Design Concept of the Day: British Leyland ECV3

January 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Saw this for real today on my visit to Jaguar Land Rover (see below): lined up in the Heritage Motor Centre, British Leyland’s ECV3 prototype (Energy Conservation Vehicle, 1981). Ultra-light (664kg), roomy and super-aerodynamic by the standards of the day, it experimented with ideas for a future small family car. With its aluminium frame and plastic body panels, and powered by a three-cylinder, 1113cc fuel-injected single-cam engine (said to have influenced the production K-series), it did 115mph and returned a fairly phenomenal 100mpg or so. More on its story – inextricably linked to the demise of British Leyland – at the excellent AROnline resource.

In other news today:

  • Speculation is building about a BMW  i5 – all-electric family car, possibly an MPV-ish hatch.
  • Just reading more about the cylinder shutdown tech in the Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TSI (detailed story at Autocar). Expect this to be rolled out across the VW Group in the TSI engines in due course (thanks, @paul_barker).
  • Toyota’s just delivered its 400,000th hybrid in Europe. That’s three generations-worth of  Priuses, plus the Burnaston-built Auris Hybrid.

Land Rover Range_e plug-in hybrid: a refined prototype

January 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Went up to Jaguar Land Rover today to take a drive in the Range_e plug-in hybrid prototype; more detailed story plus video will be posted at The Charging Point early next week, but in the meantime, here’s a bare-bones lowdown.

JLR has five Range_e prototypes (first seen at last year’s Geneva Show) running around on real-world road-testing, as part of the government-backed CABLED programme. This 24-month project is near to close now but has, say insiders, yielded loads of useful data and feedback from users.

Range_e is based on the Range Rover Sport – though this is not necessarily the model in which the tech will make its production debut – and has the standard-issue 245hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, new JLR eight-speed auto gearbox plus a 69kW electric motor and lithium-ion battery which can be recharged from a domestic power socket. All-electric range is around 20 miles – easily achieved in the tests so far, apparently – and total range 690 miles; combined fuel economy is 85mpg and CO2 emissions average 89g/km, and JLR promises that both road performance and off-road ability will be uncompromised (it’s permanent all-wheel drive, with front, rear and locking central differentials).

It starts up in all-electric mode – unless the battery has insufficient charge – and can run at normal urban speeds within the electric range; under acceleration or for high-speed cruising, the electric-drive supplements the engine. At the moment, it’s all automatic, but production vehicles will have selectable modes (i.e. sports or energy-saving) and the next stage of the programme is to fine-tune the switches between the different power sources and the different modes. As it stands, however, the prototypes are already pretty refined – albeit with some temporary measures such as cloth seats, to save weight (production models are unlikely to skimp on the sumptuous Range Rover leather, and weight will be saved by other measures, such as more aluminium components).

Though a conventional diesel-electric hybrid is scheduled to make its debut next year, a plug-in Land Rover model is still a few years from production. The good news, though, is that the technology is scalable and potentially suitable for application in all the models across the Jaguar Land Rover line-up, subject to issues of cost being resolved. Work also continues on plug-in petrol-electric and range-extender tech, as per the Jaguar XJ-based Limo Green demo car, and JLR isn’t ruling out all-electric or hydrogen/fuel cell cars at some point in the future either.

PG Elektrus; midweek newsbriefs

January 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Another take on the electric Elise theme: this sharky-mouthed, cartoonish Lotus-based PG Elektrus has the Elise chassis (modified) plus a custom carbonfibre/plastic body. Its powertrain gives 200kW/258lb ft, gives a range of 215 miles, and is supplemented by a solar panel on its engine deck lid which supplies enough energy to run the lights, stereo and auxilliary items. It’ll do 155mph and 0-62mph in under three seconds, apparently.  Its interior has race-style toggle switches and a start button said to look like a missile launch device’s (to fulfill your James Bond or crazy dictator fantasies, perhaps), and a selectable engine noise simulator – V8 or F1. To be built in (probably very, very) small numbers in Dusseldorf, prices from E285,600, to join PG’s range of carbon-bodied electrified bicycles (as endorsed by Orlando Bloom).

In other news today:

  • EcoMotors, developer of the OPOC (opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder) engine, is running a design competition with students on the Art Center Pasadena and College for Creative Studies, Detroit, car design courses.  The compact, super-light OPOC engine allows for different packaging and positioning in a car’s body,  says EcoMotors, which has been funded by Bill Gates and thus stands a fighting chance of bringing its concept to fruition. More on the comp at Green Car Congress.
  • The first Better Place battery-swap facilities, supporting lease-drivers of the Renault Fluence ZE, started operation in Israel this week. Roll-out in Denmark next.
  • Bogota, Columbia, is to get electric taxis: it’s part of the C40-CCI network (Clinton Climate Initiative) and the cars will be supplied by BYD (e6) and Mitsubishi (i-MiEV). More at Green Car Congress.

Tuesday newsbriefs

January 24, 2012 § Leave a comment


BMW is looking for 700 drivers in seven US cities – Boston, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York and Hartford – to lease the 1-Series ActivE electric car. It’s a 24-month programme, demanding $2,250 down and $499 a month. These are the only examples of the ActivE to be available, and all data and feedback will be collected to inform the development of the full-production i3. More about this (pay-to-play) field trial here.

  • BMW’s US tech office is also partnering with cloud-computing experts Tendril to build a ‘show home’ in Mountain View, California, to support the launch of the ActivE. This demo smart house will feature a cloud-based energy management system which will control and monitor the car-charging equipment, solar panels, water heaters, appliances and communications with the grid. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Sensible real-world, here-and-now stuff: turn your engine off if you’re stationary for more than a minute, says Transport for London. Not only will you save fuel, you’ll help reduce air pollution. Advice does not apply to those already driving cars with stop-start…
  • Latest update on the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for Europe) ‘platooning’  experiments here: first successful demos have taken place. The Ricardo/Volvo Trucks-led consortium is testing autonomously-controlled vehicle convoys near Gothenburg; video showing how the tech works here.
  • More from Green Car Congress, more cloud stuff: OnStar is working with Google HQ on monitoring charging of the company’s 17 Chevy Volts, using renewable-source energy. A smartphone app to prioritise renewable use could thus be included in the OnStar suite. Handy diagram to understand this at Green Car Reports, btw.

Friday newsbriefs

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Latvian OSCar eO, an extended-range EV, has become the first electric vehicle to finish the gruelling Dakar Rally. A purpose-built 4×4 with a Toyota V6 acting as a generator plus 150kW electric motor, it completed the 5,600 miles from Mar del Plata in Argentina to Lima, Peru via the Andes and Chile’s Atacama desert with only a few overheating issues. More at The Charging Point.

  • Mercedes-Benz is going to sell the B-Class E-Cell extended-range EV in the US, reports Automotive News. The B-Class E-Cell prototype seen at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show had a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engine which actd as a generator plus electric motor, and promised an all-electric range of 62 miles; total range was 373 miles. An announcement may be made at the New York Motor Show this coming April, says
  • Toyota has started testing an LMP1 Le Mans Prototype racer – and it’ll be a petrol-electric hybrid. Some consolation for Peugeot’s pulling-out of Le Mans; the Toyota is expected to make its debut at Spa in May prior to the 24 Hours itself.
  • Can’t wait for the debut of the Fiat 500 Wagon? Or will this mini-estate not be big enough? Crazy coachbuilding firm Castagna Milano (the company behind Gadaffi’s Fiat 500 EV) has created a 500 stretch limo – and it’s all-electric. Very silly indeed. More at The Charging Point.

Midweek newsbriefs

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Announcement of the day: the £400million government-backed UKH2Mobility programme, involving 13 companies. It’ll investigate the future of fuel cell vehicles, the necessary infrastructure for refuelling and what the UK needs to do to be at the forefront of the ‘hydrogen economy’. Participating firms include Toyota, Daimler, Vauxhall and Nissan.

  • The French government, meanwhile, is funding a project called e-MECA to develop high power density solutions for motor-generators. It’s coordinated by Valeo and will run for three years. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Volkswagen E-Bugster (pictured) is a “serious proposal” for production, reports Autocar.
  • Renault is running an EV-related design competition for students – and the first prize is a year’s-worth (up to £9000) of tuition fees paid. Second prize is a weekend for two in Paris. Check out for the lowdown; Renault will also be taking the Twizy on a campus tour, going to University College London, Birmingham City Uni, Manchester Metropolitan and Glasgow Uni next month to promote the two-seat city EV as a student transport solution.

Hiriko EV shown to EC next week

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

A prototype two-seater city EV called Hiriko will be unveiled next week and presented to the President of the European Commission, Durao Barroso, in Brussels next week. Despite its Japanese-sounding name, Hiriko has been developed by a consortium of companies in the Basque region, funded by the Spanish government, under the direction of former Daimler production engineer Armando Gaspar and with input from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There’s more information on the project at the Hiriko website.

Intriguingly, Hiriko itself is  said to be “capable of folding up for parking” (no further details on this as yet). It’s four-wheel-drive, and will boast state-of-the-art connectivity (the project consortium has also been working on autonomous and self-guided vehicle technology). It is designed for use as a public-access shared vehicle, to be hired via a smartphone booking/charging system.

Trials of the first cars will start later this year in several European and American cities – and whilst the first cars will be built in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the plan is for them to be assembled in deprived areas of the cities where they will be used, reports The Guardian, thus creating local jobs and developing local engineering skills. The cars will also be owned and operated by local authorities, not private contractors. The first city to take part will be Malmo, in southern Sweden, where a three-car fleet will be deployed by the council.

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