Right now there’s a bunch of EVs and PHEVs about to hit car sales floors around the world. Although these sales floors might not look like conventional dealerships, the actual design of these products look suspiciously like vehicles we’ve all seen before... Except one. That’s the Think EV from Norway.
Shortly we’re going to see the Nissan Leaf, the i-MiEV from Mitsubishi and the electric Smart and Mini. All these including exotica like the green e-limousine from Jaguar are EV retrofits. In most cases what we are actually seeing is an EV drive-train and battery pack work-around into a legacy floor pan.
The Think EV to the best of my knowledge was the first mass-production electric city car designed from the floor pan up as a real 100% electric vehicle. It’s passed its crash test, it’s 95% recyclable, it’s battery agnostic and they have just added a 4-seater derivative. Think was initially Norwegian then bought and sold by Ford and now its biggest shareholder is the American lithium ion battery maker, Enerdel.
Now that the old car world has begun its meltdown, today and tomorrow’s automotive designers can tackle the fundamental design of vehicles with a whole new armoury of design and engineering solutions.
You have an opportunity to pick new solutions for automotive shells from sophisticated low carbon materials through to exotic F1-type composites. There are materials used by aeronautical designers which could be applied to future generations of vehicles.
Michelin’s in-wheel motor and suspension solution is a good example of a system that can redefine the underpinnings of future vehicle designs.
Then we also have nano technology, intelligent control systems, smart tools enabling the convergence of car and computer.
Here’s another in-wheel motor solution from a Serbian company called Elaphe. They’re working on a design concept for a vehicle called Chebela. Mind you, the only thing about this car is that it looks suspiciously like an illustration from a current project at MIT.
Maybe it’s ‘Great minds think alike’, but the in-wheel motor solution could provide you with very exciting automotive design alternatives. One of the most exciting for me is fly-by-wire and the freedom that generates when you replace a conventional drive train with a microchip. Have we done this? The answer is YES.
Some five years back a 55-seater EV bendy bus prototype was created at Frazer Nash for the City of Edinburgh Council, all controlled by a drive-by-wire system. At the same time and using the same technology Frazer Nash created a tractor derivative seen here. The vehicle exterior was made of composite. It was light, controllable and stable.
Why are these not on the road right now? We can debate this. Think ‘vested interest’, the need for politicians to be re-elected and the devastating impact of a disruptive technology like drive-by-wire on the legacy auto world.
Who will move into the auto space? Two interlopers have already shown their hand. Google with their self-driving cars and Adobe with their giant fuel cell. My bet is that it won’t be too long before Apple, Intel and Microsoft join the fray. Maybe even someone like Lockheed Martin. If fly-by-wire is safe, then why can’t drive-by-wire be adopted by the Construction and Use regulations for automobiles? Now let’s quickly move on to the freedom you will be able to embrace as designers.
These new technologies will allow you to: Create new forms Redefine the intended use of the vehicle within the megacities of the future Create new specialist vehicle solutions Personalise interior and exterior space by harnessing new technologies such as organic LEDs, even personalise the sound of the car Harness interactivity between vehicle, home, the smart grid and energy provider as more and more EVs whisk round our cities filled with packets of power for and from the grid I’m sure you’ll think of more, but I’ve got another hobby horse up my 60s kaftan! Self drive public transport.
Pollution and congestion relief for historic city cores Public mobility within designated areas of cities which have been made vulnerable through congested traffic Carbon savings, less noise, less toxic emissions Reduced vibration and damage to buildings
In cities with fragile city cores like York, Edinburgh, Windsor and Harrogate, or world cities like Rome, Paris and Amsterdam, there is a bright solution. Self-drive public transport using emission-free, noiseless electric vehicles. These would work very much like the Velib kerb-side bike service in Paris.
The mayors of some major European cities already ‘get it’. The mayors of Paris and London have both intimated their desire to introduce such schemes. In Paris the scheme is called Autolib. Here they plan to make 4,000 electric cars available for Parisians to pick up and drop off at rental stands. This was first proposed by Mayor Delanoe of Paris two years ago claiming that it would reduce CO2 emission by 22,000 tonnes a year while improving traffic congestion and negating the need for car ownership for some Parisians. Consortia are bidding for the scheme and these include car makers like Daimler, Renault, PSA Peugeot and Citroen. Berlin and London are also looking at similar schemes with Boris Johnson championing the concept. Rome too is keen to embrace such a solution with its very narrow streets and intricate matrix of circulation.
While the legacy auto industry is in denial, you guys can show them just what you can do with modern design solutions unfettered by the existing supply chain. Your new generation of automotive designers have a wonderful opportunity to create a whole new genre of vehicles fit for today’s city and ready for the smart and super grids of tomorrow’s megacities. I envy you the fun you will have.
Rca Nov 2010
Fresh Opportunities in Automotive
Design for the post-legacy Motor