GENEVA -- The debut of the Volkswagen XL1, touted by VW as the world's most fuel-efficient production car, marks VW's entry into the plug-in hybrid market.
Volkswagen Group has waited longer than some of its competitors to offer electrified vehicles. But now it plans to launch a series of plug-in hybrids, taking on such models as the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid and Ford C-Max Energi.
VW says the two-seat XL1 coupe's diesel plug-in hybrid powertrain gets 261 mpg by European standards. The EPA has not rated the XL1's fuel economy. The XL1 was designed as a technological showpiece, and just 250 units are planned for the initial run.
For now, the XL1 is to be sold only in Germany and Austria. Volkswagen Group of America CEO Jonathan Browning told Automotive News that he will request a handful of XL1s for the United States, "even if it's just on the basis of a test fleet."
Underneath the hood are the underpinnings for a series of plug-ins that will arrive in coming years, Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn said at the car's unveiling last week before the Geneva auto show.
"This technology spearhead is not going to benefit just a few," Winterkorn told the audience through a translator. "It is going to benefit everyone."
The first arrivals are to include the e-Golf, an electric vehicle planned to arrive in U.S. showrooms next year to satisfy a California zero-emission vehicle mandate, and the Audi A3 e-tron, a plug-in hybrid planned to go on sale in Europe next year. A Golf plug-in hybrid will follow, and there will be potential to build it at VW's plant in Puebla, Mexico.
On the same assembly line, VW said it will be able to build Golfs with six powertrains: gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas, electric, plug-in hybrid and ethanol. Ulrich Hackenberg, the Volkswagen AG board member for product development, said the approach will enable the company to more easily adjust to customer demand and government rules.
"If the market is asking for an EV, yes, we can build EVs in the plant," Hackenberg said. "If it is asking for a plug-in, we can do that. If it is asking for CNG, we can do that. And so on."
Audi showed several of those options in Geneva. They included the e-tron plug-in hybrid and a natural gas version called the g-tron, which will join the diesel and gasoline versions.
Heinz Hollerweger, Audi AG's head of product development, said Audi plans to debut one new electrified vehicle per year, treating the e-tron badge like the quattro badge used on all-wheel-drive cars.