Intelligent Energy

The power of one: VW's single seat EV

The power of one: VW's single seat EV

Posting in Design

Call it the ultimate eco-friendly car for the Me Generation. Volkswagen looks set to unveil a driver-only electric car.

It’s perhaps the ultimate green car for the Me Generation.

While Audi suggests shrinking small electric cars by staggering two seats, rival German carmaker Volkswagen has a more radical idea: kick out the passenger altogether.

VW will within two weeks unveil a single seat EV, the company told the Financial Times.

“It’s a new kind of mobility – a new vehicle concept,” VW’s head of Research Jürgen Leohold said in an interview with the newspaper. “Also, it’s physics. If you limit a car to one person, you can make it smaller, less weight, you need less energy to transport the person, and then obviously … it can be better on CO2 and fuel efficiency”.

He did not reveal the car’s range, it’s top speed or other such details. The company looks set to provide more information at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month.

In a refreshingly candid answer addressing the car’s CO2 emissions, he noted that the amount “depends on what kind of electricity you put in the battery.” The level would be “zero” if an owner powers the car with renewable sources, he said.

VW also plans to offer customers a “full-service package” by selling power from renewable sources. The article was vague on how that would work. Automakers don’t typically sell electricity or other fuel. In the electricity business, utilities do. But Leohold’s idea touches on the spirit of innovative financial models that need to work hand-in-glove with technological innovation as the global economy shifts into a carbon-light mode.

Automobile Magazine guesses the VW car will look like a one-seat concept called the L1 that VW showed two years ago (pictured) powered by diesel fuel. That design incorporates an even more narrow, wrap-around look than the staggered-seat Audi concept car set for the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Leohold acknowledged that the car would fulfill limited purposes such as commuting, and many people would prefer a larger car for longer trips. And the car is not VW’s sole gambit in the small car efficiency stakes. For instance, it will unveil a conventionally fueled four-seater called the up! at the Frankfurt show.

Still, the single seat idea takes the urban get-around-concept car to a new small. Of course, motorcycles can serve the same purpose, but I guess there’s room in the market for people who want to arrive at work dry or not dressed in leather.

The single-seater is an intriguing concept. I wonder though about one possible unintended consequence: Won’t the driver of this would-be super eco-friendly car be forced out of the world’s fast carpool lanes that require at least one passenger?

Take that, Mr. Me!

Image: automobilemagazine.com

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure