2011 Frankfurt Motor Show: Vw NILS Concept shows how future cars will look like

Article by Christian Andrei, on September 14, 2011

If you’re a Volkswagen fan and you’re going to the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show to see how future cars will look, then you have to take a look at the Volkswagen NILS. This development is the result of VW's Group Research and it may be related Audi's Urban Concept, which was introduced at Frankfurt as well. It is intended for individual transportation.

It uses an F1-style layout, which places the driver in the middle of this vehicle that measures 3040mm long, 1390mm wide and 1200mm high.

It is significantly smaller than the Up, the most compact VW vehicle. It is built on 17-inch alloy rims, which has 115/80 tires at the front and 125.80 tires at the rear. A compact electric motor, which has a nominal power of 15 kW (20.4 hp) and a peak power of 25 kW (34 hp) and a torque of 96 lb-ft., is positioned at the rear.

It is equipped with a "relatively inexpensive” 5.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack that offers a driving range of 40 miles (64 km). The NILS, which weighs 460 kg, can sprint from zero to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds and it could reach a top speed of 81 mph (130 km/h).

It takes two hours to fully charge it. The NILS’s handling is comparable to that of a sports car. In addition, it doesn’t have power steering as the vehicle is very lightweight and it has a double-wishbone setup for both axles.

To save on weight, and more importantly cost, a number of controls and functional aspects of the NILS do not utilize electric power. An example of this is the side mirrors which need to be manually adjusted. Its ventilation and heating, including the seat heating, systems though allow for electronic control.

The motor round star-stop switch is placed on the steering column’s right and is used to activate the D, N, or the R, modes. Still on the equipment, the instrument cluster contains a TFT 7-inch display where the current speed of the vehicle is digitally shown in the middle with the energy flow denoted by bars. Aside from these two, the driver is also able to know the driving range through a different graphic display.

Similar to the up!, there is a second central instrument which is also a mobile multi-functional device called the Portable Infotainment Device or PID. This PID has been fitted to the A-pillar which is on the instrument cluster’s right. All of the functions associated with the Trip computer, Telephone, Radio, Media, and Navigation are managed through a touchscreen. It is also possible to get the Eco, where one can preconfigure the possible driving range, controlled through these touchscreen.

Once the PID is able to determine the expected driving range, it displays the possible route on its map display. This is not all as it also displays the radius and the possible destinations to be running under the current charge of the battery.

While fun is an important factor, safety is just as important. This is why the NILS is equipped with what is known as automatic distance control system. What it does is utilize radar sensors in order to scan the area that is in front of the NILS, for a maximum of 200 meters. The driver initially sets a minimum value for the distance and when the system determines that the distance between the vehicle and the one in front of it is going below that initial value, it activates the brake interventions.

As such, depending on the current conditions, it ensures that the brakes are automatically applied and the car comes to a complete stop. The brakes are made possible through the four disc brakes in addition to the electric traction by the electric motor. Even the battery regeneration can be utilized for the brake. Integrated to the automatic distance control system is the Front Assist. This particular system is able to give a warning when there is the possibility of a collision.

When running under 30 km/h, or 18 mph, the brake is immediately triggered in order to prevent a collision. Still on the issue of safety, the space frame body is composed of aluminum and was created to be a very effective safety cell. In white, it is made from sheet aluminum, cast aluminum, and extruded aluminum. Also in extruded aluminum are the side sills, as well as the transverse profiles including the front the rear sections.

Meanwhile the roof frame is made up of high-strength sheet aluminum like the bulkhead in the front, bootspace, roll bar, and door mounts. Even the front and the rear side body come in aluminum. On the other hand, the trim panels that are on the side sills and the bumpers are composed of high-strength plastic. Meanwhile the wing doors’ frames have three main elements: the exterior portion, the crash reinforcement section, and the inner part.

As long as they are closed, they deliver optimum crash safety. Though the window in the front is composed of laminated safety glass, the windows on the door are instead made of the layered, scratch-resistance, and lightweight poly carbonate.

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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