Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Volkswagen AG unveils its Space Up! Blue concept vehicle, the third variant of the German auto maker’s new small family of vehicles, at the L.A. Auto Show here.

The 4-seat concept is powered by the world’s first high-temperature hydrogen fuel cell, VW says. It also features 12 lithium-ion batteries. In battery-only mode, the car has a range of 65 miles (105 km).

The concept car can be recharged via an electrical outlet or refueled by VW’s fuel cell. When charged by the fuel cell, the vehicle’s range is extended up to 220 miles (354 km) on a single energy charge, VW says.

Unlike low-temperature fuel cells being developed by some competing auto makers, VW’s high-temperature fuel cell can operate in a variety of temperature ranges with little energy loss, the company says.

VW says a new high-temperature membrane and electrodes designed for the membrane enable a more compact, affordable and efficient fuel cell, which could represent a “turning point in research on fuel cells for mass production.”

The high-temperature membrane can operate up to 320° F (160° C), although VW says its optimum range is about 248° F (120° C).

Ulrick Hackenberg, VW board member responsible for concept, body and electronics and electrical systems development, says the auto maker’s new fuel-cell technology could “lead to a new type of motoring.”

Parking structures could be equipped with (electrical) outlets, enabling drivers to power their cars while shopping or working, he says, noting such an infrastructure would allow most commuters to drive exclusively in electric-only mode.

The high-temperature fuel cell was developed at a dedicated research center in Germany, VW says.

The concept also boasts a series of solar roof panels that aid in ventilation when the car is parked in the sun, Hackenberg says.

The exterior, with four roof windows, is patterned after the Samba Bus of the 1950s, VW says. Other shared design cues include butterfly doors with opposing hinges and a rear-engine configuration.

While small – about 145 ins. (368 cm) long, 62 ins. (157 cm) high and 64 ins. (163 cm) wide – the concept is remarkably large inside.

To demonstrate, Hackenberg drives the concept vehicle onto the auto show stage with former National Basketball Assn. player John Salley riding shotgun. Upon exiting the vehicle, the 6’11’’ (211 cm) Salley quips the vehicle is “too big for me.”

Hackenberg admits the Space Up! Blue currently is “pie in the sky” but says a diesel-powered productoin version of the Up! will go on sale within the decade.

Says Hackenberg: “Our new small family (of vehicles) is our pledge to protect the environment.”

bpope@wardsauto.com