Edison2 aims to revolutionize the world economy with a Very Light Car

Yesterday, Edison2 unveiled their new version of the Very Light Car (VLC) with CEO Oliver Kuttner claiming some features in the new VLC would be a disruptive technology that could “change the entire automobile industry.”  These are big claims which remind me of the hype surrounding the launch of the Segway, however what they presented is fundamentally new technology, which could revolutionize car design.  But I think, unfortunately, because I’d like to see these ideas adopted widely, it’s unlikely to be actually adopted.  Maybe.

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The core of the new technology is a new way to implement suspension.  The new suspension system is simpler, requires less material, and fewer structural connection points.  This affects the rest of the Very Light Car design so that it can be, uh, a very light car.

I was able to write up their announcement on PlugInCars yesterday: Edison2 Introduces New Iteration of its Very Light Car What we have here is some ideas that fell on the cutting room floor of that article.

The resulting car uses less fuel, requires less material to build (because it’s a very light car), and in turn the light weight means it uses less fuel.  That’s a good thing, eh?  Well, so long as it’s still safe.

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The Edison2 team has a blog post going over their safety strategy.  Basically, they’ve taken a cue from race car design and the VLC deflects impacts rather than absorbs them.  By the way, race cars follow a similar strategy.

I’ve used the phrase “race car” twice so far, and maybe it won’t be surprising to learn that the Edison2 team is made of race car designers.  What they’ve done is bring the sort of low weight, great aerodynamics, ethics that are successful in race cars, and apply them to car designs.

But can this actually “change the world” or “revolutionize national economies?”  Kuttner’s presentation of the VLC promised exactly that, however he did say it would take awhile and that Edison2 was at the very beginning.  We’re talking about a fundamental rethink of car design, so it might seem bold and brash to claim this will revolutionize the world economy.  But, I think it is plausible that it could be done.

Kuttner pointed out that the basic architecture of cars hasn’t changed in over 50 years.  That is, the suspension system on cars is basically the same, and this results in certain forced design choices as a result.  Edison2’s new suspension architecture enables a long list of new design choices, that should result in a major lightweighting.

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How can this revolutionize national economies?  It’s by changing the ratios or equations governing how much materials are required to operate the transportation system.

The ratio of vehicle weight to passenger capacity controls how much material has to be mined out of the planet to build transportation machines.  If this sort of technique were ubiquitously adopted, there’d be an overall reduction of the materials mined to run the transportation system.  That would reduce all kinds of pollutions, lengthen the amount of time we can continue using metals.  Lighter cars should also cost less to build/buy and then society overall would have less financial overhead.

That overhead equates more-or-less to the national debt.  Those of us worried about the state of the national debt should be pushing for anything which reduces the cost of doing everything.  The cost of fuel is a huge overhead that could be reduced, if only the transportation system were to be redesigned.

But, as I said above, I wonder out loud whether this will be adopted or if it’ll just be a curiosity with a lot of potential but end up as a footnote in history?  It would force the automakers to completely rethink their car designs.  And, it seems to me that would be a good thing.  But how likely are they to do so?  That is, how likely are they to put in the expense required to completely redesign and completely retest every car design?

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Unfortunately, I just made an argument that undermines the need to redesign the whole transportation system.  The existing system with gasoline is tried-and-true and no matter how flawed it is, the society around us knows how to deal with gasoline etc.  This strategy to stick with the tried-and-true is a way of preventing change from occurring.

The event announcement has some details:-  http://www.edison2.com/blog/2013/4/5/press-release-edison2-to-unveil-newest-ev-vehicle-architectu.html

This article in Composites World has some great details on the technology:- http://www.compositesworld.com/articles/very-light-cars-driving-the-future

They published this information on their website “for media use” so I believe that means I can duplicate it here:-

For the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, Edison2’s founder and CEO Oliver Kuttner assembled an elite team from professional motor racing, with over 20 victories at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona. Northrop Grumman’s aerodynamics fellow Barnaby Wainfan, who met Edison2’s Chief of Design Ron Mathis through the Audi Sport North America R10 program, designed the shape of the X Prize winning Very Light Car.

The breakthrough efficiency of the Very Light Car comes from the fundamental principles of light weight and low aerodynamic drag. With the lowest coefficient of drag, 0.160, ever recorded at the GM Aero Lab (for a multi-passenger vehicle), and with the best coastdown numbers ever demonstrated at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, the Very Light Car simply requires little energy to move. For example, only 5.3 hp is needed to cruise at 60 mph.
While Edison2 won the X Prize with an internal combustion engine, the electric Very Light Car has set a new standard for electric car efficiency. Needing only a 10.5 kWh battery pack to achieve a 100 mile range, the eVLC recorded 245 MPGe (EPA combined), compared to 99 MPGe of the Nissan Leaf. The battery pack fully recharges in less than 7 hours, using regular household 110V outlet. The electric Very Light Car successfully addresses the issues holding back electric cars: range, battery cost and charging time.
The Very Light Car is extremely light. Light-weighting becomes a virtuous cycle, with a lighter chassis needing a smaller drive train, a lighter suspension and so on. Every component is evaluated for function and redesigned with an eye to simplicity, strength and low weight. For example, brake calipers that usually weigh several pounds are less than one pound; lugnuts are 0.2 instead of 1 ounce.
Edison2 is showing that a low-mass car can be a safe car. Innovations derived from racing enhance safety in the Very Light Car. These innovations include collapsible space not available in current cars (such as wheels outside of the main body structure) and a shape that deflects rather than engages on impact. Preliminary computerized crash simulations and an initial crash test are validating this approach.
Underlying the efficiency, safety and handling of the Very Light Car is a new automotive architecture. A patented in-wheel suspension allows an uncluttered design with only 4 structural connection points (instead of the 12 or more in conventional designs), reducing weight and improving packaging. Wheels external to the frame allow superior aerodynamics and create new crush zones for passenger compartment integrity.
The Very Light Car embraces sustainability. Not just efficient to drive, but cradle-to-grave environmentally responsible. Less mass means fewer material inputs. Energy intensive and hazardous or scarce materials are largely avoided in favor of conventional materials, like aluminum and steel, that are readily available, easily made in volume, and completely recyclable. Low-mass vehicles have other environmental benefits as well, such as less wear on tires, brakes and roads.
At heart the Very Light Car is a simple vehicle, avoiding the feature creep that has loaded down contemporary vehicles. The combination of design simplicity, low mass and conventional materials means the Very Light Car will be not just inexpensive to drive but affordable to buy.

Edison2 can be followed on Facebook, Twitter (VeryLightCar) Youtube (VeryLightCar) and blog (edison2.com/blog).

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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