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With Nils concept car, Volkswagen imagines urban future

Volkswagen's Nils concept car is built for an urban environment and includes a sensor-powered emergency braking system that automatically avoids collisions.
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Written by Andrew Nusca, Former editor on

German automaker Volkswagen this week unveiled its vision of an urban future with the Nils, a single-seat electric vehicle designed for "minimalist mobility."

(Sound familiar? It's the polished version of the single-seat concept we told you about three weeks ago.)

Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the concept car touts an aluminum frame, top-hinged doors and exposed wheels on the outside and a zero-emissions powertrain on the inside. And the company isn't kidding about urban mobility -- with a range of just 40 miles (it tops out at 81 m.p.h.), this is definitively a city car, not a weekend cruiser.

Understandably, the concept is designed for Europeans, not Americans: 74 percent of all commuters who live between Berlin and Munich drive less than 16 miles to work, according to the German Federal Statistical Office. (The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development.)

Still there are parallels between the two nations. About 60 percent of all commuters in Germany travel by car, not public transportation, according to its Federal Statistical Office. Of these, more than 90 percent travel alone -- car-pooling, it seems, is not in fashion.

The Nils, then, is an exercise in both the economic feasibility of an electric drivetrain and the cultural redefinition of individual transport. It's an early step on the way to VW's planned introduction of an electric version of its popular Golf model in 2013.

"Nils is a vehicle that anticipates the future," VW brand development chief Ulrich Hackenberg said in a statement. "It looks as though someone had projected it back from 2030 to the world of today. This study melds sustainability, design, and lifestyle in a new way."

More stats about the vehicle:

  • Just 10 feet in length, 4.5 feet wide and 3.9 feet tall. (To compare, a 2012 Ford Taurus is almost 16 feet long, 6.3 feet wide and 5 feet tall.)
  • Tips the scales at 1,014 lbs. (2012 Taurus is 3,741 lbs.)
  • Laid out like a Formula-1 race car: driver in the middle, engine out back, wheels outboard and free-standing.
  • 0 to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds; tops out at 81 m.p.h.
  • Electric motor rated at 20 horsepower (34 hp peak) and 96 lb.-ft. torque.
  • Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 5.3 kWh; range up to 40 miles. Charged via 230-volt outlet; duration two hours.
  • Single-speed transmission.
  • Lots of weight considerations: no power steering, layered polycarbonate windows (except for the front one) and LED bulbs throughout.
  • Yes, there's even a trunk.

One interesting feature is what VW calls "City Emergency Braking," an active electronic system that detects the risk of an imminent collision and automatically brakes the car. It works thanks to a laser sensor mounted in the VW logo on the car's nose, and can prevent accidents at speeds below 19 m.p.h. The company says it's a software extension of its automatic distance control system, which uses a laser sensor to measure the distance and relative speed to the vehicle in front of you to automatically adjust speed accordingly.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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