Design Concept of the Day: Kawasaki J

December 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

kawasakijconceptI missed this one in the Tokyo Motor Show round-up last month, but it’s worth picking up on now. Kawasaki is looking at future urban/suburban transport with this bi-modal electric bike; it’s an adaptable three-wheeler that can be switched from a low-riding, aerodynamic sports bike mode to a more upright, comfortable city machine. It uses Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Gigacell nickel-hydride battery and battery management technology.

  • About time for an electric London taxicab: the Frazer-Nash Research extended-range electric powertrain has been fitted into a prototype by Ecotive Limited. Trials will start in London next year, with sales to follow, reports the Standard.
  • Latest news/analysis on the electric-Saabs-from-Trollhatten-for-China story from Automotive News. “Faces long odds”, they say. Indeed.
  • And another ongoing saga: Mazda’s still playing with the idea of using its rotary engine as a range-extender, reports Autoweek. The Wankel’s now been fitted in a Mazda2 RE-EV prototype.
  • Bollore (maker of the BlueCar) has unveiled its latest EV: a low-cost open Mehari-type four-seater for resort use. The BlueSummer will cost from 13,500 euros or leased from 550 euros a month, reports Technologic Vehicles.
  • Bosch has set up a new company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions, for Internet of Things technologies and services: it’s to focus initially on products for smart homes, traffic, transportation and logistics. More at Green Car Congress.
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Design Concept of the Day: zoox Boz

December 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

zooxbozNot so much a car as a new mobility paradigm, according to start-up zoox – a small company grounded in the design/animation/creative industries, so it’s come up with a nice-looking and well thought-out proposal for an autonomously-guided and platooned EV. Thinking with the proverbial clean-sheet approach, zoox’s Boz is bi-directional (works both ways, push-me-pull-you style), and in an autonomous set-up, doesn’t need headlights (direction is indicated to other road-users via external LEDs),windscreens, steering wheel, pedals or even a dashboard, enabling it to act solely as a cocooning pod for comfortable, fully-wired business transport.

It is remotely controlled from a central operating HQ (zoox draws the comparison with air traffic control and aeroplane autopilot systems), a hub to which vehicles will also return for cleaning, servicing and battery-swapping (appropriate in this context rather than recharging, as the vehicles are expected to be in service 24 hours a day). It’s conceived as an on-demand, pay-per-use vehicle for city use and ‘last mile’ transport, to be summoned taxi-style via a smartphone app, rather than a privately-owned product. Construction is from carbon composite components in easily-swapped or updated modules, manufactured using 3D printing tech; drive is electric/compressed-air hybrid.

Zoox has come under fire from some quarters for its lack of engineering background, and the fact that it’s looking for funding for ’boutique’ production, but whether or not this particular concept is only vapourware, it’s no big leap of the imagination to suggest that some of the most innovative, experimental and even influential proposals for new-system automobility could well be coming in future from outside the conventional, traditional automotive sector. Full lowdown (well, sort of: not that much on the concept itself beyond some pretty drawings and a bit of blurb) here at zoox’s pages.

  • Zoox refers to a useful study from Columbia University appraising the outlook for autonomous vehicles: Transforming Personal Mobility (2013). Download  it here.
  • In the here-and-now, Fiat’s aiming to undercut Daimler’s Car2Go in the car-sharing game (whilst offering two more seats than in the Smart Fortwo) and is launching its Enjoy fleet – of 500s – in Milan. No subscription fee, 25 euro cents a minute, free parking and free entry into the city centre (otherwise subject to a five-euro daily charge). It’s signed up Italian oil/gas firm Eni to take part, for starters, reports Automotive News Europe, which cites research from Frost & Sullivan suggesting that 26 million people will be car-sharing by 2020 (up from the current 2.3 million), 15 million of these in Europe (up from today’s 1 million). It’s not all about altruistic sharing, though – ANE quotes Fiat-Chrysler’s Europe chief Alfredo Altavilla as saying it’s “the quickest way to get customers into our cars”, and notes that Fiat will be offering Enjoy users discounts if they subsequently make a purchase.
  • Handy review from Embarq on the state-of-play in the car-sharing market here.
  • Haven’t spotted them yet myself, but there’s a pair of BYD electric buses now in action in London. These single-deckers have a 155-mile range, and will be trialled till August 2016. Six more will join them in service early next year. More here.

Design Concept of the Day: Modularity (Michelin Challenge Design)

December 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

01_modularity_02_kangTransportation Design students at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), Detroit,  took part in the 25th annual Michelin Challenge Design; this year’s theme is ‘Driven/Undriven: The Duality of Tomorrow’s Automobile”. In teams of four, they came up with a platform for an autonomous vehicle, and individual members then created their own designs for the vehicle body as well as for a tyre/wheel assembly. They were asked to explain the target owner for their vehicle and their mobility needs, describe a typical 24-hour usage cycle, and take into account usability on the current road infrastructure, production feasibility and consumer demands for safety and comfort. Individual winner was Byungwan Kang of the ‘Modularity’ team; larger-sized pictures and images of all the entries can be seen here. They’ll be on display at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show next month.

  • Next-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution: a plug-in hybrid, says Peter Lyon at Motor Trend, who has some more details to flesh out this long-standing rumour. This super-saloon might not get the ‘Evo’ name, though.
  • The City of Houston will save $110,000 annually by running its fleet of 27 Nissan Leaf EVs, and Loveland, Colorado (2 Leafs), 41% of its fuel costs: two case studies from the Electrification Coalition, outlined at Green Car Congress. Apparently Houston also runs 15 plug-in Prius (aftermarket conversions) on its municipal fleet, as well as the Ford Escape Hybrid, and has 50 EVs, PHEVs and hybrids available to its employees on a car-share basis. Yes, this is Texas: a cultural shift indeed in the land of Big Oil?
  • Energy consumption of light-duty vehicles in the US will fall 25% by 2040, according to the US Energy Information Adminstration (EIA) in its report Annual Energy Outlook 2014 ( AEO2014). A counterpoint to the ExxonMobil forecasts (see yesterday’s post), it sees just a 0.9% rise in vehicle miles travelled 2012-40; fuel efficiency to rise by an average 2% a year in that time; and energy consumption of light-duty vehicles falling to 47% of the country’s total transport-related energy use from 2012’s 60%. Just 22% of vehicles will use fuels other than petrol/gasoline, EIA predicts, however (and that’s including diesel as well as hybrid powertrains); hybrids will account for just 6% of the market, plug-in hybrids 2%, and EVs 1%. The Early Release version of the report can be downloaded here (or there’s a handy digest at Green Car Congress).

And on an academic note, here’s a round-up of some more recent EV-related research I’ve come across:

  • Some conclusions from the SwitchEV trial in NE England on the use of topographical data/mapping to optimise EV range and give more accurate range forecasting at Intelligent Transport Systems, IET.
  • Study from DUT (Technical University Delft) looks at policies to stimulate EV uptake and use, and their effectiveness, efficiency and feasibility: more, incl. full academic citations, here.
  • And from RWTH Aachen University: German households are willing to pay for vehicles with greater fuel economy and lower emissions, and for increased driving range and recharging infrastructure, if enjoying benefits such as free parking, tax exemptions or bus lane use; young, well-educated and eco-aware buyers able to plug cars in at home and doing urban driving are most likely to adopt alt-fuel vehicles. Hybrid vehicles are less likely to be rejected than EVs, but overall, most buyers are reluctant. More here.
  • From the same journal issue: researchers from Technical University Denmark look at how drivers’ individual preferences – for driving range, fuel costs, battery life, charging, top speed and suchlike – change after they have trialled an EV for three months. Attitudes towards environmental concerns remain constant, however. More here. And there is a cost-benefit equation when it comes to vehicle range, with willingness to pay for extra range showing diminishing returns, according to research from VU Amsterdam.
  • Electric cars, the Marxist perspective: if we want to solve the ‘problem’  of cars, rather than researching alternative fuels we need to look at the whole culture of consumption, says Cardiff University’s Daniel Newman.
  • But if we want take-up of electric vehicles (or other sustainable technologies) social influence and interaction are key factors, involving negotiations of meaning, lifestyle and identity, say Axen, Orlebar and Skippon.
  • How do you plan a fleet of fully-automated vehicles to operate in pedestrian areas, getting around problems such as uneven distribution of vehicles due to one-way trips, and relocation of vehicles? Not just an academic question (ha) but part of the proposals for a scheme in Barreiro, Portugal. More here at the European Transport Research Review.

Design Concepts of the Day: Fiat Panda Hug, Panda Roomy

December 16, 2013 § Leave a comment


fiat hugfiat roomy

10 prize-winning design students from the Royal College of Art have been chosen to go to Fiat Centro Stile in Turin to transform their drawings into clay models and undertake internships. The RAC/Fiat Two of a Kind project asked students – mostly on the MA Vehicle Design course – to imagine the 500 and Panda city cars of 2020, the 500 in terms of ’emotion’ and the Panda in terms of ‘functionality’. The ten winners included Francesco Binaggia’s ‘Panda Hug’, with an innovative modular interior, and Ji Won Yun’s ‘Panda Roomy’, whose exterior was conceived as an extension of personal living space. The project co-ordinated with the roll-out of Fiat’s Fiat Likes U student car-sharing programme; trialled at eight universities in Italy, Fiat is now planning to roll this out across its home country and in Europe, with the RCA the first British university to take part.

  • And on the subject of university car-shares… Fleet News reports that Southampton University (my new ‘home’) is the first UK university to sign up for Enterprise Carshare.
  • Swiss consultancy Rinspeed is doing the automated thing next year at the Geneva Motor Show: its XchangE concept is a electric saloon that allows occupants to stretch out and relax in comfort whilst they’re electronically chauffeured. It’s fully-wired for work, games, movies and media, with seats similar to those in business-class cabins.
  • New report from US PIRG (Public Interest Research Groups) on ‘peak car’, “Transportation in Transition”, looks at changing travel patterns in the US’s largest cities. Average mileage down 7.6% since 2004, mileage fell in almost three-quarters of the cities 2006-2011, most urban areas seeing increased cycling, use of public transport, working from home plus a fall in private car ownership. Not thought to be recession/economy-linked, either. Percentage changes still small, however, and only applicable to urbanized areas.
  • 42% of US households would find the range of a plug-in hybrid adequate for their everyday needs, and 25% could cope with an EV with a range of 100 miles, reports a survey by the US Union of Concerned Scientists and the Consumers Union. For weekday driving, 69% could use an EV as they drive less than 60 miles. The study took into account access to parking and an electricity outlet, the need to transport five people or fewer, and towing or hauling needs, as well as (when considering EVs) range and ownership of a second vehicle. Nice infographic and PDF of full report at the USC website.
  • More research: annual forecast from ExxonMobil, Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040, reckons that global energy demands will grow 35% by that date, vehicle numbers will double as car ownership in developing markets rises, but that after growth and plateau-ing, vehicle fuel demand will gradually decline thanks to more efficient vehicles. Up to 5% of global fleet will be electric vehicles, it thinks, and 35% hybrids. Higher demand for diesel due to freight/delivery growth, however, and natural gas will be fastest-growing fuel market, though a 60% rise in renewables. Whatever you think of the report’s source/agenda, some interesting numbers to chew over. Handy digest at Green Car Congress. And after all, ExxonMobil has as much need to get its figures right as everyone else.
  • More on Renault’s self-driving Zoe project at Autocar: self-driving at speeds of up to 20mph in designated pedestrian-free zones (i.e. for stop-start motorway traffic queues), self-parking. And news on new tech including an all-in one auto transmission/electric motor for hybrids and EVs, steel pistons for fuel savings, and twin turbos for engine downsizing. Renault also reckons to get a range of 260 miles out of the Zoe EV by the end of the decade.
  • Ford has just demoed its semi-automated obstacle avoidance tech, and has teamed up with the University of Michigan on a fully automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle for an ongoing project.
  • Oerlikon Graziano has announced and outlined its new hybrid six-speed automated-manual transmission, said to be cheaper, lighter and more efficient than equivalent DCT units, yet as refined; ‘torque infill’ comes from an electric motor to smooth out gearchanges. The OGeco is designed for high-performance vehicles with front or rear-wheel drive, can work with range-extended plug-in hybrid powertrains, KERS, electric boost and energy recuperation systems, and will be trialled early next year.
  • Not so grim Up North: the BIS-backed Regional Growth Fund and Collaborative Projects Fund (managed by Gateshead College and Zero Carbon Futures) is putting up a £900,000 investment in five low-carbon transport infrastructure initiatives in the north-east. One is the Route Monkey/Teeside University/Urban Foresight project to develop software to analyse usage patterns and total cost of EV ownership for fleets; another is the AVID Technology/Newcastle University work to develop an improved DC fan and water pump for EVs; a third is the Seeward Electronics/Teeside University project to develop an EV charging point tester; the fourth is the Sevcon/Wolverine Tube modelling/development of a new high-voltage low power inverter; and the fifth the Hyperdrive/Wylan Professional Services development of products and engineering services in data logging and GPRS-enabled control ECUs for automotive, defense, marine and portable power applications.
  • Brrr… VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland) is testing intelligent vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems in cold and slippery conditions in the city of Tampere. The Drive C2X project is a collaboration between VTT, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Opel, and is looking at information on road surface conditions. More here.

Concept of the Day: Hyundai Intrado

December 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

hyundai intradoA 2014 Geneva Motor Show preview already. The Hyundai Intrado concept (codenamed HED-9) showcases the company’s latest design thinking, as well as a next-generation hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain – smaller and lighter than in the current iX35 Fuel Cells – and, arguably most interestingly, a new “super-lightweight” structure said to be “a mixture of advanced materials”, “joined using a revolutionary technique that has the potential to change the way cars are constructed in the future”. It has been styled and engineered mostly at Hyundai’s European R&D centre in Russelsheim. “Intrado”, btw, is the underside of an aircraft wing which produces lift. Oh, and also to appear in Geneva: a 141mpg-plus plug-in hybrid city car from Renault, reports MSN, probably a variant of the next-gen Twingo.

In other news this week:

  • The French postal service is testing three Renault Kangoo ZE electric vans fitted with a prototype hydrogen fuel cell range extender system. These HyKangoos have their range doubled thanks to the Symbio FCell conversion kit; more details at Green Car Congress.
  • Bollore – maker of the BlueCar and its operator in the Paris AutoLib carshare – is to take over the running of the Source London EV charging network. Full story at Transport Evolved.
  • Car production and sales in the UK and EU should pick up in 2014, with renewed enthusiasm for EVs thanks to the launch of range-extended models like the BMW i3, according to the 2014 KPMG Global Automotive Executive Survey.
  • A prototype FAW-Volkswagen Bora (Chinese-market Jetta) is being fitted with Protean in-wheel motors for a hub-driven electric-drive powertrain. More tech details at Green Car Congress.
  • Audi’s 2014 Le Mans contender, the R18 e-tron quattro, supplements its V6 TDI engine with kinetic energy storage (KERS) at the front axle with an optimised flywheel storage system, and an electric turbocharger with heat energy recovery. With additional help from enhanced aerodynamics, fuel economy (though such things are in the context of a 24-hour race) is improved by some 30%. Tech trickledown? And Porsche’s LMP1 – direct injection petrol – also features a pair of energy recovery systems.
  • Meanwhile, Audi’s concept to debut in Detroit next month, a compact crossover-type vehicle (probably Q1), is another e-tron model, though no firm details as yet to the degree of its electrification.
  • Toyota’s planning to sell only 5-10,000 FCVs a year from the 2015 launch, but reckons fuel cell vehicles will be price-competitive by 2030, and from 2020, “just one alternative of the eco cars”. Interview, quotes, more detail at Automotive News Europe.
  • Bosch is claiming its next-gen stop-start system – with ‘coasting’ mode – gives fuel savings of 10% over current systems. More here.
  • Scania is to lead a three-year EU-funded research project on digitally-enabled truck platooning. More here.
  • The E-Car Club has launched its third pay-per-use EV-share scheme in Hemel Hempstead (joining Oxford and London). More here. There’s a fleet of Renault Fluence and Zoe EVs from £5.50 an hour.

Design Concept of the Day: SAIC Roewe Mobiliant

December 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

saic_ns_112713_600Here’s the winner of the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge. Chinese firm SAIC Motor’s Roewe Mobiliant concept is a single-seater for urban public transport; it’s conceived to fit in a future urban ecological system and has been inspired by ants and their symbiotic relationship with trees, ‘cos the theme for this year’s Challenge was ‘Biomimicry & Mobility 2025 – Nature’s Answer to Human Challenges’. More on the Mobiliant here; low-down on the other entrants here. I like the Toyota e-grus – an electric ‘hyper-commuter’ inspired by the crane (bird); but the jumping, wearable SUBA-ROO is pure genius. BMW’s Designworks studio submitted two entries: BioMINIcry, bacteria-fuelled Mini submarines to swim autonomously down LA’s lost underground rivers, and the self-sustainable, energy-carrying S.E.E.D.; Mazda looked at the manual/autonomous dichotomy with Auto Adapt; Japan’s JAC Motor’s HEFEI (Harmonious Eco-Friendly Efficient Infrastructure) proposes a symbiotic mobility system whereby idle vehicles power the running in an automated, self-regulating network, supported by a smart-grid; and Qoros Auto also looked at a self-regulating, safe and sustainable control hub, its Silk Road System.  The Changfeng LaBrea ‘grasshopper’ is pushing it a bit, though…

  • OK, this government infrastructure plan… Includes over £1.9billion in road investment and 52 major road projects to deal with an expected 43% rise in traffic levels by 2040 (eek). Investment in nuclear power. Some (not enough) discussion of integrated transport and trains other than HS2. Includes digital telecomms as ‘infrastructure’ (rightly). £5million project to convert public-sector vehicle fleets to EVs; £10million for a city/town driverless cars pilot (more here). No mention of cycling/walking. All in all, the EV/driverless stuff looks like a token effort in an otherwise depressing document. (The EC Horizon 2020 – work programme 2014-15, “Smart, green and integrated transport”, see post below – is considerably more encouraging).
  • Also depressing: new report from RAC Foundation (Gomm & Wengraf), The Car and The Commute (England & Wales). 16.7million people rely on a car to get to work (only a tiny minority of which as passengers); 73.4% of rural workers commute by car; 67.1% of urban-dwellers; and even 29.8% of Londoners, for whom the car is still the most popular form of transport. Full modal breakdown/figures in report. Walking only 10.7% of to-work journeys, little changes in %s cycling, walking or home-working 2001-2011 (data from 2011 Census). Yet cost of driving/mobility rising, as well as mileage and congestion.
  • Volvo Cars is starting a large-scale autonomous car pilot project in and around Gothenburg. ‘Drive Me – Self-driving cars for sustainable mobility’ will involve 100 cars in everyday driving conditions on 50km of selected roads, and will look at the technological challenges and collect feedback from ‘real’ drivers. Scenarios such as leaving traffic flow, traffic queues and safe ‘harbours’ will be explored, as well as suitable traffic situations, infrastructure requirements, consumer confidence, interaction with other drivers and potential societal/economic benefits such as improved traffic efficiency and road safety. After development of a user interface and cloud functionality, plus customer research and further tech development, the first cars should hit the road in 2017. It’s a joint initiative between Volvo, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, Lindholmen Science Park and the City of Gothenburg.
  • First successful field trial of Nissan’s Vehicle-To-Building system – six Leafs connected to an office building contributed to a 2.5% energy use reduction and cost savings. The Leafs charge at off-peak times, with their batteries then feeding energy back to the building at peak. More here.
  • Saab 9-3 production has resumed, albeit of vehicles (for China) with the 2.ot turbo petrol engine; Saab’s new owners/holding company, National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) promises that all-electric versions will follow next year. No ‘Griffin’ badge, though, reports Autocar.
  • And supercar-builder Steve Saleen says he’s going to make an EV. Top-end, high-tech, v. exclusive, no doubt. More here.
  • At the other end of the automotive scale, apparently 700-odd pre-orders have been taken for the Smart Fortwo-alike Colibri single-seater from Innovative Mobility (a 68-mile range, 0-60 in about ten seconds, top speed of 75mph and an 8,900-euro price tag plus 55 euros-a-month battery rental). More here.
  • On two wheels: the 200bhp Sacha Lakic (Venturi)-designed Voxan Wattman is claimed to be the world’s most powerful e-bike. More here.
  • And a Costa Rican cheapie/kit car: the CambYoCar, a mini-EV with sustainable balsa-wood body panels… More here. Actually quite a smart proposal for developing markets.

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