There are a whole line of vehicle concepts under the “Up!” umbrella from VW, meant to explore the possibilities of a new power source centered around the world’s first high temperature fuel cell and lithium-ion battery system. With announcements on automotive innovations being made almost on a daily basis, it would be easy for VW’s achievements to get lost in the fray. However, there are good reasons why this concept shouldn’t.
The properties of current fuel-cell technology require that it be operated within a very narrow temperature range. If the temperature rises too much, the recovery of energy simply will not work. That is why fuel cell designs usually have large and complicated cooling systems that manage heat and humidity. VW’s new fuel cell design features a special membrane of electrodes designed to make the cells more effective at high temperatures, which has a hand in keeping cost and weight considerably lower than other systems. To help distribute weight more evenly throughout the vehicle, the two main components of propulsion are housed in different areas of the vehicle. The zero-emissions electric motor and lithium-ion batteries are housed in the back of the car and under the rear seats. The high temperature fuel cell, on the other hand, is located up front. In addition to the fuel cell, which extends the car’s driving range by 155 miles, energy can be supplied further by either an electrical outlet or a large solar panel on the roof that can supply up to 150 watts of energy into the battery.
Because the engine is in the rear, a whole host of interior and exterior design elements are possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. Besides the front trunk, there is also one in the rear and interior cabin space can be further increased by a clever system that allows air to be sucked out of the seat surfaces via a valve. This means that the seats can be adjusted to mold to the individual body of the occupants who are seated, or completely deflated and folded to increase space when moving larger objects. VW says that the 11 foot long “Up!” will have the roomiest cabin in its class.
More immediate production versions of the “Up!” could feature either new turbocharged gasoline or diesel-powered engines with a displacement of only .6 or 1.2 liter 3-cylinders. VW claims that this would be enough for the car to accelerate to 62mph in 13.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 75mph while maintaining fuel economy near 80 mpg. Whether the “Up!”, in any form, actually makes it to production, it is clear that the technology that is the centerpiece of its design may find use in future models.