Design concept of the day: Volkswagen Aqua

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not sure why this is a ‘Volkswagen’, unless it’s a modern take on the Beetle-based Schwimmwagen, but it’s a nice idea. 21-year old Yuhan Zhang’s Volkswagen Aqua concept is an all-terrain hovercraft (like it), complete with hydrogen fuel cell, four motorised fans for lift, and a pop-up hatch for access. Very James Bond, apart from the Golf-alike grille and badge, of course – wouldn’t Bond prefer an Audi or Bentley? Full gallery at


Shell Eco-marathon: three new records

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The 2011 European Shell Eco-marathon saw 187 teams compete in a three-day event to set new records for fuel efficiency with their prototype vehicles. Prizes were awarded in a number of different categories. Polytech Nantes (France, pictured) won the Prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell category for the second year in a row, driving 590.2km on a kWh of energy, and the judges were highly impressed by the solar-powered car of the mecc-Sun team from Politecnico di Milano (Italy), which travelled 1,108km/kWh. Eco-marathon technical director Norman Koch said of the Milanese team: “Their car is an outstanding design in terms of optimising efficiency, both in the engine and the body of the vehicle. To conceive and create a car capable of driving the length of Italy on such a small amount of energy really is outstanding.”

The Plug-in Battery Prototype title was taken by the TERA TUGRaz team from the Technical University of Graz (Austria), for a 842.5km/kWh result, and the Urban Concept prize by the team from Fachhochschule Trier (Germany), who achieved 232.9km/kWh. Internal Combustion winners were Team Microjoule from La Joliverie (France)  – an incredible 3688.2kWh – and DTU Roadrunners from Technical University Denmark (509.5km/kWh in an ethanol-fuelled Urban Concept. The cars emitting the least carbon dioxide were the Team proTRon (Germany) Urban Concept which emitted just 1.972g/km, and in the Prototype category, the TERA TUGraz team’s result of 0.545g/km.

A prize also went to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) for their communications and marketing strategy, and given that theirs has been the only easily-found press release from any of the teams so far, this award was well-deserved. NTNU’s hydrogen fuel cell car, the DNV Fuel Fighter Urban Concept, travelled the equivalent of 1000km on a litre of petrol, or 99km/kWh, enough to secure it a second place in its category.

This year’s event was held for the third year at the EuroSpeedway, Lausitz (Germany) but next year, the Eco-marathon will move to Rotterdam (The Netherlands). For full results, a gallery of pictures and more about this year’s Eco-marathon, check out the official site.


Starting the week: Tuesday newsbriefs

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tesla will reveal a Model X crossover prototype (production 2014) by the end of the year, reports Edmunds. Model S saloon (pictured) coming 2012; production of 20,000 a year planned in Fremont, California; range of up to 300 miles; prices from $57,400 and over 4,600 deposits and orders have already been taken. Production of the Roadster will cease at the end of the year, but a convertible on the Model S platform is planned. The once-rumoured van may have been crossed out from the plan.

  • GM’s pulled the plug on a range-extender EV version of the Cadillac SRX crossover, reports Autobeat Daily.  SRX platform will be up for replacement by the time this model (with the Volt’s powertrain) would be ready, and they don’t think it would be profitable. Project could be revived at a later date, however, and all of GM’s North American brands are to get at least one plug-in hybrid or EV.
  • Chrysler has sent the first 10 of its plug-in hybrid Ram trucks to the city of Yuma, Arizona. A test fleet of 140 is to be built, featuring the HEMI 5.7 V8 (359bhp) plus electric motor and batteries giving an extra 40bhp and 20 miles in all-electric mode (Edmunds AutoObserver).
  • The first Chinese-made BYD e6 electric crossovers of a 75-strong fleet have arrived in Rotterdam for trials (Green Car Congress).
  • Prince Charles is to lay the foundation stone for an eco-village in Ayrshire this week – and each house in Knockroon will have a recharging point for an electric vehicle. The development will also offer residents a pool car – diesel or hybrid – for when they need to go on longer journeys, reports Scotland On Sunday (via @EVCUP).
  • Road test of the Liberty E-Range (battery-electric Range Rover) at BusinessGreen. Verdict? Expensive at £160,000 (yes indeed), might not be much more to run overall than a standard RR once you take into account company car tax breaks, exemption from the congestion charge etc. Should you wish to run a Range Rover as a company car, obviously. On a more realistic/appropriate note, road test of the Renault Zoe at Wired Autopia.
  • Mitsubishi has rushed out a device to convert the i-MiEV into a power supply, following the Japanese earthquake. The i-MiEV’s battery will be able to power rice cookers, washing machines or a domestic power supply for up to a day and a half in an emergency situation (or on a camping trip, presumably). Thanks to for this one. Mitsubishi has also said this week that it’s planning to sell 25,000 i-MiEVs this year, a three-fold rise in sales, most going in Europe to public-sector organisations and fleets. Oh, and it’s also just taken 100 orders for its Minicab MiEV electric van, reports Autoblog Green.
  • Audi is to put its A3 TCNG into production in 2013. The TCNG is powered by ‘e-gas’, a synthetic gas derived from hydrogen via electrolysis with electricity from a reneawable source. The engine can also run on normal petrol, but has an efficiency-enhancing high compression ratio when using gas.
  • Aftermarket upgrades now available for fast-charging a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt (AllCarsElectric).
  • British engineering consultancy Ricardo is working with China’s Lifan Automobile Group on a range of downsized petrol engines. Two 1.2-litre units, one ‘mid-boost’ with direct injection to replace 1.5-1.8s, the other ‘high-boost’ to replace 2.0-litres, both meeting Euro 5 standards. Chongqing’s Lifan has ambitions to export.
  • Volkswagen is to announce a major battery supply contract with Bosch, reports Reuters.

Design concept of the day: NAU Ecco

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a camper van for a Bank Holiday weekend. Design collective NAU – a loose collaboration of creative types with offices in the US, Zurich and Berlin – has come up with the Ecco, described as “a leap ahead of the original VW camper van”. It’s an aerodynamic teardrop-shaped low-rider on the road, but when parked up, it grows vertically to gain a sleeping loft, and its roof fans out in a far superior way to the old Westfalia pop-top awnings, thanks to expanding membranes. It’s electrically-driven, with built-in solar panels and quick-charge technology, plus a solar ‘sail’ to capture the maximum rays. Picture gallery and diagrams at the NAU website (I’m also liking the Stratocruiser ‘lifestyle zeppelin’). Thanks to

Friday newsbriefs

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

London mayor Boris Johnson launched Source London yesterday: this scheme integrates all the various boroughs’ EV-charging schemes. Members get an electronic card which will unlock any London charging point, for £100 a year (charging then free). 1000 more charging points in a variety of public places by 2013 (there’s only 150 at the moment), says BJ. Full press release here; to register or find out more, go here.  Nissan has responded quickly to the above by offering 12 months free membership to any Leaf owner living within 40 miles of a Source London charging point. Boris himself took delivery of a Leaf recently (pictured).

  • Seat is starting trials of its Leon TwinDrive plug-in hybrid. A number of prototypes are being tested in the Barcelona area by public authorities and organisations. Petrol-electric, thought to be slated for production in 2014.
  • Ford is to offer five different electric, plug-in hybrid or hybrid models on the Focus platform by 2013 (thanks, @Dan_honestjohn).
  • Volvo Cars has received a 6.57million kronor grant (about £624,000) from the Swedish Energy  Board to develop and test a flywheel KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) in partnership with Volvo Truck and SKF. There’s the potential of 20% fuel savings and six-cylinder-like performance from a four-cylinder engine; in-car testing starts later this summer.
  • No hybrid or KERS-type system in the next-gen Porsche 911, reports Autocar, but when there is a 911 hybrid, it’s likely to be a plug-in.
  • Is government intervention needed to incentivise EV sales, asks Detroit News, or should EV-makers stand on their own two feet? Discuss. 57% of American car buyers said they wouldn’t want an EV, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll; further debate at Good Transport which explains “why electric cars will succeed even though six in ten Americans don’t want them” (via @TeslaMotors).
  • Global sales of 1.25million EVs a year by 2020, according to figures from a battery consultancy (Edmunds Auto Observer).
  • Tesla is hoping to raise nearly $215million in a secondary stock offering; this cash will enable it to develop the Model X crossover.
  • Pictures and video (crash!) of the  Grand Prix de Pau Electrique at Autoblog Green. Check out the Exagon Racing cars developed from the Andros Trophy ice-racers.
  • Saab has restarted production at Trollhatten, thanks to an agreement on investment from Chinese firm Pang Da, and  the all-electric 9-3 ePower trial project is underway again. Construction of a 70-strong  test fleet is going ahead, reports Autoblog Green.
  • Nissan’s helping out the Red Bull Racing F1 team (sponsored by Infiniti) with its KERS tech, reports What Car?, which is a collaboration for mutual benefit. WC? also says that Leaf prices are going to come down as Nissan’s planning to make its batteries in Sunderland.
  • GE Energy Industrial Solutions has launched its Solar Car Port; this be-panelled structure can charge up to 13 vehicles a day from six points, plus power the lights in the parking lot where it lives. More at Green Car Congress.

Mia EV: coming to UK this autumn

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

More on this Mia EV, to arrive in the UK this autumn. The German-registered company Mia electric GmbH is to offer a three-car range comprising two mini-MPVs (2.87m and 3.19m long) and a box-van. The Murat Gunak-styled microcar – first seen at the Geneva Motor Show last spring – is a three-seater with sliding side doors and a centrally-positioned driver’s seat, allowing the driver to get in and out from either side and giving ‘enormous legroom’ for rear-seat passengers; the longer-wheelbase Mia L (pictured) seats four, with three-abreast in the back, but the van, which has a 1500-litre cargo capacity, is a single-seater.  It’ll be built in Cerizay, western France, by Mia electric SAS, a spin-off company from Heuliez owned 70% by Mia electric GmbH and 30% by the administration of the Poitou-Charentes region.

The range is now up to about 80 miles (from a three-hour charge) and prices start from E19,500 – unfortunately rather steep for UK buyers, given the current exchange rate. Over 2,500 orders have been taken so far, and production starts in June. The Mia L will be taking part in the RAC Future Car Challenge (5th November 2011) to promote its UK launch. More at

Midweek newsbriefs

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric vehicle to be awarded a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests. It earned an 89% score for adult occupant crash protection, 83% for child protection and 84% for its safety systems such as a speed limiter and stability control, though a more average 65% for its pedestrian safety. Its battery system, with automatic power cut-off, passed all tests. The Leaf has also received ‘Top Safety Pick’ status in the USA’s IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) ratings. The Lexus CT 200h hybrid, meanwhile, also got five stars with 94% for adult protection, 84% for child protection, 86% for safety assist systems and 55% for pedestrian protection.

  • A Chinese-built electric SUV made by the Zoyte Holding Group is to be imported into the US by a firm called Green Automotive Company, reports Autoblog Green. Doesn’t sound (or look) terribly inspiring given that it appears to be a conversion of the tiny Daihatsu Terios – just 26kW of power, top speed 70mph, range 150 miles, warranty three years/50,000 miles and a price-tag of nearly $35,000 – but Zoyte says it can build  8000 a month.
  • Motor Trend is speculating that the Mazda RX-9 (replacement for RX-8) will be a conventional two-door coupe – and a hybrid. Rotary engine remains its USP, but it’ll incorporate Toyota-sourced tech.
  • Students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey have developed a new type of super-capacitor for storing solar energy. This uses biochar electrodes – a by-product of biofuel manufacturing – in place of activated carbon, and is cheaper and easier to make. Could well have automotive applications. (
  • The engine-less minibus: the human-powered City Cycle ‘party bike’ carries 14, ten of which need to be pedalling, plus a sound system and beer coolers. It’s to be used for city tours as soon as local authorities clear it for safety. Like it. (Wired Autopia).
  • Good summary of opinion on Germany’s EV expansion plan at Spiegel Online. The tabloid press doesn’t approve…
  • Students from the Carlos III University, Madrid, have built a prototype electric motorbike using car-like battery tech; the e-Moto is a ground-up design, said to be lighter-weight than existing e-bikes and with performance similar to a conventional 400cc. They’ve created a spin-off company and are now looking for backers to develop it further.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for May, 2011 at Driving to the Future.

%d bloggers like this: