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Volkswagen's E-Up! An electric car for the people?

By Andrew Heining / September 15, 2009

21st-century Beetle? The Volkswagen E-Up!, an electric concept car, is seen on the first press day of the Frankfurt Auto Show, Tuesday in Frankfurt, Germany.

Thomas Kienzle/AP

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It's a far cry from a $100,000 Tesla, but a new electric car concept from Volkswagen has people charged up.

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The diminutive E-Up! is just 125.6-inches long – a Mini Cooper is 20 inches longer – and isn't going to haul four kids to soccer practice. And its 11.3 second 0-60 time won't win any drag races. Any in-seat DVD screens, heated leather seats, and drowsiness-sensing lane-departure warning systems? Nope. But none of that gets to the point. If all goes as planned, by 2013, E-Up! will be a mass-produced all-electric car from a major automaker, accessible to the average person. Volkswagen is even calling it the Beetle of the 21st century.

Introduced Tuesday ahead of the press preview day at Frankfurt's International Auto Show, the E-Up! has a 500-lbs lithium-ion battery pack stored in the floor. Supplementing that is a 15-square-foot roof-mounted solar array, as well as another three square feet of solar cells mounted on the back of the vehicle's sun visors. All told, Volkswagen says the big coppertop packs enough juice for about a 62-mile range between five-hour charges.

With such numbers, it's aimed at city-dwellers – or, as Car and Driver called it, at city dwellers with access to parking with an electrical outlet. "Sounds easy, but good luck finding it in a European city at night, unless you have your own garage space for what will likely be a politically correct, second or third car-as-accessory," Jens Meiners writes.

Europe seems like sure bet for this car, but will the US see it? Volkswagen wasn't making any availability announcements Tuesday, but Motor Trend reports that the company had tossed out the idea of bringing the car's internal-combustion twins stateside, so it's not out of the question.

Gearheads should keep an eye on Frankfurt this week, as the auto show is being touted as the site of some 82 world-premiere unveilings in the days to come.

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We've covered electric cars before – including the Chevy Volt and Tesla Roadster. Have a look.

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