Low-cost focus for Lotus' shrink-wrap concept

  • 20-Dec-2011 03:42 EST
Lotus WVC (door open).jpg

Lotus Engineering's World Vehicle Concept can seat four occupants, including the driver.

Lotus Engineering tags its World Vehicle Concept as an alternative answer to the low-priced cars likely coming to the U.S. and European markets from low-cost manufacturing countries.

"You can see the proliferation of Chinese OEMs and Indian OEMs right now, so we believe there's going to be a big influx of very-low-cost cars into the U.S. and into the European markets. And for all traditional OEMs, the way to offset the volumes that they'll lose will be to find very unique and clever ways of using technology to produce vehicles that are low cost in their own right," Darren Somerset, CEO of Lotus Engineering North America told AEI.

The Lotus Engineering North American-designed World Vehicle Concept was revealed in November to select media via a software presentation at the company's design and engineering offices in Sterling Heights, MI.

"This concept represents a fun-to-drive, low-cost, back-to-basics commuter car that provides a practical, high-volume solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel efficiency," said Somerset.

With an overall length of 122 in (3100 mm), a 56-in (1420-mm) height, an 88-in (2240-mm) wheelbase, and a curb mass less than 1200 lb (545 kg), the sub-A segment car's occupant configuration is a driver in the single-seat front row, a two passenger second row, and a single-seat third row. The car has 9 ft³ (255 L) of cargo capacity.

"We shrink-wrap the package around the occupants and the cargo capacity first. With a different type of package layout for the occupants, we're able to shrink down the cross-sectional area and create more of a teardrop shape," Somerset said.

Power for the rear-wheel-drive vehicle is from a 50-hp (37-kW), 600-cm³ internal-combustion flat shaft-driven engine.

"We've taken a low-cost two-cylinder engine and put it mid-engine, so we're packaging the engine in front of the rear wheels, which reduces the polar moment of inertia. By doing a mid-engine design, we've also liberated significant crushable space at the front of the vehicle," Somerset said.

Doing the concept vehicle with a small-displacement gasoline engine makes a statement.

"If you have a carryover vehicle and you're trying to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, a hybrid-electric application can do that. But it will also push the price of the vehicle up. What we're saying is for a ground-up product, start with the basic physics of engineering. And then optimize each area of the car that ultimately influences fuel efficiency and emissions," Somerset said.

Engineers spent about six months working on the concept vehicle. Fuel economy is projected to reach 84 mpg city, 127 mpg highway, for combined 103 mpg.

In developing the World Vehicle Concept, Lotus engineers used a holistic lightweight methodology that was developed for the Air Resources Board of California 2020 MY future CUV study.

"That approach involves evaluating the total vehicle as well as the subsystems and components to optimize mass in a cost-effective manner," said Somerset.

Interior-wise, the concept car's instrumentation is via either a docking electronic device—such as an iPad—or information streaming from the "cloud" onto a head-up display.

Lotus Engineering's U.S. team also created a high-performance version that is about 100 lb (45 kg) heavier than the base model concept. The high-performance car uses larger tires and brakes as well as a higher output engine.

In designing the base version of the concept car, benchmark comparisons were made to the Volkswagen Lupo, Chevrolet Spark, and Tata Europa. If a version of the Lotus Engineering World Vehicle Concept was put into production, the target price is estimated at less than $10,000.

"Although there are no current plans to produce this concept, we've shown that it is possible to create a low-cost vehicle that is fun to drive and uses innovative technology," Somerset said.

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