Morgan becomes electric

  • 26-Oct-2011 10:07 EDT
Morgan9-11 Elec Aero8BeforeAfter.jpg

Zytek and Radshape are working with Morgan on the development of a prototype electric sports car based on the Supersport chassis.

Morgan, one of the world’s most traditional and oldest (1909) automakers is developing a high-performance pure-electric sports car.

The tiny U.K. specialist sports car manufacturer is adept at springing environmental technology surprises. In 2005, AEI revealed that it had teamed up with other organizations, including QinetiQ, Oxford, and Cranfield universities, to develop a hydrogen fuel cell demonstrator using PEMFC (proton exchange membrane fuel cell) technology. That project, called LIFEcar, subsequently changed emphasis and has now led to the Morgan +E program to deliver two engineering concepts by early next year.

It involves a consortium of British technology specialists including Zytek Automotive, which is providing the high-power-density electric drivetrain, and Radshape, which focuses on high-precision sheet-steel components and assemblies. The project is at an early stage with modeling yet to be completed. The company has worked with Morgan on the design, development, and production of aluminum chassis structures for 12 years.

Steve Morris, Morgan’s Operations Director, said of the company’s focus on an electric technology demonstrator: “The +E program is an exciting investigation into the potential for a zero emissions Morgan with near-supercar performance.”

The rear-drive +E is described by Morris as being based on a development of the company’s aluminum chassis used for the Morgan Aero Supersport, but instead of a BMW V8 gasoline engine it has a new derivative of Zytek’s 70-kW electric powertrain.

Powertrain and lithium-ion batteries will be mounted in a bonded and riveted aluminum chassis created by Radshape, an evolution of the design that it manufactures for the Morgan Supersport range. The compact and lightweight drivetrain will be installed in the car’s transmission tunnel and requires only three additional connections: for high and low voltage electrics and for cooling water. The battery pack can be integrated into the Morgan’s aluminum structure.

Morris states that the aim is to make the +E concept realistic in that it could lead to further developments if demand and other factors prove favorable.

The Zytek powertrain provides 300 N·m (221 lb·ft) of torque and drives through the car’s manual gearbox, although no decision has yet been made regarding the number of ratios that would be apposite for the +E application.

The collaborative R&D project is part-funded by a grant from the Niche Vehicle Network Collaborative R&D Program, which is managed by CENEX (the U.K.’s first center of excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies) to provide support and funding to groups of companies active in the niche-vehicle sector. The Niche Vehicle R&D program is funded by Advantage West Midlands and the U.K. Technology Strategy Board.

“Keeping the motor in its ‘sweet spot’ will help it use energy more efficiently, which will increase the vehicle’s range," said Zytek’s Engineering Director Neil Cheeseman, commenting on the use of a standard manual gearbox. "It also allows us to provide lower gearing for rapid acceleration from pull-away and higher gearing for top speed. It should also make the car more engaging for keen drivers.”

He explained that an important objective of the program is to investigate how to make an electric car “really good fun to drive,” with part of the challenge being to understand the driver’s interaction with the electric powertrain. “We know that two ratios will improve pull-away, top speed, and range. Three gears will bring a small incremental improvement. But we don’t know how drivers will react to multiple gears in an EV and how the final-drive ratio should be specified to give the right number of gear changes for the best balance between fun, range, and convenience. We’ll try several options before finalizing the specification to help us understand not just the technical benefits but also how to achieve the best driving experience.”

While Zytek’s present range of electric motors spans 25-70 kW, it is developing further drive units of more than 100 kW for high-performance applications and for light commercial vehicles. Its U.K. production capability is some 6000 electric drives per annum. It can also accommodate small batches from 100 units for very-low-volume programs.

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