Volkswagen has unveiled the third and most technically advanced version
of the up! family of concept vehicles at the Los Angeles Motor Show.
Named space up! blue and according to VW, taking its visual inspiration
and drivetrain layout from the classic 1950s Samba Bus, the concept
vehicle is powered by a high-temperature hydrogen fuel cell linked to a
series of 12 lithium-ion batteries. Like the previous two up! concepts,
this one also has a rear-mounted powertrain – but this time it’s an
electric motor. The only by-product of this hydrogen-based drivetrain
is pure water.
Relying solely on the bank of lithium-ion batteries, which have a
combined energy capacity of 12 kilowatt-hours, the space up! blue has a
range of around 65 miles. When drawing energy from the high temperature
fuel cell a range of 155 miles is possible – bringing the vehicle’s
maximum theoretical range to 220 miles.
A bank of solar panels built into the roof of the vehicle allows the
charge in the lithium-ion batteries to be topped up when light falls on
them. The high-temperature fuel cell meanwhile produces electric energy
from compressed hydrogen, stored in a pair of secure tanks beneath the
Volkswagen says that its innovative high temperature fuel cell has
several advantages over a conventional low-temperature fuel cell. The
high temperature version is far more efficient as it converts more of
the energy in the hydrogen into electrical energy. Furthermore it is
less complex and does not require the same cooling systems demanded by
a low-temperature variant – which also significantly reduces the
packaging and therefore cost requirements of the cell unit.
Running on purely battery power the space up! blue is capable of
reaching 62 mph in 13.7 seconds before reaching a top speed of 75 mph.
Development of production versions of the up! family of vehicles is
underway with the aim of bringing a road-going version to the market
before the end of the decade. However don’t count on a hydrogen version
– VW believes that the development of hydrogen cars are being driven by
the low emission demands of California, and the company is not
convinced that the issues surrounding hydrogen production and
infrastructure will be sorted by then – a view shared by Professor
Julia King in the currently underway King Review of Low Carbon Cars.