I'm intrigued by press reports of a new vehicle from Volkswagen, a concept car that may be going into production. It seats two in tandem, the passenger behind the driver, and has a minuscule luggage capacity: but it's claimed to get fuel economy of better than 1 liter per 100 km., or almost 237 miles per US gallon.
Volkswagen hopes to have it on the market as a limited edition from 2010.
The two-seater runs on diesel and the tank holds just 1.4 [Imperial] gallons (6.5 litres). But it is so fuel efficient that a full tank could last you for more than 400 miles.
Its efficiency is helped by its aerodynamic design. Shaped like a teardrop, it has tandem seats like a jet fighter with the passenger sitting behind the driver, a gull-wing door and sheathed wheels.
Even wing mirrors have been dispensed with. Cameras and electric displays help the driver to see what's behind from his cockpit-like seat.
It could cost up to £23,000 [approximately $46,000] to buy, with a top speed of 75mph, but you won't be able to pack a lot in - the storage space behind the seats measures just 2.8 cubic feet.
The car is made of carbon fibre composites and uses one single cylinder 0.33 litre engine [just over 20 cubic inches].
The magnesium steering wheel adds just one pound and, to keep it as light as possible, it is not even painted, so potential buyers are likely to have to settle for the default black.
It is also a 'smart' car: The engine turns off when the car is stopped at lights and automatically restarts when the accelerator is pressed.
It's an interesting concept, all right, and I wish VW luck: but this, as with so many other smaller vehicles, makes me wonder whether the quest for fuel economy hasn't driven roughshod (you should pardon the expression) over concerns about safety.
What happens if one of these fiberglass fuel-sippers is clobbered by a passing eighteen-wheeler?
Will there be enough left of its occupants to even identify, let alone bury?
I'm forcibly reminded of the far greater risk of serious injury in something so small and light. One reason I'm still driving a full-size pickup is the work-related injury I suffered back in 2004. After two surgeries, I've been left with permanent nerve damage and my back held together by strips of titanium. The doctors have warned me fairly bluntly that if my spine suffers another major trauma, I'll probably be either dead or paralyzed. That being so, I'm sticking with my large, heavy pickup, thank you very much, high gas costs notwithstanding! I want lots of metal and a good strong chassis around and beneath me, just in case!
What say you, readers? Would the promise of that sort of fuel economy assuage your concerns over safety and injury?