Most vehicle manufacturers would admit that all of the hype and excitement about fuel cells and a hydrogen economy have currently been replaced by plug-in electric cars, serviced by roadside charging points. Volkswagen is the latest in a long line of car makers to lay out a vision of electric vehicles, having introduced the E-Up! concept vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
An evolution of the petrol engine-powered Up! and fuel-cell-powered Space Up! Blue, the E-Up! is Volkswagen’s first foray into plug-in electrics. The electric motor housed within the three-door car delivers a peak of 81 bhp (60 kW) or 54 bhp (40 kW) constant, while 154 lb·ft (209 N·m) of torque is produced through the front wheels. E-Up! can reach 62 mph (100 km/h) in 11.3 s from a standing start and has a top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h).
The batteries are lithium-ion and account for 240 kg (529 lb) of the 1085 kg (2392 lb) total weight of the vehicle. The pack offers a capacity of 18 kW·h, which Volkswagen claims is capable of a maximum range of 48 mi (77 km).
The batteries are housed under the car’s floor, protected by a bespoke crash structure, and kept cool thanks to a series of heat exchangers. Standard 230-V domestic systems can be used to charge the E-Up!, but Volkswagen is proposing public charging units, which will enable 80% of the power to be recouped in just one hour. A 1.4-m² (15-ft²) solar panel grid on top of the car ensures that energy is collected at every opportunity. The strain on the battery system is eased slightly by manual mirror and door adjustments.
As space is at a premium on the E-Up!, the entire system of electric motor, transmission, and differential has been made as compact as possible. Such efforts have enabled engineers and designers to work on an innovative 3+1 seating layout. Two adults can sit on the passenger side of the vehicle, the front passenger seat set 50 mm (2 in) further forward, allowing vital extra rear legroom space. Behind the driver, there is a smaller space, designed for occasional use by adults or children. Total load space is 85 L (3 ft³) fully occupied, and 320 L (11.3 ft³) with the seats folded.
Like fuel cells before them, electric vehicles face a number of hurdles before being considered a contender to replace vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines. One of the potential solutions to the problem of limited range offered by the batteries in electric vehicles is a battery exchange service at filling stations.
Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen’s head of research and development, remains unconvinced by such an approach. “This concept has been discussed a lot by our French competitors, but it only makes sense to the battery company, or leasing company, if the batteries are standardized. I can’t imagine that we will develop our cars to use just one battery. That is not the way we are going."