Electric delivery: Driving the Emerald Automotive t-001 RE-EV prototype van

May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Picture @Ricardo

Low emissions and low energy consumption are crucial features for the delivery vans of the future – vehicles which clock up large mileages in and between our cities. The UK government’s Technology Strategy Board thus stumped up 50% of the funding needed to develop such a vehicle, with the stipulation that as much of  its engineering and components as possible could be sourced within the UK, and the result is the t-001 RE-EV, a range-extended electric van.

Developed by Intelligent Energy of Loughborough and built by Brentwood-based Revolve Technologies, a partner in the project, the t-001 features a Ford-supplied four-cylinder, 1.4-litre diesel engine, a 75kW traction motor and a 54kW generator (from Evo Electric of Woking), and a 25kWh lithium-ion Axeon battery. The t-001’s rear wheels are driven by the motor, which is directly coupled to the differential; the engine acts only as a ‘range-extender’ to run the generator. This gives an all-electric range of up to 66 miles before the engine kicks in, and fuel consumption over a 125-mile route of 138mpg; in simulations, a carbon dioxide output of 22g/km was achieved.

The van’s total possible range between refuelling or recharging stops is over 400 miles, and its battery can be recharged in 30 minutes from a three-phase power supply; different recharging solutions could be adopted in a production vehicle, but this would be adequate for a fleet van returning to a fixed base. Performance remains acceptable for a vehicle of this type – a top speed of 81mph, acceleration 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds – and crucially, it maintains a kerbweight of just 1550kg and a payload of 1400kg, thanks to its lightweight structural components and body panels.

“This was designed to be all about weight, volume adoption and cost of ownership, a real-world application”, says Nick Tebbutt, project director at Ricardo, tasked with developing the powertrain control system, telematics, and initial simulations. “The powertrain was picked to support the above.  It gets around range anxiety and is a way of addressing the variability of fleet use, not necessarily doing a fixed route like a bus.”

“The transmission is single-speed, with the motor directly onto the diff”, says chief engineer Andrew Preece, “but we could add in eco modes using standard gearing in a custom casing.” Regenerative braking is yet to be integrated to the t-001 demonstrator, but this will be fitted and tested in the next phase.

Picture @Ricardo

A riveted and bonded aluminium spaceframe structure, with composite exterior panels and lightweight seats and interior components, means that the t-001 prototype weighs in at 1550kg and its payload is 1400kg – comparable to that of the similarly-sized short-wheelbase Ford Transit, with which it shares its braking and suspension systems, along with its stock wheels and tyres. The use of carry-over parts is integral to keeping the overall cost of the vehicle down, though for final production, other sources and suppliers could be used depending on the global location and local market requirements.

Affordability has been an important aspect to the project, and whilst the range-extended powertrain and bespoke structure will add to the van’s purchase price, “the selling proposition is the total cost of ownership”, says Intelligent Energy programme director Chris Hiett. “The total cost to a fleet user is reduced, when you take into account the whole life of the vehicle. It is more expensive to buy initially, but over a typical four-year cycle there are net savings, especially with fuel costs in the UK and Europe.”  Exemption from levies such as the London congestion charge, and incentives such as CO2-based taxation, all speed up the payback period.

Large fleet operators including the British Post Office and DHL have contributed to the project, inputting data on duty cycles and talking to Intelligent Energy about their needs. The aim is to build the van in batches of 10,000, manufacturing at different locations around a central hub, and to this end, Intelligent Energy has formed a subsidiary division, Emerald Automotive, to further develop and market the vehicle for production.  In the next 24-month phase of the programme, more prototypes will be built, and a small number will go out to fleets – initially in the UK and Europe – for field testing.

Emerald Automotive intends for the van to meet a five-star standard in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and for it to meet emissions legislation in both Europe and in North America, where production is also being considered. Further into the future, different powertrains are possible on the same flexible and scalable platform: RE-EV with a petrol engine for selected markets, as well as fuel cell, an intention from the start of the programme.

A further feature which could be integrated into the van – and which could enhance EV capability in passenger vehicles as well – is Ricardo’s Sentience (“consciousness”) technology, which combines telematics and telecommunication, navigation and intelligent mapping, for forward planning of the route. Using topographical data about the road ahead and real-time information on traffic conditions, it analyses the best points in the route to engage electrical power, to modulate the engine load to best effect on different gradients and in different conditions, to control acceleration and deceleration to smooth out progress, and to maximise the energy recuperation from the regenerative braking system, as well as to control the air conditioning.

“You can schedule the powertrain, for example, if it knows that there is a zero-emissions zone coming up”, says Tebbutt. “You can look at the journey profile, rearrange the strategy to deploy the engine earlier to ensure you have sufficient charge to go through the EV zone. You can work out the most fuel-efficient delivery route and pre-programme it: when you turn the engine on, the use of the battery. The usual fleet tracking and distribution software looks to do minimum mileage, but this has the potential to put an extra level on that: the most efficient way to drive it.”

Engineers from Ricardo have been carrying out the final validation and calibration work at a test track facility, and this phase of the programme is now effectively over. Though some elements of the t-001 prototype may yet be changed for production, and its cabin, its interior TFT-screen displays and driver interface will all be further developed, its powertrain is functioning smoothly; a simple drive/neutral/reverse selector takes the place of a conventional gearbox, and the motor pulls away strongly from a standstill. Fine-tuning of the suspension and power-assisted steering is still ongoing, but this is a very complete concept ready to move into its next phase of development.

Picture @Ricardo

Tech spec:

Motor: 75kW (nominal); 167kW (peak); 600Nm (launch)

Generator: 54kW (nominal); 120Nm

Range-extender engine: 1.4-litre I4 diesel

Battery: 25kW total, lithium-ion

EV range: 66 miles*

Total range: 463 miles*

Top speed: 81mph (limited)

Acceleration 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

Fuel consumption: 138mpg over first 125 miles*

Carbon dioxide emissions: 56 g/km over first 125 miles; 22g/km average*

Kerbweight: 1550kg

Payload: 1400kg

Gross vehicle weight: 2950kg

Rear cargo space: 5.2 cubic metres; will accommodate 3 Euro standard pallets

(*figures based on NEDC cycle in Ricardo’s simulation)

*A full version of this story will appear in the summer 2012 edition of rQ, Ricardo Quarterly.

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Midweek news digest: saving Saab, SARTRE, new battery tech and assorted EV snippets

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

And in other news today:

Latest on the save-Saab story: an investment consortium has made a bid for the bankrupt Swedish firm. The group includes a Japanese firm called Sun Investment and a Hong Kong-based firm called National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd; the former “specialises in high-tech environmental projects”, reports Automotive News Europe, and the latter “builds and owns power plants.” Interesting bit is that they have formed a new group called National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, which gives a fair clue as to their intentions, and players in the project include a former head of Volvo Trucks. Believe it when it happens, I reckon, though you can follow the story at the ever-hopeful Saabs United.

  • Volvo has carried out the first public-highway demonstrations of road-train ‘platooning’, claimed to save an estimated 20% in fuel: the latest phase of the SARTRE project (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) saw the electronically-controlled, autonomously-driven convoy travel for 200km at 53mph with gaps of just 6m between each vehicle. More from Ricardo, the consultancy which is developing the technology, with video here.
  • More Toyota news: the Prius is now the third best-selling car in the world, with 247,230 sold in the first quarter of 2012. It’s just behind the Ford Focus (277,000) and Toyota’s stalwart Corolla (300,800), with sales boosted by the launch of the Prius C subcompact in Japan. That’s technically not the same car, but never mind, this is calculated on name-plates.
  • Nissan is launching a ‘Leaf to Home’ charging system in Japan; in combination with an EV Power Station device, this enables the connection of the car’s batteries to power a domestic supply, useful in the event of a mains or grid outage or event such as an earthquake. This has been developed by Nichicon Corporation, which has also announced its launch of an ultra-compact 10kW quick-charger, the smallest and lightest of its type.
  • EuropCar has added 30 Opel Amperas to its short-term rental fleets in Brussels and Frankfurt as well as in Amsterdam, where the range-extended EV has been trialled since March. More locations, more countries to follow.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid: Prius petite

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toyota has re-engineered its hybrid powertrain to supermini-size. The Yaris Hybrid is fitted with a thoroughly reworked version (73bhp, 111Nm) of the 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine from the Mk2 Prius, rather than the 1.8 in the latest model and the Auris Hybrid, and downsizing has been a key theme of its development. The weight gain has been controlled – the Hybrid weighs just 20-55kg more than the 1.33 manual, depending on version – and as it has no clutch, starter motor, alternator or timing belt, servicing and maintenance should be simple and affordable. The 120-cell nickel-metal hydride battery pack (cheaper than lithium-ion) fits completely under the rear seats, so luggage and passenger space are unaffected, and Toyota’s boasting that this car has the smallest hybrid transaxle it has yet produced – all the components, including motor and generator, fit inside the transmission casing. Attention to downsizing detail gets right down to the level of the coils inside the Denso-supplied motor (45kW, 169Nm), which have space-saving flat-wound instead of round wires.

The latest Yaris platform was developed from scratch to accommodate this hybrid powertrain, which is largely shared with Toyota’s domestic-market Aqua and US-bound Prius C subcompacts but specifically-tuned and calibrated in Europe for our driving conditions and tastes. Despite the economies of scale, however, Toyota thinks plug-in capability, though possible, will be too expensive to engineer into a car in this sector in the near future. Further down the line, the two-cylinder engine in the hybrid FT-Bh concept car gives a few clues as to Toyota’s thinking in the small-car sector, however.

End result is a vehicle which is lively to drive around town and capable at highway speeds, illustrated by a 0-50kmph time of five seconds, a respectable 0-62mph time of 11.8 seconds and a top speed of 103mph. And whilst the claimed combined fuel economy of 79mpg (15-inch wheels) or 85mpg (16-inch), and carbon dioxide emissions of 79 or 85g/km, may not be representative of real-life returns for the heavier-footed, the benefits of the active regenerative braking system and the all-electric mode (manually selectable for engine switch-off in city traffic) are tangible. I’m less convinced, however, by the selectable Eco mode to modulate throttle response and air conditioning, and the ‘B’ transmission mode to optimise braking energy recovery, both making quite a compromise to the driving experience; I suspect that most owners will leave this clever little car in fully automatic and self-selecting operation, where it proves to be perfectly pleasant.

Deliveries start in July and prices are from £14,995. This may sound steep for a supermini, but take into account the CVT gearbox and the high spec, as well as longer-term savings on vehicle excise duty/company car tax, fuel, the London congestion charge and soforth. IThat’s most of the benefits of the Prius in a smaller, more affordable – and still pretty damn roomy – package.

*More techy detail to follow here in the July 2012 issue of Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International; more news on Toyota’s electrification strategy here at The Charging Point. Thanks to Toyota GB for the test-drive trip this week.

Concept of the Day #2: ECOmove QBEAK – update

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

More news today on the ECOmove QBEAK: the Danish start-up has produced its first full-body model and says that it is going to get its first running prototypes out on the road within the year. “ECOmove’s designers and engineers have rethought the e-car concept from scratch”, it says, “and the result is a unique and handy city car formed and equipped as a future means of transportation.” The flexible, modular chassis allows for different body configurations, and “can be converted to make room for your mountain bike, the dogs, your golf gear, or a trip to the DIY shop or IKEA”. Load space is generous, or it can accommodate a family in up to six removable seats. Tech spec released so far includes in-wheel motors, a smartphone-based communications system, a top speed of 120kph and a range of 300km. More details, full release and picture gallery here.

*Incidentally, I’m labelling some of these posts ‘Concept of the Day’ and others ‘Design Concept of the Day’. It’s a subjective distinction, but ‘Design’… ones are more speculative (and include student projects, etc) or only ever intended as one-offs, whilst the others are usually working prototypes or running technological test-platforms, or stand (in my opinion) a fairly decent chance of making into onto the road. Does that make sense?

Concept of the Day: Siemens Roding Roadster Electric

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Siemens has released new video footage of its Roding Roadster Electric project. The car – a collaboration with Bavaria’s Roding Automobile, which sells the Roadster in ICE form – was first seen at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in January; it showcases Siemens’ electric drivetrain tech including in-wheel hub motors with a regenerative braking system capable of recovering 70% of decelerative energy. It’s good for up to 160kph, apparently.

  • More new video today: Technologic Vehicles has a short film about Vincent Montreuil’s I Love Bikes At Amsterdam project for Local Motors, a concept for a bike-friendly city EV which could integrate with two-wheeled traffic in the city. This modular ‘mini (theoretically) features Michelin’s Active Wheel in-wheel motors, and Montreuil proposes that it could be sold or leased in schemes based on ‘points’ for bike, bus or EV use.
  • Autocar’s Steve Cropley has driven both the Gordon Murray T.25 and its electric sister model, the T.27. An enthusiastic reception, “revolutionary and endearing” is the conclusion.
  • And at the flip end of the EV scale, Treehugger has pics of some DIY vehicles displayed at the San Fran Bay Area Maker Faire 2012 (plus the Stanford University Solar Car).

Design Concept of the Day: Toyota Town Spider

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

How great is this? 1973, and Toyota was already making “an attempt to solve the problem of modern traffic through modern communication” – traffic and weather alerts, in-car phones, connections to a “central computerized control center” (click on pic to zoom in on full text). And yes, it was conceived as a city commuting vehicle with the possiblity of an electric powertrain; it was capable of a theoretical 45km/h, according to a Top Trumps-style German card game. Not quite sure why it’s called a ‘Spider’ when it has a fixed roof, however, unless that’s a reference to its web-building capabilities – though it does foreshadow the doorless Renault Twizy by nearly 40 years. Thanks to toyoddity and Alden Jewell for alerting me to this one. It’s on a similar tip to the Daihatsu BCX II (1972), I think, though it has more of a proper-car feel to it.

PS: Looks as if it was a follow-up to this little bubble car, the super-’60s EX-II (1969).

Monster’s Monster – another EV for Pikes Peak

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mitsubishi (see below) is going to have some tough competition at Pikes Peak: Team APEV (Association for the Promotion of Electric Vehicles) has unveiled a monster. The Monster Sport E-Runner, to be precise, to be driven by Pikes Peak champ and record-holder Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima. Video of the unveiling, and footage of the car in action, at Autoblog Green; no specs released as yet. Toyota’s electric contender at Pikes Peak, by the way, is the Radical-bodied TMG EV P001, EV record-holder at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

In other news today:

  • Toyota has sold 4million hybrids (including the Lexus-brand models) as of April 30th. This number includes 423,000 in Europe and 94,000 in the UK. Prius sales began in 2000, with the Mk2 hatchback (2003) bringing the hybrid tech further into the mainstream. Toyota has calculated that its hybrids have saved around 26 million tonnes of CO2 (compared to their non-hybrid equivalents on the market), and with 19 variants now in production, hybrids are accounting for 15% of global sales. Now you just need to hybridise/electrify the big gas-guzzlers like the Land Cruiser and Hilux, Toyota.
  • Incidentally, here’s a bit of history for y’all. Toyota’s first hybrid in production was a bus: the Coaster Hybrid EV launched in Japan (1997). Not a lot of people know that. This series hybrid was actually more akin to today’s range-extended EVs, the engine driving a generator to power the electric motor – and this tech was actually developed from a system first shown in a 1977 concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Sport 800, a two-seat coupe, featured a gas turbine (similiar to an aero engine’s turbofan) and motor; the turbine shaft turned a generator which both charged the onboard batteries and powered the motor, which drove the rear axle via a conventional diff. More detail, and pretty pic, of it here.

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