The gold rush to produce green vehicles includes Bright Automotive, a start-up company planning to produce 2000-lb (907-kg) payload capacity plug-in hybrid-electric delivery vans for fleet customers in 2012.
"We're within 10% of our targeted vehicle curb weight of 3200 lb. Composite materials—used for the concept van's bulkhead and battery tray—are helping us meet the mass-reduction goals, but we need more economically viable ideas," Hadrian Rori, Vice President Vehicle Engineering for Bright Automotive, said to attendees gathered for the 9th annual Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition in Troy, MI.
In recent months, politicians, investors, engineers, and others have checked out the Idea, a functional concept vehicle from Bright Automotive. "EDAG Inc. in Auburn Hills, MI, designed the body and handled the overall vehicle integration work while Multimatic in Ontario, Canada handled chassis integration and constructed the concept vehicle," Rori said.
South Korea's EIG provided the lithium-ion cells for Idea's 11-kW·h battery pack. "When we go to production, the pack design is going to be cell-agnostic, which is why we're looking at multiple sources to do the cells. We can do that because we're controlling the pack design," said Rori, whose 24-year career at Chrysler included the role of Director of Chassis Engineering for body-on-frame vehicles.
Bright Automotive's 30-person employee roster is flush with engineers, including John E. Waters, the CEO and President. Waters' credentials include the development and production of General Motors' EV1 electric-vehicle battery pack and work on the lithium-ion battery system for the Segway PT, a two-wheeled electric, self-balancing personal transporter.
Concept Idea's 2.0-L four-cylinder gasoline engine is the same powerplant used in the Dodge Caliber. "We're unsure if that will be the engine used in the production version, but an existing parts bin will provide the production vehicle with a variety of parts including the engine, transmission, brakes, bearings, and other chassis components," said Rori.
The concept van has a 0.32 Cd. "All of the body exterior iterations were done using CFD, and the chosen model was validated at Volvo's wind tunnel in Sweden. Most of the aerodynamic emphasis to date has been on the topside. When we add underbody treatments, we're confident about reaching our target of 0.30 Cd," Rori said.
Aerodynamic considerations led to a curved roof design. As such, the CHMSL (Center High-Mount Stop Lamp), typically mounted on the roof, has taken occupancy on the larger of two rear cargo doors. "Unlike a 50/50-split rear door, the Idea's 70/30-split doors offer unique benefits. The smaller door will not swing-out beyond the driver's side mirror, so that smaller door cannot open into oncoming traffic when the vehicle is parallel parked," said Rori.
Idea's front cab is separated from the cargo area via a bulkhead that serves multiple roles, assisting with torsion rigidity and side-impact protection as well as acting as a thermal barrier. "The HVAC system can be relatively small because we do not need to heat or cool the cargo space. It's unnecessary to heat or cool the wrenches and other items that a fleet owner would stow in the cargo zone," said Rori.
The passenger seat doubles as a workstation when the seat bottom is folded forward and the seat back is pulled down. "Customers said that 90% of the time, the passenger seat is unoccupied. We're providing the fleet customer with a Johnson Controls seat system that can be used 100% of the time," said Rori.
According to Johnson Controls' Larry Mathias, who is the Vice President and General Manager of the International Business Unit, "Johnson Controls drew on a number of our existing innovations for this project and also took into account the future end customer's needs to create several new features (such as the front passenger seat that converts into a fold-down desk surface and a floor console with pull-out storage drawer for files and paperwork) to offer a new interior that meets the needs of Bright Automotive's target customer."
A dashboard LCD touch screen is the driver's interface point for obtaining vehicle performance data, audio, navigation, and other information. "The open architecture will enable customers to download software onto the vehicle computer system, so they can use their own software applications to handle scheduling, inventory, and other work tasks in-vehicle," said Rori.
The production vehicle, targeted to go 30 mi (48 km) in electric-only mode, is expected to sell 20,000 to 30,000 units its first sales year and as many as 50,000 units in successive years. "Although we expect initial sales to be in North America, the vehicle was designed with worldwide regulations in mind," said Rori. "We have financial support from a private equity/venture capital standpoint, and we've applied for funding through the U.S. DOE's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program."