2011 Frankfurt Motor Show Preview: Volkswagen NILS Concept

Article by Christian Andrei, on September 1, 2011

Volkswagen will be unveiling the pod-like electric city car dubbed NILS at the Frankfurt Motor Show. This is how Volkswagen envisions a commuter device of the future. This trend was started by the Renault Twizy, which was followed by the Audi Urban Concept. The NILS only has space for a single passenger.

It is built entirely from aluminum, making it weigh just 460kg. The rear wheels are powered by an electric motor positioned behind the driver. It is equipped with a small lithium-ion battery pack that could be recharged from the mains in only two hours, resulting to a 40-mile range. Its motor, which delivers 34bhp and 130Nm of torque, enables the car to reach a top speed of 80mph and to accelerate from zero to 62mph in less than 11 seconds.

It is also very practical as it has a boot above the drive unit that has enough space to accommodate a small bag. The NILS doesn’t look like any other vehicle, with its 17-inch wheels and gullwing doors, but VW made sure that it could be recognized easily as part of the family.

The NILS’ front and rear bumpers are black, similar to the up! but as it has a length of 3.04m, it is about 50cm shorter than VW’s new entry-level model. It also has other features that it shares with the up! like a City Emergency Braking system, which could automatically activate the stoppers at speeds below 20mph.

It also has been fitted with a removable sat-nav unit that could be used to control the radio, telephone and trip computer functions. VW made a survey on German commuters and found that 74% drive less than 30 miles a day.

It also determined that 90% travel to work alone, which means that the NILS would be ideal. The NILS has compact dimensions but it complies with all the safety requirements for a vehicle of this type. It’s very likely then that a production version would be seen on the road earlier.

The instrument cluster of the NILS comes with a thin film transistor (TFT) 7-inch display, in the middle of which the current speed is shown in a digital format. Even the energy flow is displayed though this is done through bars. There is also another graphic display with the driving range shown. A touchscreen is made available where the driver can manage the functions like Media, Navigation, Radio, Telephone, and Trip computer.

Through this, the driver can even preconfigure the Eco driving range. It has a second central instrument which is the Portable Infotainment Device, or PID, the same one fitted in the Volkswagen up! This multi-functional mobile device has been fitted to the A-pillar and just to the right side of its instrument cluster. What this PID does is that it determines the expected driving range and then puts up this route on its map display.

However it also includes the radius and a list of which areas can be reached based on the present battery charge. While this is indeed an excellent feature, there are others that need to be operated manually like the side mirrors. The reason for this is that the company wanted to make sure that in building the NILS, it would not only save on weight but on costs as well. Its ventilation and heating, like the seat heating, however are controlled electronically.

At the right of the steering column is where its motor start-stop switch is placed, the same round switch where the D, N, or R modes are chosen. While fun is a significant factor, just as important is safety. This is why the NILS has been equipped with what is known as the automatic distance control system. First the driver is made to set a specific distance for the car and the vehicle in front of it. Then by utilizing radar sensors, it scans the region in front of the NILS and when the system determines that the distance is nearing the value set, it applies the needed brake interventions.

Thus the distance of the car and the one in front of it will never go under what was originally set. Maximum distance that the system can scan is 200 meters. Enhancing the safety feature of this system is the Front Assist integrated to it. Working together, when the speed goes under 30 kph (18 mph), the system continuously warns the driver of any possible collision and in certain cases, the Front Assist automatically applies the brakes to prevent any collision.

Standard safety features are included like the four disc brakes. Helping with the brakes is the electric motor’s electric traction and even the battery regeneration. On the front, the headlights have bi-xenon modules with the daytime running lights and the indicator lights using yellow and white LEDs. For the rear, the lights have been integrated, much like small wings. However by having acrylic glass, the light from the LEDs is channeled through transparent semiconductors and therefore use small amounts of power, a feature that is apt for an electric vehicle.

The space frame body meanwhile is made of aluminum and has been designed to be an effective safety cell. With a white color, it is made using sheet aluminum, cast aluminum, and extruded aluminum. Extruded aluminum is also used for the side sills as well as the transverse profiles. It is the same material for the front and the rear sections. The door mounts and the roof frame are high-strength sheet aluminum, much like the bulkhead in the front, boot space, and roll bar.

Also in aluminum are the front side and the rear side body. However other parts, like the trim panels found on the side sills and the bumpers are made using high-strength plastic. In particular, the frames of its wing doors have three parts: the exterior, crash reinforcement, and interior. When closed, it offers the best in crash safety. The door windows meanwhile are layered with polycarbonate, which is resistant to scratch and lightweight. Its front window on the other hand is composed of laminated safety glass.

Press Release

VW NILS Concept

Volkswagen NILS, a single-seat electric concept vehicle that offers a glimpse of a new form of minimalist mobility, has been unveiled ahead of its public debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. This concept car - which features an aluminium space frame, wing doors and free-standing wheels - has the dynamic performance of a sports car, yet travels silently, and with zero emissions.

The NILS project is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, and is designed to be both technically realistic and economically supportable.

'NILS anticipates the future. The goal of the NILS project is to research a technically realistic and economically feasible concept for a minimalist commuter vehicle that makes individual transportation more efficient and eco-friendly thanks to its electric drive,' said Prof. Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Head of Volkswagen Group Research.

Commenting from the strategic perspective is Dr. Rudolf Krebs, Group Chief Officer for Electric Traction: 'In terms of the Volkswagen Group's roadmap for electric mobility, these forward-thinking vehicle concepts play an especially important role. That is because the breakthrough of electric mobility will lead to new vehicle requirements - many of which are oriented towards very specific target groups. In advancing electric mobility to high-volume production, it is not enough to simply electrify existing vehicle models.'

With a range of 65 kilometres (40 miles) and a top speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) Volkswagen NILS would be the ideal vehicle for the majority of commuters in Germany. According to the German Bureau of Statistics, 73.9 per cent of all commuters residing between Berlin and Munich cover less than 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) on their way to work.

Cars have always been mirrors of their times - their design styles and technological standards reflecting a particular era - and NILS is no different. It uses emissions-reducing electric drive technology to fulfil the specific requirements of commuters. In Germany, for example, about 60 per cent of all commuters travel by car, according to the Federal Bureau of Statistics; of these over 90 per cent travel alone. Zero-emissions vehicles like NILS will offer these frequent drivers a new eco-friendly mobility solution.

Volkswagen NILS is a very compact car that requires extremely little space in traffic. It is only 3.04 metres long - making it about 50 cm shorter than the new Volkswagen up! - just 0.39 metres wide from wheel to wheel, and a mere 1.2 metres tall.

Volkswagen NILS has the same basic layout as a Formula 1 race car, with the driver in the middle, the engine in back, and free-standing outboard wheels. The 17-inch alloy wheels are equipped with 115/80 (front) and 125/80 (rear) tyres optimised for low rolling resistance.

Though its inspiration may come from Formula 1, the styling has its origins at the Volkswagen Design Centre in Potsdam, Berlin. Designer Thomas Ingenlath, the centre's director, said: 'NILS was designed to make a visual statement and transport a vision of the automotive future to the present. I am especially pleased that we managed to implement the concept of the two glass wing doors. This allowed us to create large transparent surfaces and simultaneously to make entering and exiting the vehicle very comfortable, even in the most cramped of parking spaces.'

Because Volkswagen NILS is so compact and lightweight (460 kg), it is a lot of fun to drive. It has a top speed of 130 km/h, and can accelerate to 100 km/h in less than 11 seconds. This is achieved using an electric motor with a reasonably small 15 kW nominal power and short-term peak power of 25 kW. A lithium-ion battery supplies the electric motor with energy. The battery capacity (5.3 kWh) enables driving ranges of up to 65 km, depending on the style of driving. A battery of this size is relatively inexpensive, and can be charged either via a conventional 230-volt electrical outlet (maximum charging time two hours) or at an electric vehicle charging station. The socket is located at the back underneath the rear lighting module.

The centrepiece of the electric drive system is the lightweight 19 kg electric motor together with its transmission and battery. Energy management is via a high-voltage pulse inverter, which - together with the 12-Volt DC/DC converter for the vehicle electrical system and the charger - forms an integral drive unit. All drive unit components are located compactly in an aluminium housing at the rear of NILS; drive is to the rear wheels.

The motor, battery and all other components are so compact that there is still space for a small but practical bootspace. The body-coloured area above the rear lighting module swings upward, revealing space suitable for items such as a case of drinks and a bag.

Optimal weight distribution helps to ensure that Volkswagen NILS allows drivers not only to commute with zero emissions, but also to have fun while doing so. The lightweight NILS drives like a go-kart. The steering is purely mechanical (the low weight means power assistance is unnecessary), while the electric motor produces its maximum torque of 130 Nm from standstill, via a one-speed transmission. Suspension is by double wishbones front and rear; while ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) helps to tame any over-exuberance on the part of the driver.

Safety is of course even more important than fun, and NILS is fitted with an automatic distance control system. This uses radar sensors to scan the space in front of the vehicle over a distance of about 200 metres and uses brake interventions to ensure that the distance to vehicles in traffic in front of the car does not drop below a specified minimum value. The system can even automatically brake the car to a stop, depending on the situation. Not only are the four disc brakes used to brake; electric traction by electric motor and battery regeneration can be used to brake as well. Last but not least, Front Assist is integrated in the automatic distance control system. This continually active system warns the driver of a potential collision; at speeds below 30 km/h (18 mph), automatic braking can avoid a collision under some circumstances.

The instrument cluster is a seven-inch TFT display. The vehicle's speed is shown digitally in the middle, while energy flow is represented by bars. Another graphic display offers information on the driving range. The second central instrument is a mobile multifunctional device like the one used in the new up!: the Portable Infotainment Device (PID). It is snapped into theA-pillar to the right of the instrument cluster. Via touchscreen, the driver controls functions related to Navigation, Radio, Media, Telephone, Trip computer and - to preconfigure the driving range - 'Eco. The PID computes the expected driving range, then it not only displays the route on the map display, but also the radius and thereby the destinations that can be reached using the current battery charge.

To save on weight and costs, certain functional elements and controls do without electrical assistance. The side mirrors, for example, are adjusted manually. The heating and ventilation system has full electronic control, and there is seat heating. Located to the right of the steering column is the motor start-stop switch; this round switch is also used to select D, N or R.

The aluminium space frame body was designed to be a highly effective safety cell. The body in white is produced from extruded aluminium, cast aluminium and sheet aluminium. The roof frame together with the door mounts, a roll bar, the bootspace and the front bulkhead consist of high-strength sheet aluminium. Extruded aluminium is used in the side sills, the transverse profiles and the front and rear car sections. The front and rear side body are aluminium. Parts made of high-strength plastic include the bumpers and the trim panels on the side sills.

The frames of the wing doors consist of three main elements: an inner section, a crash reinforcement section and an exterior part. When closed, they offer optimal crash safety. The door windows are made of lightweight, scratch-resistant, layered polycarbonate, while the front window is made of laminated safety glass.

The headlights are striking bi-xenon modules, while the indicator lights and daytime running lights are white and yellow LEDs. In the acrylic glass of the rear lights - integrated in the rear section like small wings - the light generated by LEDs is routed via transparent semiconductors which (appropriately for an electric vehicle) consume minimal amounts of power.

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