Volkswagen GTI Carbon: VW adds lightness to a limited-edition hot hatch

2014 Volkswagen GolfThe 2014 Volkswagen Golf was designed to be lightweight, but VW apparently isn’t done shedding pounds. A new report from Autocar suggests the company is working on a sporty GTI model made of carbon fiber and aluminum. This “GTI Carbon” will weigh less than 2,500 pounds and test VW’s ability to mass produce lightweight materials.

The next Golf, due in calendar year 2013, switches to Volkswagen’s new MQB architecture, so it gets a chassis made of hot-formed ultra high strength steel. To trim weight even further, the GTI Carbon will have an aluminum floor, windshield frame, and firewall. Carbon fiber will replace the metal roof and hood. Potentially, the GTI Carbon could weigh just 2,475 pounds; 500 pounds less than today’s GTI.

Cars need to lose weight, and not just to maintain their girlish figures. Weight is the enemy of every form of automotive performance: acceleration, braking, handling, even fuel economy. That’s why Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman’s motto was “simplify, and add lightness.”

The current GTI will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, but the GTI Carbon’s lightweight body could drop that time down into the 5.0 second range. The aluminum and carbon fiber will also improve fuel economy; why do you think Volkswagen went to such great lengths to lighten the regular Golf, which is not a performance car?

Volkswagen isn’t the first company to use carbon fiber and aluminum in a car; carbon fiber has been used in everything from the McLaren F1 to the BMW M3. What is interesting about the GTI Carbon is that it is a normal car, and it could be the first step toward mass-production of lightweight materials in cars.

Volkswagen is reportedly working on new production techniques for the GTI Carbon. To make the car’s carbon fiber pieces, technicians will drape two layers of the material over a thin sheet of steel, which can be welded to the body.

For the aluminum, VW will rivet pieces to the steel chassis (the same technique used by Jaguar and the makers of World War II fighter planes) or use adhesives. Different metals cannot be welded together, so incorporating aluminum into a car’s internal structure has always been a challenge.

If it wanted to show off its ability to weld aluminum or bake carbon fiber, Volkswagen could have built a small batch of production cars with bespoke chassis and bodies. Instead, the company decided to add the materials to its most popular model, which is a great way to popularize them.

We shouldn’t be congratulating VW just yet though, because the GTI Carbon is more of an experiment than a production item. The regular GTI may be a great affordable performance car, but don’t expect its carbon-clad sibling to be cheap. It will debut sometime after the regular Golf, and will only be built in small batches.

Still, if Volkswagen learns anything from the GTI Carbon, we could be looking at a future where carbon fiber and aluminum aren’t just for supercars and fighter planes.

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