Volkswagen may have been slower to engage sustainability than some of its automotive competitors but the company appears to be making up for lost time. Prior to the last few years sustainability was not a strategic priority for Volkswagen’s business operations. They were also producing vehicles that emphasized price competitiveness rather than fuel efficiency.
Increasingly Volkswagen appears to be pursuing a more environmentally friendly approach in terms of their production facilities and the vehicles they produce. Volkswagen’s sustainability program is known as Think Blue Factory, and at and the end of 2011, the company launched a campaign to reduce energy, water and CO2 emissions. The goal was to see 25 percent reductions in energy, water and CO2 by the year 2018 (compared to a 2010 baseline).
Rather than impose specific company wide initiatives from central headquarters, the Think Blue Factory project takes advantage of local opportunities and challenges by tasking each plant to direct and develop strategies to meet their own sustainability targets.
In November 2012, more than 350 energy experts from among 21 Volkswagen plants attended a Think Blue Factory annual meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company honored the best energy reduction ideas.
Early this year Volkswagen became the exclusive buyer of energy from a 9.5 MW solar park belonging to Silicon Ranch. The park houses 33,600 solar modules, adjacent to Volkswagen’s LEED Platinum manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is the first and only automotive manufacturing plant in the world to receive platinum LEED certification.
The solar park produces 13.1 gigawatt hours of electricity per year and is expected to meet 12.5 percent of the energy needs of Volkswagen’s manufacturing facility during full production and 100 percent during non-production periods. Ten SMA inverters convert the solar energy from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) to be used to power the electrical installations in the manufacturing plant.
To add to these efforts Volkswagen has developed a concept car called the XL1. The concept car was modified first in 2009 as the L1 and again in 2011 as the XL1. This tandem two seater vehicle is one of the most radically fuel efficient cars in the world.
The aerodynamic XL1 is made with lightweight material, engine, and high-end chassis technology. Most of the Volkswagen XL1 will be built by hand in VW’s Osnabrück factory, while the carbon fiber monocoque comes from a supplier in Austria. The engine is a modified Volkswagen 1.6 L diesel, it is good for 47 horsepower and 89 foot pounds of torque, with an additional boost of up to 68 horsepower and 103 ft-lb from the hybrid electric motor.
Although the car can hardly be called fast, it will be capable of a top speed of almost 100 mph and 0-60 times in the 12-13 second range. The engine is switched off automatically during deceleration and stops, and auto-restarted when the acceleration pedal is pressed.
The car was designed to be able to travel 100 km on less than 1 litre of diesel fuel translating to between 240 and 280 mpg.
The XL1 is slated to begin limited production by late 2013 and it is expected to cost between €20,000 and €30,000 or $30,000 to $45,000.© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco- entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market Oracle on Facebook and follow The Green Market Oracle’s twitter feed.