GOTHENBURG - Around 80 percent of the standard Lupo's parts have been changed or adapted to create Europe's first 'three-liter' car, the Volkswagen Lupo 3L.
The supereconomical car debuts in Germany 23 July, and across Europe shortly afterward.
First seen as a prototype at the Paris auto show last year, the 3L will cost DM26,900 (euro 13,745). It is powered by an all-new 1.2-liter, 3-cylinder, 61hp diesel engine which consumes just 2.99 liters of fuel per 100km.
The consumption figure was achieved under normal driving conditions, and measured through a standardized driving cycle. The 1.2-liter engine is the first diesel engine to meet the EU4 emission regulations.
'Two-thirds of the progress made in fuel efficiency came from the powertrain and one-third has come from weight-saving measures,' said VW development chief Martin Winterkorn. The 1.2-liter engine is the first diesel to use mainly alloy components. It is mated to a specially-tuned sequential five-speed gearbox to help fuel efficiency.
When the gears are activated, a special fuel-saving eco-switch automatically selects the optimum moment for each gear change. In this mode an automatic stop-start function is activated if the car is stationary for more than four seconds. In addition, a free-wheel function saves fuel by coming into action as soon as the foot is taken off the throttle.
Lightweight alloy and magnesium have been used in body panels and components, while windscreen glass and small 155/65 R14 wheels have reduced the car's weight to 830kg, down 150kg over the 1.7-liter SDI and 65kg over the 1.0-liter gasoline Lupo.
'We have changed 80 percent of all standard Lupo parts in order to gain weight savings,' Winterkorn added. 'This car is full of high-tech materials which will eventually make their way into our volume production cars as well.'
VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech said: 'In former times you adapted technology from motorsport, and from the top of the range, and put it into the rest of the range. We are now learning from the bottom and will introduce this technology step by step into all our cars.'
The Lupo 3L is assembled in Wolfsburg, but because it uses so many different parts and materials it does not run down the standard line. VW says production takes place in a 'factory within a factory,' alongside the Lupo line. The system is flexible enough to allow VW to produce anything up to 50 cars a day.
The lightweight technology will be used for a forthcoming Lupo GTi. According to Winterkorn, the GTi will be produced on the 3L assembly line, utilizing any spare capacity.
The 3L Lupo will be followed by a 3L Seat Arosa and the alloy Audi Al2 - both of which are due to debut later this year.
'We cannot predict the demand for the 3L,' said Robert Buchelhofer, board member for sales and marketing, 'but we think we can sell 5,000 to 10,000 cars per year.'
VW is supporting the launch with a DM10 million pan-European advertising campaign starting in mid July. Buchelhofer said: 'The campaign expresses a joy for life and responsibility for the environment.'
However, VW realizes that it will have to work hard to achieve the sales targets.
Although the 3L might be the most economical Lupo, it is also the most expensive by a large margin - DM4,100 more than the 1.7-liter SDI and DM8,450 more than the 1.0-liter gasoline.
Hans-Ulrich Sachs - newly-appointed head of sales - said dealers were getting special sales training but there would be no customer incentives at launch. 'However, later we may introduce some special leasing or finance offers,' he said.
He added that the 3L's higher equipment levels are worth an extra DM4,300 while tax savings (in Germany) account for another DM2,200.
'Within two years the price premium will be negated,' he said. Most other European countries do not, however, share Germany's graded tax system which rewards drivers of the most fuel efficient cars.
There may also be some criticism of the Lupo's driving characteristics. There's no power steering, and small, special Bridgestone tires with reduced rolling resistance result in a tendency to understeer. VW says it is aware of the problem.
Piech said VW will offer electric power steering in November as an option.
Air conditioning will be also available later, both increasing the weight and fuel consumption. Sidebags will not be offered, but driver and passenger airbags and ABS are standard.