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The star of this week's Qatar motor show will undoubtedly be Volkswagen's (NASDAQOTH:VLKAY) "one-liter car," the diesel hybrid XL1, which is able to achieve more than 300 mpg.

The $60,000 XL1 is powered by an 800cc, two-cylinder turbodiesel powerplant (half a BlueMotion engine), producing 47bhp, supported by a 27bhp electric motor hat fuelled by lithium-ion batteries. The batteries can be charged from a domestic plug, allowing the car to travel 22 miles solely on electric power.

Over the past decade governments worldwide have been pressing the automotive industry for better gas mileage, better fuel economy in vehicles, and other sources of energy. The XL1 fulfills all these requirements.

The XL1 also emits just 24g/km of CO2 and has a 0-60 time of 11.9 seconds. Its 10-liter diesel tank gives the XL1 a range of around 340 miles. Adding to the XL1's remarkable fuel efficiency is the fact that the car has been designed to be as light as possible, with an unpainted carbon fiber skin over a magnesium-alloy subframe.

Efforts to pare weight extend to the engine, transmission, suspension, carbon fiber wheels, aluminum brakes, titanium hubs and ceramic bearings, producing a vehicle weighing only 1,752 pounds.

The XL1 is the brainchild of Volkswagen group former head Ferdinand Piëch, who initiated the project in 1998. Volkswagen's designers and engineers responded to Piëch's challenge, immediately setting about producing a carbon-fiber bodied car with tandem seating and a single-piston engine. In 2002, in his last public appearance as chairman, Piëch drove to a VW shareholders meeting in Hamburg in the prototype, and even then managed to beat the fuel-consumption target that he had set his engineers. Following Piëch's leaving Volkswagen, the project was essentially shelved until Piëch's replacement, Martin Winterkorn, along with Volkswagen's research and development head Ulrich Hackenberg, revisited the concept and developed the twin-cylinder hybrid L1, which appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009.

 Volkswagen engineer Andreas Keller, who's been with the project since its inception, said, "In many respects, this car is similar to the Bugatti Veyron. I mean that it's the absolute pinnacle of engineering that we as a company are capable of right now. It's an extreme car, it's just that it's the opposite of the Veyron. But the technology and the design are equally important. There had to be some creature comforts, but we've done everything possible to keep the weight down. The air conditioning, for instance, is powered by a smaller unit than is usual, so it might get a bit hot in there during the UAE's summer. Also, the gearbox, which is a twin-clutch automatic, has been rehoused in a magnesium casing because it's incredibly light — the entire car only weighs 1,752 pounds. The tires are narrow to keep down the rolling resistance and the rears are covered by wheel spats that aid streamlining. You will also notice there are no exterior mirrors. There are two rear-facing cameras fitted into either side of the car, and the real-time images are fed to screens in the doors." The XL1 is being built at Volkswagen's Osnabrück facility. 

The bad news for XL1 enthusiasts is that currently only 250 are to be constructed, with production ceasing next year. Interestingly in October 2013 the XL1 made its U.S. debut in Chattanooga at the 23rd Annual Society of Environmental Journalists Conference. Volkswagen Group of America, Engineering and Environmental Office General Manager Oliver Schmidt said at the unveiling of the prototype, "The XL1 offers a glimpse into Volkswagen's present and future eco-mobility capabilities, and highlights the ultimate successes of 'Thinking Blue.' Volkswagen is proud to debut this ultra-fuel-efficient vehicle before the Society of Environmental Journalists, a group that shares in our commitment to environmental stewardship."

As Volkswagen of America, in 2011 opened a $1 billion Volkswagen Chattanooga factory that manufactures the Passat sedan for the North American market, which provides more than 12,000 full-time jobs and is responsible for $643 million in annual income in the area, as well as $53.5 million annually in state and local taxes, the question might be – why not manufacture XL1s in the U.S.?

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Written by John Daly at

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