BMW to Design, Build Super-Efficient Plug-in Hybrid Prototype for Engineering Development Purposes Only

While building new cars for production is probably the main focus for any automaker around the world, each automaker — no matter how large or small — devotes millions (or even billions) of dollars per year developing new vehicle technologies and platforms which will never see the light of day.

They’re often proof of concepts, or engineering prototypes used to determine if an automaker should continue to invest its money in bringing a new technology to market. Usually, fitted to existing production cars, the majority of prototype vehicle technologies aren’t given their own dedicated, ground-up development platform to be refined on.

BMW is rumored to be developing its own super-efficient prototype plug-in similar to the VW XL1

BMW is rumored to be developing its own super-efficient prototype plug-in similar to the VW XL1

But as German car site Automobilwoche detailed this week (via our friends at GreenCarReports), German automaker BMW could be doing just that, designing and building a four-seat ultra-efficient plug-in hybrid car that will never make it into production .

The reason? To help BMW develop new super-efficient engine technology, refine its plug-in platforms, and examine how exotic new composition materials like carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) could be used to make cars of the near future even more fuel efficient and environmentally-friendly.

At the moment, details are fairly thin, but BMW’s design is rumored to be very similar in many ways to Volkswagen’s limited-production XL1 super-efficient two-seat plug-in coupe. The design is said to include a lightweight CRFP chassis — something already used in the BMW i3 and i8 production plug-in cars — as well as a lightweight, aerodynamic body design that has a drag coefficient of just 0.18.

Volkswagen’s XL1, by contrast, has a drag coefficient of 0.19.

BMW's take on the XL1 sounds like it will have a more teardrop shape than Volkswagen's fuel-sipper.

BMW’s take on the XL1 sounds like it will have a more teardrop shape than Volkswagen’s fuel-sipper.

Part of that slippery design is said to come from a severely tapered tail and far narrower rear track than found at the front. If we had to guess, that sounds very much like a classic teardrop shape, with the large, bulbous part forming the passenger cabin at the front of the vehicle and the elongated tail at the rear providing a smooth airflow for added fuel efficiency.

Indeed, the vehicle — which sources say is just 1,200 kilograms (2650 pounds) is so aerodynamic that it can achieve a top speed of more than 112 miles per hour while retaining a fuel economy of more than 588 miles per U.S. gallon (0.4-litres per 100 kilometers) on power from its on-board battery pack and tiny two-cylinder gasoline engine.

Being designed for four passengers rather than two, the un-named vehicle will of course have a far larger cabin than Volkswagen’s two-seat XL1, but another key difference between it and the XL1 is the way in which the drivetrain is built.

Both the BMW i3 and the BMW i8 already use super-lightweight materials.

Both the BMW i3 and the BMW i8 already use super-lightweight materials.

In the XL1, the vehicle’s two-cylinder diesel engine operates as supplemental power when required to move the vehicle along, aiding the electric motor under even moderate acceleration. BMW’s vehicle meanwhile, is said to use its two-cylinder gasoline engine purely as a range extender, much in the same way that the BMW i3 REx’s tiny gasoline engine serves to bolster range in an emergency when its on-board battery pack is depleted.

Having driven the Xl1 for ourselves, we can certainly say it was an experience we’ll never forget, with the ultra-fuel efficient coupe returning incredible gas mileage and a direct, responsive drive.

We’re eager to see what BMW does with a similar concept, although like the XL1, it’s unlikely you’ll see one on a dealer lot any time soon — if ever.

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