In the department of What Might Have Been, we find a car almost no one who isn’t a car industry insider has ever heard of – but which very nearly was.
You haven’t heard of it for good reason.
Well, good reason . . . from the point of view of other insiders. The ones inside the government.
It is a car VW briefly brought out to show what could be done – and just as quickly withdrew. Probably because it showed what could be done.
This car was powered by a 1 liter diesel engine and achieved a verified 170 miles-per-gallon. With its hybrid drive engaged, the mileage rose to an incredible 235 MPG. Put another way, on about two gallons of diesel, this VW could go almost 500 miles before it needed more diesel. And it would only need two more gallons to travel another almost 500 miles.
How long does it take to pump 2 gallons of diesel? Not much longer than it took you to read this article so far.
How long does it take to recharge an electric car? At least as long as it takes to read a couple of chapters of Moby Dick.
How much does two gallons of diesel cost? About six bucks at current prices – to go about 500 miles. Free transportation, almost – and with almost no emissions produced, including the new “emission” (carbon dioxide). When you burn almost no fuel, you emit almost no emissions.
Fewer emissions than electric cars – which require a lot more energy to go 500 miles than that contained in two gallons of diesel.
It is probably beginning to occur to you whyyou never heard about the L1 – the name VW gave to its diesel-hybrid prototype, which has gone the way of the 100 MPG carburetor.
Except the VW was real.
VW had publicly stated its intention to get a production car based on the L1 to market by 2013. This was the apogee of VW’s diesel engine juggernaut, which had expanded to include compression-ignition offerings of almost every car it made. These were not expensive cars; they were cars almost anyone who could afford a new car could afford.
You could buy TDI-powered Golfs and Beetles and Jettas for about $22K that could peg 50-plus on the highway, which was (and still is) nearly as good as the hyper-miling plug-in Prius but much less expensive and without the battery pack and motors.
These cars were also about half the price of the least expensive electric cars then (and still) available and came without the range limitations or the recharge hassles.
Something had to be done.
VW found itself the focus of a curiously severe inquisition over picayune – almost unmeasurable – variances in exhaust emissions. Nothing that made any measurable difference in terms of air quality, at any rate.
Such variances happen often – federal regulatory rigmarole being recondite rigmarole – but these discrepancies are usually – actually, always – sorted out between the government regulators and the car companies without the severe inquisition.
Except this time.
In a historically unprecedented action, VW executives were criminally charged – and frog-marched in irons before judges, who bore down on them with the threat of hard time harder than that given to murderers – over angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin regulatory infractions which have caused no demonstrable harm to anyone.
But the L1 – and VW’s diesel engine program – threatened a great deal of harm to the then-nascent electrification putsch which was just getting under way in 2013 and which – six years later – is now ready to seize power, literally.
VW’s diesel program had to be stopped. And was.
The L1 and production car derivates were aborted;the L1 itself has been memory holed; it is so unknown it might as well never have existed.
This memory immolation was absolutely necessary in order to avoid the problem of unhappy comparisons between what was possible – what was on the verge of becoming available . . . and what is being forced down our throats.
While the L1 was a very small car intended as a commuter car, one can extrapolate from the capability of a 1 liter diesel to the likely capabilities of a 1.4 or so liter diesel in a subcompact car one notch smaller than the current Golf – which, recall, could get 50 on the highway with a 2.0 TDI diesel.
Maybe not 170 MPG. But probably at least 70 MPG – and for a lot less than the cost of an electric-powered mobility-reducer such as VW’s eGolf – which costs time as well as money.
It goes about 120 miles on a charge – and costs $31,000 to start.
It doesn’t take less time than it took you to read this article to recharge. It makes you sweat – literally – whether to use the AC on a hot day. And shiver as you ponder whether to turn on the heat on a cold day.
The L1 and VW’s now-defunct line of diesel-powered cars let you run the AC full blast all the time with no appreciable effect on the range. You stayed cozy on cold days – because it costs nothing, energy-wise, to run the heat as high as you liked.
Most ironically of all, VW’s ultra-efficient diesels were environmentally sounder than the electric cars being foisted upon us, if only because almost everyone could afford to drive one while most people cannot afford to drive an electric car.
What is the benefit of a “zero emissions” electric car if it’s too expensive for all but a small handful of people with the means to buy one?
Wouldn’t it be more “environmentally sound” to reduce the emissions of the cars driven by average people by whole numbers via double-digit gains in MPGs as opposed to curb-stomping VW over fractions of whole numbers differences on some arcane federal test?
Such questions don’t bear asking – because of the answers which might be forthcoming.
They must be memory-holed.
Along with the L1.