Volkswagen takes another shot at single-seat mobility with Frankfurt-bound Nils concept

There aren't a lot of cars out there that have more doors than seats. Usually it's the other way around, but that's what Volkswagen has in store with the Nils concept. The tiny one-seater packs two polycarbonate gullwing doors (plus a rear hatch) in a unique shape that envisions a future mode of transportation for European commuters.

Riding on four outboard wheels with individual fenders, the Nils is about more than its form factor, though. Behind the driver sits a 15 kW electric motor that delivers a range of about 40 miles, but with a 25 kW overboost function that can propel it to 62 mph in 11 seconds. Charging from a standard European socket takes only two hours. The diminutive concept also packs all the latest electronic safety systems you'd expect from a larger car into its 1,000-pound shape, built around an aluminum space frame.

This isn't the first time that Volkswagen has toyed with the idea of a single-seat commuter, having showcased the Formula XL1 concept earlier this year. Nor will it be the only narrow EV concept the Volkswagen Group will unveil next week at the Frankfurt Motor Show, joining the 1+1 Audi Urban Concept in the group's pavilion. We'll be there to check them both out, but for now you can follow the jump for the full press release and the quartet of high-res images in the gallery for a closer look.
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NILS: An arrow into the urban future
A lightweight single-seater EV concept, NILS was specially designed for commuters and is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport

Wolfsburg/Frankfurt, September 2011. Volkswagen AG is presenting a car for the urban future at the 64th International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt: NILS. The single-seat electric vehicle reflects a new form of minimalist mobility. The concept car-with its aluminum spaceframe, top-hinged doors, and exposed wheels-has a high level of dynamic performance yet travels silently and with zero emissions. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development.

Technically realistic, economically feasible.

Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, member of the Board of Management and Head of Development for the Volkswagen Brand, says: "NILS is a vehicle that anticipates the future. It looks as though someone had projected it back from 2030 to the world of today. This study melds sustainability, design, and lifestyle in a new way. It's a high-tech vehicle from the Volkswagen company with electric drive, but it's also very realistically conceptualised," says. "The goal of the NILS project is to work out a technically concrete and economically feasible vehicle concept for micromobility, which restructures individual transportation to make it more efficient and environmentally compatible based on electric drive technology." Prof. Dr. J├╝rgen Leohold, Director of Volkswagen Group Research, adds: "Group Research intensively analysed all facets of commuter transportation with the goal of making it sustainable for the future. The results of these analyses were made available to individual vehicle development departments. Thus, all of the company's brands-from A for Audi to V for Volkswagen-are benefiting from the think tank of Group Research."

Networked know-how

Dr. Hackenberg comments: "The close cooperation with Group Research has meant that we at Volkswagen are really able to put cutting-edge vehicle projects in motion. We benefit from the networked know-how of the company here. This also includes the Volkswagen Design Centre in Potsdam. There, under the leadership of Thomas Ingenlath, an entirely new interpretation of Volkswagen design was accomplished in NILS. Those viewing this concept car can look far into the future of our brand and of the automobile itself. NILS is anything but a dry-run exercise; it is very realistic. Despite its compact dimensions, the concept fulfils all safety requirements for contemporary vehicles, for example. Commuters would not only drive in an eco-friendly way, but would also be very safe in this car."

With a range of 40 miles, the 81mph (130 km/h) NILS would certainly be the ideal vehicle for the majority of commuters in Germany. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 73.9 percent of all commuters residing between Berlin and Munich cover less than 16 miles on their way to work.

Electric traction changes mobility

Automobiles have always reflected their eras through their design styles and technological standards. Consider Volkswagen: at the turn of this century, the age of powertrain downsizing gained momentum. At the same time, a new styling direction took hold, marked by maximum clarity and precision. Currently, we are experiencing yet another development: the long-term breakthrough of electric traction. Many high-value models in the Group are already available with hybrid drivtrains, emissions-reducing technology that is now breaking into high-volume segments.

Different solutions for different drivers

The first high-volume Volkswagen models with pure electric drivetrains will soon reach production; the Golf, the best-selling car in the world, will debut with an electric drivetrain (Blue-e-Motion) in 2013. Cars like the upcoming electric Golf and up! will appeal to customers who don't want to change the way they use their vehicles, but electric drivetrain technology also allows Volkswagen to offer entirely new concepts for vehicles that fulfil specific needs. One of these needs is for urban commuters. For a long time, public transportation has not always been the first choice of commuters. In Germany, for example, about 60 percent of all commuters travel by car according to the Federal Statistical Office; of these, more than 90 percent travel alone. Zero emissions vehicles like NILS will offer these drivers a new eco-friendly mobility solution.

Narrower, lower, shorter, different

The concept is very compact, requiring extremely little space in traffic. NILS is only 120 inches long, making it about two inches shorter than the new Volkswagen up! NILS is 54.7 inches wide, from wheel to wheel, and the body itself is only 34 inches across. At just 47 inches tall, the concept car is nearly five inches lower than a Porsche 911.

Designed like a racecar

NILS shares the same basic body layout as a Formula-1 race car: the driver in the middle, the engine out back, the wheels outboard and free-standing. The 17-inch aluminium-alloy wheels are fitted with 115/80-section (front) and 125/80 (rear) tires optimised for low rolling resistance. The clean, distinctive styling of the NILS car has its origins at the Volkswagen Design Centre in Potsdam.

Designer Thomas Ingenlath, the center's director, comments: "NILS was designed to make a visual statement and transport a vision of the automotive future to the present. The car had to visually highlight the theme of sustainability, while showing a future-oriented look and being fun. I think that we have successfully integrated both of these aspects. Although our mission here was to come up with an entirely new body concept for the brand, NILS matches the Volkswagen design DNA exactly." The bumpers, for instance, remind the viewer of those on the new up! because of their black borders around the impact surfaces. Ingenlath continues: "I am especially pleased that we managed to implement the concept of the two glass top-hinged doors. This allowed us to create large transparent surfaces and simultaneously make entering and exiting the vehicle very comfortable, even in the most cramped of parking spaces."

Fun to drive

Because NILS is so compact and lightweight (1014 pounds), it is a lot of fun to drive. It is an agile car with a top speed of 81mph, and it can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds. This is accomplished by a reasonably small electric motor that's nominally rated at 20 horsepower, with a peak output of 34 hp. Peak torque is 96 pound-feet and the motor drives through a single-speed transmission.

A lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 5.3 kWh supplies the electric motor with energy and allows for a range of up to 40 miles, depending on driving style. A battery of this size is relatively inexpensive and its capacity is sufficient for this type of car. The research vehicle can be charged either via a 230-volt electrical outlet (maximum charging time two hours) or at an electric vehicle charging station. The plug port is located at the back underneath the rear lighting module. The wheels are controlled by an all-around control arm suspension and electronic stability control ensures that NILS will still stay on course.

Lightweight powertrain

In developing the electric-drive system, engineers made use of the great wealth of experience Volkswagen has acquired in developing concept cars such as the L1 and XL1 as well as future production vehicles like the Golf Blue-e-Motion and the up! Blue-e-Motion. The centerpiece of the drive unit is the lightweight 42-pound electric motor together with its transmission and battery. Energy is managed via a high-voltage pulse inverter, which-together with the 12-volt DC/DC converter for the vehicle electrical system and the charger-forms the integral drive unit that's mounted behind the driver in an aluminum housing.

Space for shopping

The motor, battery, and all other drivetrain components are so compact that there is still space for a small but practical trunk above the unit. As on the Golf, for example, the trunklid is unlocked via the VW logo; in this case, the body-colored area above the rear lighting module swings upwards. The space is laid out so that users can conveniently stow items from a typical shopping trip, such as a case of drinks and a bag.

Innovative City Emergency Braking

Another important electronic assistant in NILS is City Emergency Braking. The continually active system uses a laser sensor (in the front VW logo) to detect the risk of an imminent collision and will automatically brake the car. Depending on the car's speed and the driving situation, City Emergency Braking can reduce the speed at impact and might even prevent an accident at speeds below 19 mph.

Automatic Distance Control

City Emergency Braking is a software extension of the automatic distance control system (ACC). Its full range of functionality is available in NILS. The ACC system also uses a laser sensor to measure the distance and relative speed to the vehicle ahead in traffic-parameters to which NILS automatically adjusts its speed. Beforehand, the driver preselects the desired following distance and vehicle speed, similar to a cruise control system. The automatic distance control system has intuitive controls with three new multifunction keys in the steering wheel. Two arrow keys are used to vary the vehicle speed (in open driving) and the distance to the vehicle in front. Another key between the two arrow keys is used to activate or deactivate the ACC system. Front Assist is integrated in the ACC system. This continually active system warns the driver of a potential collision and can engage the brakes if needed at city speeds.

TFT display as instrument cluster

The instrument cluster was tailored to the electric vehicle. The main surface is a seven-inch thin-film transistor liquid crystal display. The vehicle's speed is shown digitally in the middle, energy flow is represented by a bar element and another graphic shows driving range.

Clever touchscreen

The second central instrument is a mobile multifunctional device called the Portable Infotainment Device (PID), like the one used in the new up!. It snaps onto the A-pillar to the right of the instrument cluster. Via a touchscreen, the driver controls functions related to "Navigation", "Radio", "Media", "Telephone", "Trip computer" and-to preconfigure the driving range-"Eco". At the start of the drive, the PID computes the expected driving range and displays the route on the map display as well as the range radius, thereby showing the destinations that can be reached using the current battery charge.

Simple where it makes sense

To save on weight and costs, certain functional elements and controls are operated without electrical assistance. The side mirrors, for example, are adjusted manually, which is not really an inconvenience on such a narrow interior. There is no power assistance for the steering, either. The heating and ventilation system has full electronic control. The driver sets the temperature and fan setting via two electronic sliders , with two additional controls for the ventilation flap position (air flow direction) and seat heating. Located to the right of the steering column is the motor's start-stop switch; this round, handy switch is also used to select the position of the single-speed transmission (D, N or R).

Safe like a big car

The aluminum spaceframe body was designed to be a highly effective safety cell. The body-in-white is produced from extruded, cast, and sheet aluminum pieces. The roof frame, the door mounts, a sturdy roll bar behind the driver, the trunk enclosure, and the front bulkhead consist of high-strength sheet aluminum. The extremely sturdy extruded aluminum parts include the side sills and the front and rear body crash sections. The housings for the drive unit are aluminium castings. All add-on body parts are made of plastic and aluminum.

Three-part roof-hinged doors

The doors are a work of manufacturing art. Their frames consist of an inner section, a crash reinforcement section and an exterior part. When they are closed, they offer optimal crash safety. The door windows are made of lightweight, scratch-resistant, layered polycarbonate. The front window is made of laminated safety glass.

See and be seen

Xenon and LED parts are used for the headlights, rear lights, and turn signals. In front, two bi-xenon modules handle the job of the dipped and main beam headlights. The turn signals and daytime running lights are implemented as white and yellow LEDs. The daytime running lights are mounted on the front wheel trim panels, and these lights also serve as position lights for parking. In the acrylic glass of the rear lights-which are integrated like small wings-the power consumption of the LEDs is minimal thanks to being routed via transparent semiconductors. Which is very appropriate for an electric vehicle.

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