Back in September, at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show, Volkswagen displayed its L1 Concept vehicle, claiming an astounding fuel economy of 170 mpg. How did they do it? Well, they start off with an ultra-efficient hybrid powertrain comprised of a 0.8-liter turbodiesel (TDI, which I discussed here) and a 10kW electric motor. (No plug needed here!) They use an ultra-light-weight body of carbon-fiber and plastic. And they designed it with an incredible drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.195. Improving on the aero efficiency (a topic I discussed here), is a small frontal area, accomplished by arranging the two occupants of the L1 in tandem. (Remember, the amount of power needed to overcome the air resistance when moving a vehicle is directly proportional to the frontal area, just as it is to the Cd.)
At the Tokyo Motor Show a little over a month ago, Nissan unveiled its Land Glider concept. Unlike VW’s L1, the Land Glider is a pure electric vehicle, with two motors powering the rear wheels. (No word on the energy efficiency of the vehicle.) It also has novel technology, such as the handling-improving capability of leaning in the corners, and crash-avoidance sensors to maneuver the vehicle around objects with which it would otherwise collide. The Land Glider also (presumably) is aerodynamically efficient – at least it looks that way. And like the L1, this is achieved partly through the use of tandem seating.
Could this be the shape of things to come? Two-passenger vehicles have existed for a while, from sporty roadsters (like the Miata) to econo-boxes (like the Smart). So, why not cut the frontal area down, and place the passengers fore and aft? Is this just too impractical – or too unusual – for the average consumer to handle? With many pushing for purpose-driven vehicles (rather than cars that can do everything, like what most of us drive today), we may eventually see a lot more variety in the types cars on the market. It’s not so far-fetched that we may see a derivative of the L1 or Land Glider for sale in a few years. And although tandem seating doesn’t really lend itself to a romantic time at the drive-in, it certainly can play a part at improving the fuel-economy once the wheels are in motion.