Edison2 sees opportunity in disruptive thinking

  • 09-Oct-2013 05:56 EDT
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Edison2, a winner of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, is looking to establish the Very Light Car category, using a design that looks like a variant of open-wheel racecars.

“Through changing architecture, we can reach weights which equal energy requirements that are unprecedented,” said Oliver Kuttner, CEO and founder of Edison2. The company has also “overcome and defeated some of the old myths and problems [associated with fuel-efficient, small cars]—that low-mass cars cannot have ride quality.”

Kuttner delivered his vision on Sept. 19 at the Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum 9 (IESF) organized by Mentor Graphics and supported in part by SAE International.

The architecture he is referring to is what he hopes will form the foundation of a Very Light Car (VLC) category. Kuttner argued that this new category is right for the times, as other new categories were right for theirs, such as pony cars in the 1960s, minivans in the 1980s, and SUVs in the 1990s.

Energy-efficient design

Edison2 uses a design with similarities to an open-wheeled racecar to create this architecture for VLCs.

“I can say that if you follow our principles, you will reduce the energy consumption regardless where it comes [from] to about 40% off if you follow any current best practices,” Kuttner said.

Carmakers could design it as a battery-electric (BEV) only, gasoline only, or as a hybrid vehicle.

The model that won the Progressive Automotive X-Prize used a spark-ignition engine only, powered by E85 (to meet certain emissions requirements that were part of the basis for the contest). It achieved 104 mpg combined on a gallon of gasoline equivalent (gge). One design variant he showed had a coefficient of drag of only 0.16. That car design uses about 5.3 hp (4.0 kW) to cruise at 60 mph (97 km/h) on the highway.

With such efficiency, a car powered by a 10.5-kW·h battery got up to 100 mi (161 km) in range, as demonstrated in a test with an experimental BEV. This has implications for the market: A smaller battery means less recharge time. In the case study he showed, this means a full charge in less than 7 h using only a Level I, 110-V outlet plug.

Safety and comfort

Kuttner also stressed that the design provides safety in standard tests along with ride comfort.

“I believe we can also demonstrate superior safety, mainly coming from more of a racing mentality,” he said. “In racing…you deflect the accident and you basically protect your people.”

The diamond shape of the car deflects forces on impact. He went on to explain that the open-wheeled design has built in “crash real estate,” with wing areas providing crumple zones for side impact, again protecting the central passenger compartment.

Kuttner presented data at the conference from a 40% offset crash that followed test protocols established by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The maximum g-load into the car was 22 g, far lower than comparable crashes in the data set he showed.

Low-cost manufacturing

The radical change in architecture may well translate into a radical new manufacturing and sourcing strategy as well.

“We believe we have come up with a build system which is essentially a combination between Ikea and a Lego that is a very logical build system,” he explained.

Stressing simplicity, the company developed new ways to connect parts, such as axles to chassis. The intent of the simple build system is to allow flexibility within the design for, say, six-seat or two-seat variants, by designing a different passenger compartment but keeping the same axles and wheel housing. Easy enough with self-contained suspensions inside the real estate of the wheel assembly.

“The body-in-white is now a series of modular subassemblies,” he said. “Design and materials changes can now be easily incorporated. Smaller parts also bring a new price point with new market opportunities.”

Economies of scale are also enabled by using the same basic design for BEVs, gasoline only, or hybrids, sharing for instance the same front-end chassis and crash structures. He envisions future models composed of steel tubes and aluminum sheets, rather than more expensive carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic.

Market and partnerships

Kuttner revealed that he thought a small population, maybe 3-5% of the total market, would be interested in such a car—still enough to get excited about potential volumes.

“I realize it may not apply to the majority of people today, but there are a lot of people who love this car. It is completely different. It sends a message like you wouldn't believe,” as an environmentalist intent on using less energy, he said.

Edison2 is looking for partnerships.

“We want to sell cars, but we want to do it in association with [established] professionals,” he said, adding that the company is open to any number of business arrangements, from selling a car, a platform, or design services.

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