The DeLorean DMC-12 is a car that is recognised around the globe, due almost entirely to its appearance in the much-loved Back to the Future franchise, as the car which Doc Brown uses as the base for his time machine. By the time the DeLorean had made its famous appearance in Back to the Future, however, its run had already come to an end. To find out why, you have to go back a little further in time.
John Z. DeLorean, son of a Ford Motor Company employee, was born in Detroit in 1925. Motoring must have been in his blood – a master’s in engineering led him to work in General Motor’s Pontiac division, of which he became chief engineer in 1961, and was behind the creation of the Pontiac GTO. Despite several promotions within GM, DeLorean later wrote of problems he had with the company – both ethical and business issues – and resigned in 1973 to pursue the creation of his dream car. As a result, he established the John Z. DeLorean Corporation in 1974, and the DeLorean Motor Company the following year.
Drivers and onlookers around NYC today were probably wondering if some futuristic car had time-traveled from 2050, and got caught up in traffic on their way to find some trash to fuel their Mr Fusion energy reactor. Actually, and a little disappointingly, this is the VW XL1, one of the latest of a line of more unconventional vehicles from Volkswagen, which made its debut as a prototype way back in 2002 and was confirmed for production ten years later.
This isn’t the first out-there automobile from VW; the German car maker has a reputation for building limited-run, expensive cars, often at a loss, as exercises in engineering to prove a technology’s viability, like the Bugatti Veyron (€1.4 million) and the Golf Design Vision GTI (€4 million). But while the Veyron has an 8.0L 987bhp engine, and there’s 3.0L 500bhp on tap in the superpowered GTI, resulting in some pretty frequent trips to the petrol station, the XL1 is a test of a different kind. That’s because it’s a diesel-electric hybrid with an electric range of 31 miles and overall mpg figures of 261. That’s right. 261.
Got your attention now? That’s like five times better than your average run around. Take that, Prius.
Boffins at the German company have really outdone themselves this time; combining an incredibly efficient hybrid engine, a lightweight carbon fiber structure and the most aerodynamic body of any production car in existence. It has a 48 bhp two cylinder diesel engine combined with a 27 bhp electric motor and a 5.5 kWh battery, but don’t let the small figures fool you; it’s not the fastest car you’ll ever drive, and 0-60 takes around 11 seconds, but you can still cruise comfortably along at 60 miles using only 8 horsepowers. That’s actually amazing. Somebody’s surely getting a bonus.
One of the failings of many electric cars is that they’re just so damn ugly – I’m looking at you, Nissan Leaf. Hang your battery-powered head in shame. The Tesla Model S is one of the first to realise that you can have an electric car that is astoundingly good looking while using to force of electrons to whisk you from A to B. I’ll stop short of calling the XL1 a beautiful machine – sure, the front end is captivating, the best of the new Golf/Passat face glaring at you to get out of its way. But the further down you go, the less sure you are about its design – VW decided against side and rear windows to keep those mpg figures as high as they could. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.
Apparently 50 of a 250 run have been built already, with 200 to be sold to the public in 2014. Don’t get your hopes up – the registration process closed in October and in any case, pricing starts at around €111,000. Like the Tesla Model S, Volkswagen presume the first buyers to get their hands on the XL1 will be early adopters; tech heads with plenty of money and concern for the environment. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to make do with watching our fuel gauges visibly dropping as we resolutely hang on to our love of petrol and, logically speaking, distaste of disposable income. It’s a cruel world.
As 2013 winds down and 2014 is about to swing in, let’s stop for a minute, and think about all of the cool things previous generations were sure we would have by this time. Underground cities and flying cars sadly have not yet come to pass, while hoverboards remain just out of reach. (Damn Science, what the hell have you been doing? Get your act together.)
One thing which probably didn’t crop up in people’s imagination at the time is cars that can hear. No, that’s not the beginning of an undeniably frightening horror flick, but just another part of Google’s technological dreams, dreams which will be completely pointless if they aren’t aiming towards the construction of a death star of some description.
Anyway, apparently this is now a thing. Or, at least, it will be, and not that far away in time. The tech giant, which has already designed a working driverless car, with thousands of miles of testing under its belt, has also been developing the technology that would allow a vehicle to listen to its surroundings and take control if necessary. So, for example, if you’re flying towards a beeping pedestrian crossing, and you’re intent on going through, make sure you have your seatbelt on, because one way or another the car will stop, and you could find yourself sitting on the tarmac with bits of your windshield in your face.
The idea is to complement the cameras which sit on top of Google’s driverless cars – a camera is all well and good when it can see what’s coming, but on the off chance that right around the bend is a dingling railway crossing, and you’re too busy singing along to Miley Cyrus (it could happen), this mightn’t be the worst idea.
Hats off to Google, in any case. I, for one, look forward to Skynet’s inevitable takeover when it has been insulted by a frustrated driver for the last time.