Volkswagen has separated from competing automakers by focusing their green vehicle research on compressed natural gas (CNG). The automaker currently offers the popular Golf model with CNG power as well as the Eco Up! compact car. Subsidiary brand SEAT used the 2013 Geneva Motor Show as a launching pad for the Mii Ecofuel. This compact car provides flexibility for drivers concerned about vehicle range with an engine capable of running on CNG and gasoline. The Mii Ecofuel is the first CNG vehicle produced by SEAT and expands options for loyal Volkswagen fans concerned about the environment.
The traditional version of the SEAT Mii is capable of producing 44 kW or 55 kW depending on engine type. SEAT split the difference on the Mii Ecofuel by developing a 1.0-liter engine with an output of 50 kW. A pair of CNG tanks installed underneath the floor holds 11 kilograms of gas while maximizing passenger and cargo space. The Mii Ecofuel primarily operates on CNG though an onboard gasoline tank allows a driver to extend the car’s range. Drivers can expect a maximum CNG range of 240 miles and an additional 140 miles when the gasoline reserve is tapped. The instrument display keeps track of both tanks to keep the driver updated on vehicle range.
SEAT went beyond a flex-fuel engine in achieving mileage gains within the Mii Ecofuel. The Ecomotive Technology components included in the Mii Ecofuel stretch CNG and gasoline reserves. A combination of Brake Energy Recovery and Start/Stop technology attempts to keep the drive system as efficient as possible. The vehicle’s onboard computer has been finely tuned to adjust fuel injection based on whether the driver uses “low gas” or “high gas.” These terms refer to the level of methane as well as the energy produced when gas is used by the engine.
The Mii Ecofuel combines low emissions, curb weight and price into a single package. SEAT estimates that the Mii Ecofuel produces as little as 79 grams per kilometer in carbon dioxide emissions. This emissions level is comparable to the Eco Up! and significantly less than standard Volkswagen models. The Mii Ecofuel weighs in at 2,108 pounds thanks to smart design and lightweight components included throughout the frame. SEAT has announced a retail price of $15,700, making the Mii Ecofuel the cheapest CNG vehicle in the European market. Drivers can also expect operating costs that are at least 50% lower than the standard Mii.
SEAT has planned releases of the Mii Ecofuel later this year in high-demand markets throughout Europe. The automaker wants to focus on markets like the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland where CNG infrastructure is ample. A proliferation of CNG vehicles at different price levels along with Volkswagen’s tradition of repeat customers should contribute to broad adoption in these markets. The issue going forward is infrastructure limitations in prospective markets throughout the world. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy counts 574 CNG stations in the United States though many of these locations are clustered in California and the Northeast. Volkswagen may need to spread their efforts beyond vehicle development to work with governments and industrial partners on creating a more substantial network of CNG stations.