Concepts of the Day: Smart Fourjoy, Citroen Cactus

September 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

smart_fourjoyThe four-seat Smart is back – though this time, it has no doors or rear windows. In concept form, at least; the production-spec new-generation Forfour which the Fourjoy previews (a model co-developed with the next Renault Twingo) is likely to be more of a conventional supermini. The 55kW electric motor-driven powertrain (as in the current Fortwo electric drive) will be developed for the real deal, though, and the concept gives a good preview of the design of the car to be launched late 2014. It keeps the Smart ‘tridion cell’ styling – playing up its structural features – with a polished aluminium finish to this framework plus moulded plastic panels and plexiglass trimmings. The interior incorporates a pair of smartphones for entertainment and connectivity – and the roof holds a pair of electrically-driven longboard skateboards plus helmets with cameras for live image-streaming. The ‘boards are suggested for use over short distances in the city – perhaps solving the ‘last mile’ problem. The Fourjoy goes on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show next week. Gallery of pics at Car Design News.

citroen cactusAlso on show in Frankfurt: Citroen Cactus, previewing the first of a series of utility-focused C-line models from Citroen (distinct from the design-driven DS-line). This concept is an SUV-style supermini, its most interesting technology its Hybrid Air drivetrain. This uses a tank of compressed air and hydraulics to supplement engine power and eke out a claimed 94mpg-plus. with a 45% reduction in fuel economy promised around town. The Cactus also features an all-digital touchscreen control system with Citroen’s online Multicity Connect applications and location-based information. More pics here. But is it as cute and attention-catching as Citroen’s earlier C-Cactus diesel-electric hybrid with its boggle-eyed headlamps?

  • Another Frankfurt reveal: modular battery technology for e-buses, developed by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
  • Toyota is working on wireless charging for the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (which will, presumably, no longer need to be plugged in). Full text from speech by Satishi Ogiso, managing officer, posted here.
  • Electric trucks for Texas: 30 heavy-duty Smith Newton delivery vehicles are to go into service in the Houston-Galveston region (Green Car Congress).
  • BMW is working with power company Vattenfall on a second-life programme for lithium-ion batteries from its i-range. Leftover EV batteries should still have 80% of their original capacity, it says, and can be used for energy storage and grid-buffering. More here.
  • US EV drivers can now rate their charging experience – equipment broken, busy, inconvenient, etc – with PlugScore, a further app from Recargo’s PlugShare (Green Car Reports).
  • Ford has confirmed that it’ll be selling two hybrids – C-MAX Energi plug-in, new-generation Mondeo petrol-electric – plus the Focus Electric in Europe by the end of next year (EV Fleet World). It’s doing demos of the Focus Electric at the LowCVP event at Millbrook this week.
  • A 50-bike electric scooter-share has been launched in Barcelona: Motit users can reserve bikes via smartphone and it costs from 4 euros an hour or 45 cents per km. More here.
  • “Local laser reinforcement” techniques could reduce weight of steel structures in cars by 20% – thus delivering fuel-efficiency and emissions savings – without compromising crash safety. Work from the Frauenhofer Institute for Material and Bean Technology, Dresden: more here.
  • EV charging points have now been installed in 12 London Underground car parks (Fleet News).
  • Smart Highway, a concept designed by Daan Roosegaarde, has won the Community category of the Index: Award 2013. Smart Highway features solar-charged glow-in-the-dark and temperature-activated paint, reducing the need for energy-inefficient lighting, and could incorporate induction charging for EVs. Looks cool, too.
  •  Oh, and on a watery note, I’m liking the Planet Solar solar-powered catamaran, which has just cruised into London.

Design Concept of the Day: Equippe

January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

RCA students 010_smallestRCA students 009_smallestAlexander Ibbett, a 24-year old student at the Royal College of Art, created Equippe in a three-month competitive project with Citroen. Members of the Citroen design team worked with the first-years on the Vehicle Design MA course on concepts for the delivery vans of the future; competition-winner Ibbett studied how people shop online and the labour-intensive nature of collecting and delivering goods, and came up with this platooned, networked team of Segway e-scooters which follow a larger single-seat EV in a platoon much as ducklings follow their mother in a line. They can peel off from the convoy and join another, and fold down into themselves to ‘nest’ when not in use.

Second prize went to Alexander Brink’s three-wheeled delivery scooter (below), and third to Hoe-Young Hwang’s luxury delivery vehicle – which brought expensive items wrapped in cloth and digitally-illuminated, for the recipient to ‘pluck’ from the interior. Special mentions too to Vera Jiyeong Park, for her van’s side panels of a thermo-sensitive bi-metallic material with ‘petals’ that open and close for ventilation, saving energy on cooling the interior, and to Henri Peugeot for his attention to acoustics: a silent van with stealth jet-style acoustic materials, noise-cancelling technology and an interior anecoic (ech0-free) chamber, to enable night deliveries when there is less congestion. More details on these, the further ‘special mentions’, feedback from the Citroen judges and a full picture gallery to follow over at Car Design News and one or two other publications – will post and tweet links later.

The RCA vehicle design course is one of the most respected in the industry (check out its list of alumni) and its graduates enjoy a 95% success rate in finding auto industry employment. I went to the presentation of the projects, and all the students were – as you’d expect – clearly awesomely talented, creative and imaginative, as well as being impressively focused and professional in their approach and presentation skills.

There’s a lot of smart thinking going on, and it was reassuring to find out that the students don’t just sit around drawing fantasy supercars (though I’m sure that some of that does still go on): they have to do solid in-depth research amongst vehicle user groups (such as projects with the London Ambulance Service) and engage with wider world issues such as sustainability, safety, noise pollution, congestion, the urban environment and soforth. They do workshops and are encouraged to work with people from other departments in an interdisciplinary approach (cross-departmental projects such as designing for the needs of an ageing population, for example) or with the engineers round the corner at Imperial College, as well as working on projects with manufacturers and supplier firms. Many, though not all, have an engineering-based first degree, but they do get a further grounding in technical essentials.

This project focused on delivery vans, but many of the students were looking at infrastructural issues and solutions for sharing a van between companies (slot-in and swappable cargo modules featured strongly) and drivers, pooling resources, as well as solutions to improve operational efficiency and cut energy wastage such as deliveries to people who are not at home, or running around when empty. Micro-vehicles – most likely electric – from local distribution hubs were a clear trend in their thinking, as were networking and connectivity: the delivery van of the future could well be an automated EV, summoned on demand via a smartphone app, then.

Thanks to the School of Design at the Royal College of Art and to Citroen, for an invite to a really interesting day, and to the RCA tutors and Citroen designers (who judged the competition) for their time and valuable input into my various stories. Great to meet everyone, but must mention Lars Taubert, who worked on the very cool Citroen Tubik concept (2011) – a reinvention of the classic H-Van for the digital age and one of my favourite Citroen show cars of recent years (I do like a good camper van/utility wagon, having once come very close to buying a Chevy DayVan). Stupidly, I didn’t ask him how/if a Tubik-type vehicle might be progressing towards production – but some of its proposals, particularly its connectivity platform, could well be viable in PSA’s future vans, a notion underlined by the thinking of the RCA students.

RCA students 017_smallest


Midweek news round-up

July 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Lotus has started testing its Evora 414E range-extended hybrid, and had a cutaway model on display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. First seen at the Geneva Motor Show back in 2010, it uses Lotus’s ‘Omnivore’ three-cylinder, 1.2-litre engine (which can run on petrol, methanol or ethanol) plus two electric motors and a seven-speed sequential-shift transmission. It can do up to 30 miles in all-electric mode before the engine kicks in to act as a generator or directly power the motors, giving a total range of up to 300 miles. Total output is 408bhp and 738lb ft, and it’s said to be capable of 130mph and 0-62 in about four seconds.

  • The benefits of being Royal: Prince Albert II of Monaco has taken delivery of the first Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid off the production line. He already has a standard Prius plus a one-off Lexus LS 600h Landaulet for official state duties, and will take the Plug-In on a two-month loan from Toyota. Monaco, incidentally, has 424 free EV charging points despite being just 48 acres in size.
  • More details on the deal between BMW and Toyota, who have just signed a MoU to build on their current lithium-ion battery development/diesel engine supply partnership. It involves, according to a BMW press release, “joint development of a fuel cell system, joint development of architecture and components for a future sports vehicle, collaboration on powertrain electrification and joint research and development on lightweight technologies.”
  • US firm Green Automotive, of Newport Beach, California, has bought British company Liberty Electric Cars, best-known for its Range Rover conversions. Ongoing Liberty projects include work with Volkswagen, Fiat and Michelin to develop an electric delivery van and research in partnership with Cranfield University, Rolls-Royce Electric Machines and Protean to develop an electric motor which does not use rare-earth metals (Green Car Congress).
  • Danish firm Ecomove is working on a range-extended version of its Qbeak EV, using methanol fuel cell technology to give up to 500 miles. The project is funded by the Danish government, and is a collaboration between Ecomove and fuel cell firm Serenergy, managed by Insero E-Mobility. More details here.
  • Citroen is offering a free wheel upgrade with the DS5 Hybrid4: fitting the 17-inch alloys has the benefit of cutting CO2 emissions to 99g/km (from 107g/km), thus qualifying the car for exemption from the London congestion charge and dropping it down to the 10% BIK company car tax band.
  • Mercedes-Benz is working on an all-electric B-Class, with powertrain developed by Tesla, reports Automobilwoche. This will probably be for the US market, in place of the F-Cell fuel cell and range-extended/plug-in hybrid tech previously considered, and could arrive 2014.
  • GoinGreen (distributor of the G-Wiz) has launched the Tazzari EM1 EV in the UK. The Italian-built EM1 is a tiny two-seater, but it meets with full M1 EU Type Approval for passenger vehicles, so it should be safer than the G-Wiz. Top speed is 62mph, it’ll do 0-31mph in less than five seconds (good enough for a speedy getaway around town) and its range is up to 87 miles, in ‘economy’ mode. The bad news? It costs nearly £25,000. More details at The Charging Point.
  • Another truck story: Daimler is to offer factory-built EcoHybrid Fuso Canter delivery vans. These promise fuel economy savings of 23%, and combine a 150hp diesel engine with a 40kW electric motor, lithium-ion battery (warranted for ten years), regenerative braking and automated manual transmission.
  • Green debate of the week: is peak oil a myth? There’s more than enough oil in the earth and I got it wrong, says George Monbiot. No there’s not, comes today’s rejoinder . If even the Guardian’s writers can’t agree amongst themselves… Not sure what Monbiot is suggesting, anyway. Drill, baby, drill and we all just give up, go home, and go back to gas-guzzling?

More EVs for hire and lease, prepare for Urban Mobility 3.0

June 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Citroen is delivering 100 C-Zero EVs to DB Rent, the car rental division of rail operator Deutsche Bahn, for a car-share scheme in Berlin. The cars will be located at railway stations and S-bahn stops in the city, and will be available for one-way trips; cars and charging points can be located using a smartphone app. A further 400 C-Zeros are on order for DB Rent to make up a large fleet.

In other news today:

  • Bolloré, supplier of the Pininfarina-designed Bluecar EV to the Paris Autolib’ scheme, is now offering the car for lease to private customers and businesses. It’s up for 330 euros a month for a minimum three-month period, and yes, you can have it in colours other than blue, reports Technologic Vehicles. Private cars can get up to 130kph, too (the Autolib’bers are limited to 110kph). Pre-order forms are at the Bluecar website.
  • Mazda is to start leasing a range-extended EV in Japan next year, featuring its hydrogen-fuelled rotary engine as the range-extender, reports The Nikkei. No word yet on which model this will be based, but Mazda is already offering for lease a Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid (more on that here).
  • Liberty Electric Cars of Peterborough is in discussions with California’s Green Automotive Company over joint projects. Liberty is best-known for its e-Range Range Rover electric conversion, and is expected to supply its technology to Green Automotive  of Newport Beach, which has ditched its original plans to produce and sell its own e-SUV and now intends to convert existing vehicles which are already approved for US sale, reports EV Fleet World.
  • Battery tech story of the day: ionic liquid electrolytes could make batteries ten times as powerful as lithium-ion technology and cost less, says Colorado Ionics Corporation. Working in conjunction with ultracapacitors to double energy storage limits, ‘Iolite’ salt electrolytes can operate at high temperatures and voltages, are not flammable and do not evaporate, the company told MIT’s Technology Review (AutoTech Daily).
  • The first Australian-built, right-hand drive Holden Volts hit the road this week, reports EV Fleet World. They’ll be run on a 12-week trial in partnership with the state of Victoria’s government, and all results/findings/data will be publicly shared.
  • Some more detail/updates/general thoughts on the news that Audi may be pulling the plug on its A1 and A2 e-tron. Here at the Charging Point.

Beijing Motor Show preview: Citroen Numéro 9

April 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Citroen is launching its DS line models in China this year, and the Numéro 9 concept car – to be unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show next week – signals the future style of this growing product-range. It’s a slinky ‘shooting brake’ coupe-estate previewing the upcoming DS line saloon (small family-sized, ‘C’ sector), SUV and large ‘D’ sector family saloon which will join the DS3, DS4 and DS5 already on sale alongside the mainstream Citroen line-up.

Numéro 9 also showcases the latest iteration of Peugeot-Citroen’s plug-in hybrid technology; it has a powertrain delivering an average 166mpg and emitting 39g/km, with a 50km range in its all-electric mode. Total power output is a sporting 295hp, with a ‘boost’ function for quick bursts of acceleration; the Beijing show car features the 1.6 THP petrol engine (225hp/275Nm), but Citroen says that diesel versions will also be offered. The 70hp electric motor drives the rear wheels and the engine the front, giving 4WD capability, and 4WD can be manually selected for slippery driving conditions.

A full recharge of the lithium-ion batteries takes 3.5 hours from a standard domestic power supply, and with both motor and engine engaged, the ‘boost’ function enables acceleration 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds. The engine takes over at highway cruising speeds but otherwise remains on stand-by to supplement the motor as required and when battery power dwindles; top speed is 152mph.

This good-looking concept car is 4.93m long, 1.94m wide yet just 1.27m tall, and it sits on 21-inch wheels with turbine-style details to aid efficient airflow. Citroen promises “plenty of room for rear occupants”, the cabin benefits from glass roof panels – and the plug-in powertrain also enables it to be pre-heated on cold days.  Numéro 9 is finished off with full LED headlights and daytime running lights, chrome trim and a violet-tinted deep black paint.

In other news today:

  • Lithium-air batteries are  “the most promising technology in terms of energy density”, according to a study by battery-maker Axeon, Professor Peter Bruce from the University of St Andrews and Element Energy. The research looked into issues of cost and performance of lithium-ion batteries to 2030, from where lithium-air looks the most viable. Full (100-page) report here for all the detail.
  • One of the first two Nissan e-NV200 electric van prototypes will make its UK debut at the  EV & Low CO2Fleet Show at Silverstone next week. This van is currently being trialled by British Gas, and has also been tested by FedEx in London and the Japan Post Service in Yokohama. It’s due to go into production next year. Other new vehicles which can be driven by show attendees include the Peugeot 208 (with one petrol and three diesel engines which all emit less than 99g/km of CO2), the diesel-electric Peugeot 508 RXH hybrid, the Citroen DS5 Hybrid4 (also diesel-electric) and the Renault Twizy electric quadricycle. A number of recharging infrastructure providers will also be there to explain their fleet solutions.
  • Nice video about the University of Michigan’s solar car project, and the team’s entry in the World Solar Car Challenge, at Translogic.
  • Mitsubishi is building a prototype smart-grid system utilising ‘waste’ EV batteries – which have come to the end of their useful working life in cars – as energy storage units to balance demand/supply and enable overnight charging of a fleet of cars. More on the M-tech Labo project at Green Car Congress.
  • Some debate for a Friday. Autocar’s Hilton Holloway is loving ‘his’ Nissan Leaf, and says that “in the medium term, I reckon any serious luxury car has to have a electric motor driving its wheels, starting with the next flagship Rolls Royce.” Brave words. But down on the ground in the real world – well, the strange bubble that is Brighton – there’s been little usage of the council’s EV charging points, which critics are dismissing as a “green vanity project”. Discuss. Remember, folks, chickens and eggs – more here, too, on the Brighton issue.
  • More debate for a Friday: interesting article at the BBC about wireless automotive technology (connected cars, intelligent traffic flow systems, etc). The answer to making this stuff work is ‘white space spectrum’ and ‘Weightless’ chips, apparently (note the vested interest of the writer). Hmm. A bit over the top, says the Campaign For Better Transport’s @RichardHebditch on Twitter – “wireless and other intelligent transport system technology will help but overhyped claims bit like that for paperless office”. Yes indeed.


Citroen and Peugeot cut EV prices, Oslo bigs up biogas, Oregon electrifies

March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Citroen has cut the price of the C-Zero EV and confirmed that an electric Berlingo van will go on sale in early 2013. The C-Zero’s down to £26,216 on-the-road, not counting the £5000 government Plug-In Car Grant, which brings it down to £21,216. New contract-hire rates start from £249 a month over three years/30,000 miles. Citroen is also expanding its specialist network of EV dealers from 11 to 21 specially-trained sales outlets, with about 100 of its dealerships to be trained to service, repair and maintain the C-Zero, the DS5 Hybrid4 and other future electrified Citroens.

Peugeot’s doing the same for the iOn, sister model to the C-Zero (and Mitsubishi i-MiEV) – identical new pricing and contract-hire rates, but 23 EV sales and service locations. Electric Partner van on the way, too.

In other news today:

  • The city of Oslo is opening a new thermal hydrolysis plant processing food waste; this will produce enough biogas to power 135 buses. 65 buses are already running on biogas from the city’s sewage plant. Essentially, the factory will boil up all the food waste collected by citizens and put out for recycling; the byproduct of the gas extraction is an organic sludge, which will be supplied as fertilizer to 100 local farms.  More (in English) at Forkningsradet.
  • That US West Coast road trip in an EV is on its way to becoming a reality: the first phase of the West Coast Electric Highway has opened on the I5 in Oregon. There’ll be fast-chargers – giving a full charge in about 30 minutes – at 25-mile intervals through the state, eventually linking Canada (Vancouver) to the Mexican border at San Diego, California. AeroVironment has installed charging stations (one fast-charger, one conventional in each) in Cottage Grove, Rice Hill, Roseburg, Canyonville, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass, Central Point and Ashland, and will put in 40 more for Oregon and Washington. Press release, more details posted at Autoblog Green.
  • So, this privatised road-pricing thing… Knee-jerk reaction from DTF: tolls, pay-as-you-go road-pricing not necessarily a bad thing (if priced/taxed fairly, and IF feasible/affordable public transport alternatives are available), but selling off Britain’s roads? On the evidence of the railways, no, no and no again. And as someone quicker than myself has pointed out on Twitter this morning, all this detracts attention very nicely from the government’s plans for the NHS (RIP). Can’t wait for the Budget (teeth gritted in anticipation).
  • Interview with Phillipe Starck about the V+ Volteis at the WSJ: inspired by the 2CV, it’ll be sold at 15 outlets in France as a runaround. Yes, it is basically an electric golf cart, but as the esteemed @bobbyllew tweeted this morning: “Okay, accepted it’s a glorified and very expensive golf cart for use in sunny climes, but I like the simplicity and lack of ‘carness’.” Seconded. These things have their place, even if that is only in the South of France or for use as resort vehicles. Think of it as a modern-day Mehari.

Design Concept of the Day: Citroen CCrab

October 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a handy concept for the city: the three-seater CCrab has wheels which turn independently so it can scuttle sideways – out of a tight spot in a traffic jam, perhaps, or into a tiny parking space. It’s the work of RCA Automotive Design MA student Juha-Pekka Rautio, created in a project overseen by Citroen to help develop a new design language for EVs. Citroen’s taking notes, apparently (

  • In other news: The joint BMW-PSA Peugeot Citroen hybrid/EV R&D centre has opened in Munich. The 100million-euro centre, BMW Peugeot Citroen Electrification, is to develop electric powertrains, batteries, motors, power electronics and energy management software, on an ‘open technology’ basis which will involve suppliers in the product development and purchasing processes. It will work with a factory in Mulhouse, France, which is to start production in 2014, and components will be sold to other carmakers (Autobeat Europe).
  • Citroen’s working on a low-cost city car known as ‘3CV’, reports Car. There’s been much talk of a successor to the 2CV pretty well since the original was finally discontinued, but 3CV comes 2013, says the mag, and could be a hybrid. It probably won’t look like the CCrab, though.
  • Chinese car-maker BYD has opened its North American HQ in Los Angeles, about a year later than originally planned; the introduction of the e6 electric hatchback has also been delayed, and will not now arrive for another 18 months (Bloomberg, via AutoBeat Asia).
  • A viable hydrogen fuelling infrastructure is still along way off in the UK, says Fleet News.
  • Fisker and Tesla have responded – somewhat scathingly – to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s claims that the federal loans they received as ‘green’ start-ups were influenced by donations to the Democrat campaign and examples of “cronyism and outright corruption.” Both deny political connections and point out that they’re creating jobs for Americans… Expect this one to run for a while. More at Detroit News and, finding further fault with Romney’s calculations, Grist.
  • Truck-maker Scania has unveiled a new ‘global engine platform’ for heavy-duty engines which can meet Euro 6 emissions requirements and run on 100% biodiesel. More at Green Car Congress.

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