Following an appearance at the Petit Le Mans race week at Road Atlanta, the first concept car created by graduate students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR)—dubbed Deep Orange—was on display for automotive enthusiasts at November’s SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show in Las Vegas.
At the project’s onset, the CU-ICAR graduate students were instructed to design and build a vehicle for “Gen Y” consumers with one major parameter: it must be emissions free for 20 mi (32 km). Inside, the car had to seat a minimum of four passengers, offer more than 10 ft3 (283 L) of usable trunk space, and have no dedicated infotainment electronics.
The end result? A range-extended electric vehicle (EV) expected to achieve the equivalent of 100 mpg for a combined U.S. EPA city/highway cycle.
The students modified front and rear chassis structures to accommodate the range-extended electric powertrain, but they preserved the original BMW 1 Series suspension geometries and steel body. When in full-electric mode, the inaugural Deep Orange car’s 125-kW UQM Technologies propulsion motor is powered by 14 kW·h of lithium-polymer batteries from EIG. The batteries can be recharged either from a 110-V wall socket or by an onboard 800-cc parallel-twin Rotax gasoline motorcycle engine that turns a 75-kW UQM generator.
The architecture is similar to the one General Motors used in its new Chevrolet Volt, according to Paul Venhovens, the BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration, who leads the Deep Orange initiative.
Performance figures for the EV concept include an all-electric range of 20 mi (hitting the bogey), overall range of 400 mi (644 km), a top speed of 100 mph (161 km/h), and acceleration from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 10 s.
The car’s one-speed transmission is a custom gearbox/differential from BorgWarner.
“We actually had to take out the existing subframe and cut an opening and then weld in gussets and supports” for the electric powertrain, explained Colin Stevens, a CU-ICAR graduate who worked on the project. “We did a full modal analysis on the subframe to make sure that it wasn’t changing the NVH characteristics [of the stock car]. We actually got it pretty close.”
Other features of the concept car include a battery module housing using Industrial Origami’s patented metal-forming technology that does not involve any stamping (and, therefore, no expensive dies) as well as advanced seating concepts developed with technical support from Faurecia.
“For the Deep Orange project, it was a systems integration approach, so we’re trying to get an idea of what it’s like to work in a vertically oriented company where you’re picking things off of suppliers’ shelves,” said Stevens. He noted that nearly every week the team would have hour-long conference calls with Faurecia engineers to discuss what seat-design ideas may or may not work based on their experience.
“They provided a lot of not only the seat engineering but also some of the human-factors elements in terms of keeping the occupant comfortable, so there was a lot of specifics that dealt with angles of least discomfort and how best to isolate the occupant from NVH issues,” Stevens explained.
The seating proof-of-concept features front seats that tie into the vehicle’s body structure; the only adjustability is to raise and lower the occupant in the seat. The steering wheel moves and there is an adjustable pedal system—brake and accelerator—“so everything moves relative to the driver, who is situated in an optimal position” from a crash standpoint, according to Stevens.
The car also has no dedicated, built-in radio/infotainment/navigation, demonstrating an open-architecture, “disruptive concept” by relying solely on a portable Smartphone device in combination with cloud storage technology. Developed by the Dell Services Engineering Solutions team, the prototype application integrates the Dell Streak, a 5-in Android-based pocket tablet, as the information and entertainment hub of the Deep Orange concept car.
The Dell Streak plugs into a dashboard docking station and serves as the monitor of the car. It is designed to sync with the car to control music and directional navigation, as well as display car data such as fuel range and battery life. Working with the CU-ICAR students, the Engineering Solutions team developed a safety measure to limit the Streak’s functions while the vehicle is in motion, such as text messaging, Web browsing, social networking, and other distracting functions.
The students worked on the project from August 2009 to August 2010, according to Venhovens. Actual construction began in January 2010.
In the initial conceptual phase, 24 students were present, but that number shrank as some students left to conduct their dissertation research and others for internships. Assembling the car was done by 13 Clemson students and three design students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, which was CU-ICAR’s design and styling partner on the Deep Orange vehicle.
“The scope of the experience that Deep Orange provides our students will make them very attractive to the automotive industry,” Venhovens said. “This project requires them to be directly, intimately involved in systems integration with industry partners collaborating and exposes them to the capabilities and limitations of certain technologies.”
“Deep Orange integrates research, education, and collaboration into one whole,” added Imtiaz Haque, Chairman of the Automotive Engineering department. “It provides industry with an innovation platform that showcases advanced technology, and it provides the students with an opportunity to work directly with automotive industry partners to innovate and to develop projects. It is, we believe, how you educate the engineer of the future.”
As part of the graduate automotive engineering program, students are required to create—and manufacture—a new vehicle prototype, giving the students experience in vehicle design, development, prototyping, and production planning.
The Deep Orange vehicle prototype program was designed to run the course of two academic years in parallel with Clemson’s two-year master’s program in automotive engineering. Because of time constraints on the first class, the premiere Deep Orange car was converted from an existing body and chassis. Plans call for students to conceptualize future Deep Orange cars from the ground up.
“This is a fluid curriculum that allows us to think outside of conventional coursework and focus on the product and the consumer’s needs,” Venhovens said. “Each year’s project will be unique, with different problems and different parameters for success.”