A Car that Gets 262 MPG

(Photo: Pelle Sten)

Volkswagen has designed it, it’s called the XL1:

The XL1 represents the car as blue-ribbon science fair project. But unlike other megacars, which are built to maximize speed and power, this one, more than ten years and upward of a billion dollars in the designing, contains not one centimeter of wasted space or poundage. The engineers eliminated power steering because it would have added 10 kilograms. For maximum lightness, the core of its body and chassis is comprised of a one-piece molded carbon-fiber monocoque. The magnesium wheels get wrapped in custom-light Michelin rubber. The windows lower with hand cranks. There’s no radio — the sound system wraps through the Garmin GPS — and no place to plug in your smartphone, because Bluetooth is lighter.


Hybrids that count the battery as free when calculating the MPG bug me. Based on the information in the article, I'd put the MPG at around 100. Still impressive though.


In a conventional (as opposed to plug-in) hybrid, all the energy comes from the fuel, the battery basically* just stores energy that would otherwise be wasted in braking. So if you compute mpg over a cycle which starts and ends with a fully-charged battery, the battery has obviously contributed no extra energy, and the mpg computed is accurate.

*OK, it's a little more complicated than that, but I'm too lazy to type in another "How Hybrids Work" article when there are plenty that could be found with a quick search.


Sounds like all custom parts, so savings in gas are going to be at least somewhat negated by high repair costs. And initial cost is probably pretty high. But it does sound like a step in the right direction. I guess it is a necessary starting point.


Nice to see cars returning to the schools of thought in the 90's that saw great gas mileage. I used to get 40 MPG city in my CRX HF back in the day. I always kind of scratch my head that now 40 MPG is "standard" for a subcompact hybrid 20 years later.


Yeah, I got better than 40 mpg from my CRX, doing mostly mountain driving, and driving it like it was a sports car :-)


James. what do you mean "like it was a sports car"? The CRX was my dream ride!

I got 44 mpg with a 4/5 passenger Honda Civic ('92), a couple miles less with the AC on. And I can be a leadfoot...

Our newer Toyota Yaris doesn't do as well; it seems ridiculously overpowered.

Can somebody explain the economics behind automakers' decision to NOT offer efficient, low-power vehicles?


It sounds like the most boring ride ever...the main gas savings will be owners deciding to walk, pedal, or take a bus instead of spending time inside this soul sucking machine.


I suppose that depends on the nature of one's soul. I'd liken it to flying a high-performance sailplane (versus say an airliner), which I've found to be good for the soul.

Of course, the sort of scrawny little soul that needs to be supported by a couple of tons of metal and roaring exhaust pipes might not do too well :-)

Caleb B

Reason #267 of why I am not worried about climate change. As the price of fossil fuels rise, so will the incentive to conserve. A self correcting problem to say the least.


countering that of course, we have a billion Chinese and Indians buying cars for the first time. many of which won't require all the same environmental controls as the strictest standards normally seen in places like North America or Europe.

thus not just potentially an environmental nightmare, but a nightmare in lots of other ways too.


what it has windows, that's needless weight. Seriously I suspect someone could build a car without doors, windows and windshield that would get 500 mpg but no one would buy . If no one buys it ( because no one wants to travel down the road eating bugs and other things the whole time) then it doesn't save much does it. Making a great car that gets really really great gas mileage that people want to actually buy has only been done by Tesla but they are expensive.


The car without doors &c is a motorcycle, and a lot of people do buy them, and don't mind the bugs all that much. They don't get great mpg, though: more like 50 than 500. The problem is that at highway speeds, most of the power of a vehicle goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag. That's why this VW is so streamlined, while a motorcycle is anything but.

The Teslas are actually quite a bit heavier than equivalent gasoline cars, because of the batteries. The Roadster weighs in at over 2700 lbs, while the Lotus Elise (which shares the same body) is under 2000 lbs.


Yay for manually operated windows! I cannot grasp why having to turn on the ignition in a stationary car to open a window, particularly as a passenger, is considered progress.


you have to turn to the battery setting, commonly "Acc" for 'Accessories' to lower or raise the windows. shouldn't have to fully engage the ignition (which would start the engine of course).


No, twice. You do have to turn the ignition to "on", not "acc", on at least some cars. (Yes, it's bad design.) And, no, "on" won't start the engine. You have to turn it to the "start" position (which is spring-loaded, so it returns to "on" as soon as you release the key.


While that is quite a technological feat, I think mpg can be a misleading statistic. For example going from a 10 mpg to 30 mpg will save you about 67 gal per 1000 mi driven. Going from 30 mpg to 262 mpg, however, will only save an additional 30 gal per 1000 mi driven. The incremental fuel savings of cars with significantly over 40 mpg is much less impressive than it seems and the design trade-offs made hardly seem worthwhile.

Simon Farnsworth

I had a maths teacher (I'm in the UK) explain that in quantities like "miles per gallon" or "dollars per kilogram", your brain is better at getting the comparison right if the second quantity is the one you hold fixed when comparing different values; you don't cope well with reciprocals.

So, miles per gallon is the best way to express fuel economy if your question is "I can afford 10 gallons of fuel a month, and would like to know how far I can travel on that"; you know that a 20 mpg car will take you 200 miles, while a 40 mpg car will take you 400 miles, and a 60 mpg car is 600 miles. Nice and easy to think about.

If you stick to mpg, and want to cover (say) 200 miles, a 20 mpg car needs 10 gallons, a 40 mpg car needs 5 gallons, and a 60 mpg car needs 3? gallons. Not so easy to think about, as your brain gets lulled into thinking that 60 is three times 20, so is 3 times better, whereas it's actually a third of the consumption - and the difference between half and third is not the same as the difference between twice and three times.

In contrast, if we used units of gallons per hundred miles (gp100m for short), our 20 mpg car is 5 gp100m, our 40 mpg car is 2.5 gp100m, and our 60 mpg car is 1? gp100m. It's now clear that the savings between the 40 mpg car and the 60 mpg car are smaller than between the 20 mpg car and 40 mpg car, given the need to drive a fixed mileage.



An analogous way to think about gallons required per 100 miles is GHG emissions per 100 miles (or km). In calculating your carbon footprint, you use a formula that assumes a certain GHG emission per gallon of gasoline. Since 60 vs 40 MPG saves less fuel than 40 vs 20 MPG, the GHG emissions savings are similarly reduced. When running scenarios to try to reduce your C footprint, you will easily see the lower marginal benefit of trying to maximize fuel economy vs just driving fewer miles. Having 3 people in a vehicle that gets a net 20 MPG is the same as all 3 driving a 60 MPG vehicle. Telecommuting or mass transiting a couple days a week is about the same as raising your MPG from 40 to 60.


How about the fact that existing plug-in hybrids don't sell effectively not just because the price is too high in most cases and therefore must be subsidized (and full electric range still too small to provide enough value), but the greatest factor is that nearly 50% of folks in America rent an apartment or similar space without a dedicated garage and supplied A/C power, and thus have no way to charge the car overnight to begin with. They're essentially unable to sell to half this market, if these folks had serious interest in buying such a car (Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Ford Fusion Plug-in). And plugging in overnight is really the only way to make these cars useful in a daily driving scenario.

I've been wanting Freakonomics to investigate this for a little while now, once it occurred to me. Seems completely plausible (obvious?) and perfect for a blog / podcast / a chapter in a book. It's sort of like when movie studios turn "guy movies" or action flicks into something a wife or girlfriend would also want to see, by interjecting some desirable element for such females. Without doing so, they're simply avoiding half the consumers that go to movies.



Which "fact" is this? Plug-in hybrids are selling quite well. The Chevy Volt sold over 2500 units in June, as did the pure EV Nissan Leaf. The Tesla Model S is selling well, and other automakers are starting to notch up sales as well. All told, over 40K EVs and PHEVs were sold in the first half of this year, up from 50K in all of 2012, and a few hundred the year before. (Per this site: http://insideevs.com/monthly-plug-in-sales-scorecard/ )

Likewise, so what if nearly 50% of the public don't currently have places to plug in? The other 50% do. No one model of car is going to suit everyone, that's why every large automaker since the Model T has offered multiple models. And of course it's trivially easy to provide charging sources for apartment dwellers and such, if there is a demand for them.

And with the "guy movies", it's far more likely that adding supposed female-attracting elements results in a film that is neither fish nor fowl, so that instead of attracting a larger audience, they actually alienate a large part of the original target audience.



And the engineers made it so that it will not stop at fast food drive-thru windows because that adds to driver weight! [satire]

M Blackburn

that has to be a misprint.