The eco up! coupe was presented last year by Volkswagen as a hybrid prototype capable of operating largely on compressed natural gas (CNG). This concept hit the Geneva Motor Show this spring with Volkswagen pushing the vehicle toward production. The automaker announced this week that the eco up! will be available to German consumers starting this month. Volkswagen began production of the model in mid-November at a dedicated facility in Bratislava, Slovakia. European consumers interested in supporting alternative fuels and owning reliable vehicles could find their sweet spot with Volkswagen’s latest offering.
A three-cylinder aluminum engine is powered by CNG from two tanks underneath the seating area. Designers placed two tanks totaling 72 liters under the rear seats to maintain as much cargo space as possible. The eco up! produces a maximum output of 50 kW according to Volkswagen’s road testing. Volkswagen combined a highly tuned oxygen sensor with an engine controller in order to carefully manage CNG consumption. These components assess the quality of CNG taken from refueling stations and adjust fuel injection based on quality. The design team also used precious metals in the catalytic converter to achieve a 25% reduction in carbon emissions.
The curb weight of the eco up! is 2,273 pounds thanks to composite and lightweight metal components used throughout the vehicle. Volkswagen notes that the eco up! can reach 60 miles per hour from a full stop in 16.3 seconds, which is hardly earth-shattering but sufficient for daily travel. A top speed of 102 MPH is surprising based on similar vehicles hitting the market but Volkswagen is concerned with promoting power across the fleet. The engine starts using CNG down to -10 degrees Celsius while colder conditions require gasoline use. Volkswagen estimates that the drive system can operate for 353 miles between refueling stops with enough CNG for 236 miles.
Volkswagen already won acclaim for the eco up! before the vehicle hit the market. Presentations at events like the 2012 Geneva Motor Show earned applause from international observers. The automaker won top marks on the VCD Environment List this year, which is published by one of Germany’s biggest advocates for sustainable transportation.
The eco up! also earned the Volkswagen the Environmental Prize for 2012 from the Automobil-Club Verkehr. This acclaim might be less substantial than similar praise for the Chevy Volt in 2011 but Volkswagen must be thrilled with the early attention.
The next generation of Volkswagen vehicles will be focused heavily on the CNG market. Volkswagen already sells six CNG models with the eco up! and Golf EcoFuel joining the market in the next few months. Germany holds 911 CNG stations while neighboring nations operate hundreds of additional refueling stations. The eco up! could also run on biomethane, which is produced in Germany at 57 processing facilities.
Volkswagen might only need to point out that German commuters traveling 60 miles only need pay about $3.92 for fuel. Heavy investment in CNG by Volkswagen is not only paying off in Europe but the Middle East, the United States and South America have ample natural gas supplies.