January 6, 2006 Volkswagen dropped a bombshell of significant magnitude in the automotive market overnight by showing a new three wheeled vehicle concept machine which it has billed as a crossover between sports car and motorcycle. That the mighty Volkswagen company should consider such a vehicle is surprising, but in an unprecedented move for any major manufacturer and a concept machine, the company has specified a price, indicating that the extreme performance and economy of the three wheeler could be delivered to market for under US$17,000 and inviting consumer response to the concept. Considering that the three wheel, two seater will deliver supercar performance while offering access to the carpool lane and delivering 46 mpg (5.2 l/100 km), we suspect the public response might be positive. We’ve reported on a number of three-wheel concepts recently, including the Aprilia Magnet , Mercedes-Benz Life-Jet , the Peugeot’s 20CUP, Toyota’s I-Swing and the Phiaro Eternity.
All of these machines offer similar performance to the Volkswagen concept, but the possibility of VW’s global distribution and marketing muscle puts the GX3 in a different class. Mercedes Benz’ L i f e - J e t project did not curry favour within the company and has long since been consigned to the backburners. Though Peugeot is a significant automotive manufacturer, it does not have the global strength to rival VW and little has been heard since the very similar 20CUP was shown four months ago.
The GX3 was conceived for the U.S. market by VW’s Moonraker team and the company’s Design Center in California as a vehicle with quite diverse and seemingly diametrically-opposed characteristics – being capable of carving up a back road AND cruising solo in the carpool lane. The secret of course is the GX3’s light weight, and that’s why you can find 125 hp and 112.5 ft-lbs (152 Nm) in a mere 1,257 lbs (570 kg) vehicle.
Light, fast, and environmentally friendly, the GX3 shows that conceptually it is much closer to a motorcycle than to a classic type automobile, turning the daily commute to work into a small trip to freedom, allowing use of the carpool lane, even driving solo and with its keen handling it opens up completely new horizons for recreational driving.
The GX3 is powered by a 1.6 litre engine. The four-cylinder delivers 92 kW / 125 hp and 112.5 ft-lbs (152 Nm) in a vehicle weighing just 1,257 lbs (570 kg).
This results in a power-to- weight ratio of 10 lbs/hp 4.56 kg/PS). In just 5.7 seconds, the GX3 can reach a speed of 62.5 mph (100 km/h) and the possible lateral acceleration reaches 1.25g – values typical of sheer performance cars but delivered from a vehicle under the $17,000 price range.
Now here’s the clincher and one of the reasons we think the GX3 might make it to market and indeed, may do so very soon. Volkswagen was the first automotive company to successfully export large numbers of automobiles into the United States market, and during the 1960s was selling more than half a million Beetles a year. Just a little over a decade ago, that number had fallen to less than 50,000 before the new Beetle revived its market share and the company’s fortunes. Sales are again slipping and the Moonraker team was conceived as an international, cross-functional group of young engineers, designers, manufacturing and marketing experts brought together to create machinery for the American market, as opposed to VW’s traditional and quite different European marketplace.
In addition to the models developed in Germany and sold in the US, in the future Volkswagen will be building more models catering especially to the needs and requirements of U.S. customers.
The GX3 was designed in close collaboration between Moonraker and VW’s Design Center California (DCC). The team started its work in the US in early 2005 with the brief of converting the wishes, dreams and needs of American drivers into mobility delivering the highest possible customer satisfaction.
One of the most dramatic and tangible early results of the project is the GX3 and the press information reads as follows: “… a production counterpart of the GX3, could be on the market very soon. It all depends on the American driver’s feedback.”
The focus for Volkswagen’s design team in California was to create a quintessential and pure driving machine. Inspired by the minimalist design language often expressed in contemporary GP motorcycles and F1 race cars, the GX3 has a true feeling of authenticity.
These influences are seen throughout the exterior with an exposed single sided swing arm, aggressive central exhaust, open front wheels and stealthy matte finishes. The progressive dynamic on the GX3 is emphasized with a strong graphic dividing the body as it wraps up to the aggressive forward leaning roll hoops. Anodised gold and black suspension components and LED lighting are further examples of track inspired designs. The GX3 interior is all about business with nothing to distract from the absolute driving experience. The driver’s cockpit is equipped with five point racing harnesses; "moto" style instruments and a GTI inspired stainless shifter. Most distinctly, the rear boasts a massive single 18"x12" back wheel dressed with 315 rubber. The front end proudly displays a bold V graphic consistent with Volkswagen’s vehicle lineup, most notably the GTI. The GX3 in no way denies that it is a motorcycle, but rather plays it up as a unique design advantage.
The basic structure of the GX3 is formed by a high-density, warp-resistant, steel construction space frame. The paneling of the interior and exterior parts of the space frame is made of high density fiberglass with an 80 litre trunk located behind the seats.
The 215/45 R17x8J front wheels are controlled by a double lateral steering axle. While the front axle resembles the layout of an automobile, the rear axle shows more parallels to a motorcycle. The right side of the vehicle also makes use of a single-sided swingarm. The engine’s power is delivered via 6-speed transmission and chain drive to the rear wheel, which has a tire size of 315/30 R18x12J – a new super bike dimension.
Look over our previous coverage of three wheel design concepts and you’ll see that we think the layout has some compelling advantages: low weight, great occupant protection, exceptional performance and fuel consumption and dynamic driving. If you think this is a good idea, please tell your local VW dealer.