you mention will, unfortunately, take care of themselves in this respect. The deindustrialization of the USA is continuing, and since Wealth is created on the factory floor, India and China as a whole will be much richer (but the way things are going there, the 'workers' will be slaves, and all the 'wealth' will go to the 0.001%). Say hello to the new old-fashioned feudalism.

I feel a bit discouraged when I see talented people have to survive on meager salaries, when the same jobs 40 or 50 years ago provided a Living Wage, and that just because at the time we were a prolific country.

Not to be too dire, but if things keep going as they are, we won't even live as long as our parents. And we'll all be in a lot worse shape. And forget about anyone to speak of having enough cash available to purchase any of the new EV's.

· · 5 years ago

OK, I'm growing more fond of the XL1 as the days progress. While the lack of a rear window, rear door mirrors and (because of that) the inclusion of rear view TV cameras are features I could live without, this car dispenses with a useless feature I typically find more annoying on modern autos than just about anything else: electric crank windows.

Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen, if you own an XL1, you get to give your wrists a little much needed exercise while cranking those side glass panels up and down . . .


This is revelatory. Pundits have told me that the market (insidiously backed by the flabby forearms lobby, I'm guessing) would never want to go back to "rolling their own." Now, it appears, some design engineers have come to their senses. Those little fold-away cranks are a thing of beauty. Love 'em!

· · 5 years ago

The Volt is way ahead of you.. Power Windows yes, but you have to move your carcass manually. Its ok for me but no new passengers seem able to adjust the seat any which way. The "Satisfaction after the Sale" Coffee Table Book they gave me says the reason is they want to save the energy to push the car down the road.

Uh huh. I think the bigger reason is the Cruize didn't have power seats. Do they?

· · 5 years ago

"I guess it would all depend where the electricity is coming from, MMF. If a prospective owner has enough PV solar on their roof to run their home and charge the car"

Well, that is NOT the point. MPG is a measurement of efficiency or energy consumption rate for a gasoline car. So, for a plugin, it should includes its electricity consumption if it chooses to list its "energy" consumption rate. Yet, most of the automakers are playing the game by listing its "gas consumption" rate instead. It is "gaming the system" marketing.

· · 5 years ago


I agree. Volt could use a memory/power seat. I hate to adjust it about 2 to 3 times per week when my Wife drives it. She loves the car and we are fighting over who gets the Volt each week.

Anyway, I think GM can easily put a memory/power seat option in the car. The Volt seat is actually nicer than the Cruze seating. I think GM is trying to switch every ounce out of the car to achieve certain EPA rating. I certainly think the ELR will have both power and memory seat or for GM's sake, it should.

· · 5 years ago

"Gaming the system," MMF, is essentially taking a car that could have been designed back in the early 1990s, sticking a battery in the truck (all of which any half-way competent home mechanic EV converter could have been doing since around 2006) and marketing it as a "new" PHEV. This is essentially what we have with most of those vehicles on the market.

If you want to create a nifty math formula, MMF, that is more accurate than eMGP (or whatever VW used to come up with 261 MPG,) then please do so. Then, apply that same formula to the typical 4000 pound lead sled gas/battery car being sold today and see how far those numbers drop there as well. Until then, I'll continue my "numbers, scmumbers" mantra.

While I wish they were making thousands of these thing today, one has to applaud VW - or any car maker - for producing even a handful of something like this. If you want to complain about "gaming the system" then complain about ostentatious EV supercars, like this . . .


. . . which is the epitome of greenwashing.

As for the lack of electric set gliders on the Volt (or ones that work like the ones in the above movie spy thriller car,) get over it, guys. You put latte in the cupholder, reach down and pull a lever. Then you scrunch your butt cheeks a little and pivot your knees ever so slightly forward or backwards until he seat is where you want it. It's so easy that even a millionaire can do it.

· · 5 years ago

If it had wide whitewall tires up front, it would look better. Interesting VW, sort of like a 21st century Karmann Ghia.

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead,

The formula exist today. Take your miles traveled and divide by your total energy consumption. That total energy consumption includes electricity from the wall outlet and your gasoline usage. To convert the two units, feel free to use 1 gallon of gas = 33.7 KWh.

Got it? VW choose to make up the "BIAS MPG".

That would be no different than claiming that my Volt's lifetime MPG is 130mpg and my last week average is 685mpg....

As far as "gaming the system" in design goes, why don't you look up the safety requirement between 1990s car and today's cars and then use your inflation calculator to figure out why it has't changed enough to satisfy your desire....

· · 5 years ago

OK, MMF, I'd like to get a better understanding of what you're advancing here. Sorry if I'm not quite getting it just yet. Maybe it would help to drawn out a couple of scenarios and then I might be able to see your formula a bit more clearly.

I read on one of the online articles that the XL1 is able to travel about 20 on electricity alone. Curb weight is 1750 lbs. and the drag coefficient is 0.186. What is the electrical energy consumption for a 20 mile all-electric run in such a car?

Likewise, there are more mainstream production PHEVs available today that have a similar all electric range, such as the Ford C-Max Energi, which has a curb weight of 3030 lbs. and a drag coefficient of 0.30. What is the energy consumption of a 20 mile electric drive in this car?

Given that all other things are equal (passenger weight, speed, etc.) are you saying that both these cars consume the same amount of energy?

In terms of electric/gasoline driving, lets then assume for a moment that both these cars move from battery to ICE exactly at the 20 mile mark and both are being driven for 50 miles, meaning that the final 30 miles of the journey for each is off of gasoline exclusively (or, for sake of an easy comparison, let's assume that both the VW and Ford are capable of transitioning from volts to hydrocarbons and driven in this same fashion.)

Not knowing what the gasoline-only mileage is for either - and maybe this is at the crux of what you're trying to tell me - are you saying that both these cars are equally efficient?

· · 5 years ago

@Benjamin Nead,

I am trying to say that so called 261 mpg doesn't include the electricity cost. So, it is NO different from early day's GM claim of that Volt can do 230mpg.

For example, plenty of C-Max Energi or Volt owners have been claiming that their cars get 100mpg+. B/c they have traveled 50 miles and using less than 0.5 gallon of gas. The fact is that they also used various amount of electricity from the wall during those 50 miles. So, the total energy should be accounted and the number they get should be called "MPGe", NOT MPG. So, for Energi model of 5KWh for 20 miles and 30 miles for the 0.5 gallon, then the "MPGe" is actually, 50/((33.7*0.5+5)/33.7) = 77MPGe. But I am sure the "marketing team" would call that "100 MPG"...

The 261 mpg is an marketing slogan. It doesn't say how that 261mpg is measured. Many of the automakers use a very short distance in test to make that claim. If the test is only 30 miles, then with 20 miles eletrical range and gas usage can easily create the "fake number" of 261mpg.

If you still don't understand that, then I don't need to waste any more time on it...

· · 5 years ago

"Not knowing what the gasoline-only mileage is for either - and maybe this is at the crux of what you're trying to tell me - are you saying that both these cars are equally efficient?"

I never said anything about which car is more efficient. All I said that 261 mpg is a "LIE". A LIE that doesn't include the electricity usage in its calculation. It ignores the electricity usage, but include the EV only miles in its final calculation of the "MPG".

And it doesn't say anything about how that 261MPG number is calculated, the distance, fuel usage or electricity usage. B/C VW knows that they are "LYING".

· · 5 years ago

"If you still don't understand that, then I don't need to waste any more time on it..."

Yes, let's not. I appreciate the time you took to explain it to me and I now understand your concerns. But, given that auto makers have been making extraordinary claims about their products since Henry Ford was a schoolboy, I don't think it's worth all the fuss and bother to complain all that much about it. If and when the product makes it to large scale production, various regulating agencies will press to measure mileage under eMPG criteria or whatever system is considered to be the fairest that particular moment. At the end of the day, of course, nobody is going to be happy with the math. Sorry, I'll say it again . . . numbers, schmumbers. :-)

I happen to take issue with Nissan when they use "Zero Emissions" as a marketing slogan for the Leaf, when "Zero Tailpipe Emissions" has more credence. But, yes, the marketing people rule the day on these things.

What seems to be getting lost here is that a car like the VW XL1 goes further than most others on a kilowatt of electricity, a gallon of gas or a combination of the two. What we should probably be more concerned with (at least I am) is what sort of environmental impact is involved in making that gasoline or electricity. To varying degrees, it's all going to be dirty.

But electricity has a greater potential to become cleaner than petroleum. It is also something that can be produced at home (rooftop PV) and, thus, mostly immune to price fluctuations. If an ICE range extender is included in the auto design for long range driving purposes, let's make that quotient as efficient as possible, since we can only clean up gasoline so much.

I'm simply happy that the XL1 doesn't have the clown cars looks of most econo-minded EVs and isn't yet another Lamborghini or Hummer clone that's attempting to be green with the afterthought inclusion of some batteries. Is it perfect? No. But it's a step in the proper direction.

· · 5 years ago

Here's another interesting tidbit I found out about the XL1 today . . .


It appears that one of the weight-savings measures on this car includes side windows fashioned from Lexan. So, those marvelous hand cranks push up and pull down panels that are 50% lighter than conventional automotive glass.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.