1.     Customer perception: looks and costs
2.    Think different
3.    Form follows function
4.    Safety first
5.    Space-efficiency 

The small car that's big in many respects
and that would score a not yet existing 6-star Euro Ncap rating

By Ralph Panhuyzen

Let’s do some out of the box thinking and deviate from the traditional 'boxy layout' with the four wheels in all four corners, shall we? "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" Albert Einstein once said. President Obama's latest statement (July 29th, 2011) on energy efficiency not only invites the auto industry to seek new ways, it talks about incentives too. We are heading for troubling times economically. Car makers may be forced to reconsider their strategy. Click on European flag for summarized (Cordis) intro.

Why not have a radical new type of vehicle that will benefit of any new propulsion, simply because it is light and ultra-streamlined to begin with, a vehicle that would also fit the ‘eco-bill’ in other ways? That would be more Einstein-like, don't you think? Underneath I will outline why the vehicle proposed here is ‘better-best’ in most respects, and very much in sync with the July 2011 issued 'European Green Cars Initiative'. I will go into the economics,  the customer perception, the marketing,  the technical  and environmental aspects of the Space-Efficient Vehicle******. I am talking a genuine 'holistic approach': start on another basis and you end up with a fresh new perspective on personal mobility. What also may change the whole automotive landscape is that new generations don't seem to care much for the automobile as we know it.

A lot of manufacturers brought electric versions of existing hatchbacks or have one waiting in the pipeline. However, many smaller hatchbacks have the drawback of low pressure trailing the rear end, which ruins energy efficiency. You really need a sleek and lightweight vehicle for it to optimally benefit from an electric motor. Also: the lighter the car, the more flexibility as far as having more or less batteries - for extended range or not. That should be for the customer to decide. Bigger cars, more sedan-like, are usually heavier. Let’s look at the simple equation: low drag + low weight = better energy efficiency. An elongated egg-like body over a lightweight construction, like the Space-Efficient Vehicle or SEV has, is considered best. Period. 

Click on SEV pictures below to enlarge

1.    Customer perception: looks and costs

TopGear presenter Jeremy Clarkson once said that there are two things people consider important in a car - how does it look and how much will it cost me? If car makers really want EVs to take off (and make good on the huge investments), they should address the issue whether an EV is in fact cheaper to own and run than normal cars in certain conditions (for instance, when primarily used as a commuter and city runabout), and look if there are any serious drawbacks.

The major drawbacks of EVs are that they are expensive to purchase (if governments weren’t fiscally favoring them) and they have a limited range. A range extender would address that issue of course. The lower the vehicle weight, the smaller the range extender needs to be. The costs of ownership (high initial costs) and operating (low energy and maintenance bill) of an EV should be made clear to prospective customers. They can then make a decision - not that different from choosing a car that runs on petrol or diesel, or is able to run on LPG as well. So, I would not yet rule out the ICE (internal combustion engine), particularly if fuel efficiency runs in the 100 mpg (1:42.5 km)... and better.

'Economize' can be made fun! Not an automobile, not a motorcycle, the SEV looks and feels different in so many respects. Mind you, curiosity and the desire to have something new are powerful motivating factors! The SEV only needs 1 out of 400 to be called a success.***** But is it any good? Well, find out more about it underneath.
Sustainability: the body may be constructed out of sheet metal or 'plastics' ('C2C up-cycleable' or recyclable materials) - choice of material dependent on the frame construction. The lighter the vehicle, the less materials required, which should make manufacturing possible according to Cradle to Cradle principles, as laid down by McDonough and Braungart. The SEV has a Da Vinci-inspired cigar-like frame underneath the outer panels and a dual-purpose rear cowling, covering the twin wheels and integrating a flush-mounted rear bumper.****

ReThinking the automobile

In general: the larger the car, the more prestige. So, don't come up with a 'small car'.  Plenty of them already out there. Most people think of small cars as cheap and not particularly safe and comfortable. So, change the perspective! There's cars and there's motorcycles, and nothing decent in between: one big, gaping void. Why not have a 'Best of Both Worlds'? Why not slim down our favorite mode of transport, the safety and comfort of a car, and the agility and energy economy of a motor scooter, without the geeky or geriatric looks of most eco-cars. Think of the SEV as a new transportation format, mobility mode, wannahave, even gadget or toy - it may well cause the same stir Apple created with its iPod and iPhone. It was product design and new levels of functionality that turned Apple into the most valuable company in the world!

The SEV is a lean, clean, sexy ‘transport machine’ that's cheaper to run and a hoot to drive. Because of its sleekness, that enables it to sneak through traffic, and its three-seat capacity the SEV will suit the urban lifestyle of youngsters, singles and couples all over the globe. There’s more to consider. Over the past decade iconic small cars like the Mini, the Fiat 500 and the VW Beetle were succeeded by fashionable newer versions. But still no new Isetta or new Messerschmitt. Now there's a market just waiting to be explored! If you compare the SEV to another icon, the Smart ForTwo, then you may notice that the SEV -a- is more practical with its three-seat capacity -b- more energy-efficient due to its streamline -c- inherently safer and -d- more comfortable, due to its long wheelbase.

There is more to people being mobile than making cars, like there is more to communicating than having a phone. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs could have said this. Just look at it: like a helicopter on wheels, dedicated to the task, purposeful. Ergonomics 1: there is no passenger next to the driver to block his/her side view, which makes the crossing of intersections far safer. The driver is able to maintain eye contact with the passengers via the interior mirror. Of course the SEV will be equipped with on-board systems that will help the driver find his way to whatever destination safely, whether this is a home address or the nearest Sushi bar; that includes transit times and relevant traffic info. The SEV’s front looks are kept 'neutral' so manufacturers may envisage their own trademark frontal designs.

3.    Form follows function... and vice versa

With the front looks of a regular car and the rear cowling reminiscent of a big motorcycle cruiser’s tail, this ‘Smart ForThree’ falls into a new category. Single occupant use of the carpool lane in a three-wheel vehicle is allowed in most U.S. states. Dependent on legislation and vehicle regulations the SEV will have a (semi)three-wheel platform. This provides better protection against rear impacts and, theoretically, better steering input due to the ability to sort of ‘pivot’ around its single rear suspension hinging point. The wheel layout enables a long wheelbase relative to overall length and a tapered, streamlined shape, which in turn gives the driver superior all around visibility. There's no passenger next to the driver to block his side view. The driver is able to maintain eye contact with the passengers via the interior mirror. Lane Assist (standard on many cars) helps the driver to maintain lane position.

The SEV’s lightweight construction (the more rigid, the less material you need) allows for 'lean manufacturing' and savings that may actually raise a manufacturer’s profit margins, and will improve a manufacturer's overall emission and CAFE (corp. average fuel econ.) profile. Also: the lower the fuel bill, the more likely the prospective buyer will spend it on the vehicle itself. The SEV would also be an excellent export product, particularly to countries that cope with severe air pollution and outdated, inflexible infrastructures. As far as positioning the (modular) battery packs, there should be space for them in the front, between the wheel wells, and on either side of the rear passenger. What about the ride? For a brief outline on Narrow Track Vehicle behavior, go to *** 

Ergonomics 2: no shoulder-to-shoulder seating saves space... saves lives! Notice the SEV's exceptional long wheelbase that not only provides ride comfort but is a clever safety feature too!
Storage: the passenger seats can be folded for increased luggage space when traveling alone. If the SEV is to be driven conventionally (no battery packs), there will be room for storage on top of the front-located engine. The dashboard is curved towards the 1st passenger for that little extra storage space that might come in handy during transit.
Interior materials: 100% recyclable flax fiber-reinforced composite would be recommended (the EU and the U.S. each have issued their own life cycle directives with regard to materials use).
Climate control: for obvious energy-saving reasons, the amount of sunlight should determine car glass shading, complimented by 'top-cooling' that slices off the upper 5-8 degree, bringing the interior temperature to bearable levels, compared to the outside. The 'top-cooling' can be driven (in part) by solar cells and surplus heat from whatever 'on-board apparatus' (may be the engine); full climate control optional.

4.    Safety first – Taking the small car beyond the usual hatchback confinements

Lately, technical institutions such as the German ADAC have paid more attention to a long ‘overlooked’ but very disturbing aspect of most hatchbacks: the inherent vulnerability of rear passengers in case of rear-end collisions which are far more common than the head-on type - simply because there is not enough margin. The SEV eliminates that vulnerability by providing plenty of leeway between rear bumper and rear seat. The rear bumper, connected to the center boom - not the sway (torsion?) bar, will disperse the impact through the frame and by penetrating the front crumple zone of the car that hits the SEV's rear end. **

What about impact safety at the front? Well, the forward positioned large diameter rims assist in spreading the impact; the driver is seated to the right (or left in the U.K.) for additional safety in the type of frontal collisions that is standard according to NCAP tests (not 100% head-on but slightly offset). Let’s not forget: the narrower the cars, the less likely they will hit each other on rural roads with no center divider. Nowadays, smaller hatchbacks can be as wide as larger cars. To complement the SEV’s overall safety philosophy, its side-impact safety is effective too. The SEV’s unusual seating layout allows for plenty leeway to the left and right and prevents passenger heads from slamming onto each other during side-collisions, despite its limited width. ** 

Features such as the driver position, the commanding view, the innovative seating layout, the bulging front fenders with the large diameter wheels, the protruding waistline and arch-shaped struts (notice the one exposed through the sunroof) all help to enhance the feeling of being protected, of being in control - which is important if the SEV is to appeal to customers. In short: the SEV offers more safety to three passengers than smaller hatchbacks are able to. The fact is that the SEV would score a not yet existing NCAP 6 star-rating because it succeeds where other small cars would fail. NCAP still has no decent rear impact test!

Split lane use** is a piece of cake with Lane Assist that's already standard on many cars. Nowadays many cars have dashboards that look like the instrument panel of a passenger jet. Ergonomics 3: on-board systems should  not distract the driver from what is going on outside the vehicle. Voice-activation can be a big help (for instance, when dialing a phone nr.). An instrument panel with only the essential dials and knobs (very much like the one on a motorcycle) is therefore strongly recommended. Speed readout and navigation may be projected on the inside of the wind screen. 5 Airbags 'cushion the blow' caused by impacts: 2 in the front, 2 curtain-type and 1 in the back.

5.    The bonus of space-efficiency

When your energy bill goes up, you take measures. Right? Cut back, double glazing, better insulation, that sort of thing. When you're short on space, you get rid of what seems like a waste. Right? Why shouldn't this apply to our cars and traffic in general? Think about it. A lot is involved. A lot can be gained.The long-term expectations are that car ownership will increase. That means more cars on the road. 90-95 percent of all cars carry just one person, particularly during rush hours when traffic is at its worst. The SEV is narrow enough to let governments utilize the infrastructure more efficiently. The possibilities include opening up smaller -designated- lanes, allowing semi split-lane use** when freeway traffic slows down, reconfigured parking lots and space-efficient interfaces with public transportation. Many governments plan to introduce some sort of road pricing. The more eco-friendly the vehicle, the lower the tariff.

Some might label the above as far-fetched, but the same was said about electric cars not that long ago. Plenty of advantages to the user without governments right away favoring space and energy-efficient transportation, don’t you think? With its sleek and lightweight body the SEV needs less ‘building material’ to make, less energy to propel and less space to do 99% of what the old car was doing - whether the SEV is used as a first mode of transportation, second car, for long distance touring or merely for commuting or running errands. If you think about it, it may actually save the 'big car' in more than one way. It's all about having a choice. You can use the SEV for practically anything, and save-rent-borrow the ‘big car’ when you need the extra load capacity or feel the urge.

Three SEVs parked in two parking spaces. Safe boarding and exiting of the vehicle, as well as a safe departure from standstill position. Plug-in access on the SEV's rear quarter section, if applicable.
Below: VW shows us what space-efficient interfaces with public transportation may look like. Obviously, one can cram more SEVs on one floor, very much like daisy leafs. 

Once in a while something comes along that redefines the rules 
of the game and sets a whole new standard. Let’s recap

Lightweight + Low drag: the best basis for any propulsion
It's new ~ It's different ~ It's about having a choice
In a 1st or 2nd mode of transportation capacity
A new market ~ Return of an icon ~ Fashion item?
Safer and more comfortable than most hatchbacks
Lean (C2C) manufacturing potential
More efficient use of the present infrastructure
Export potential ~ Innovation spin-off *

* Start from another basis and any new technology or application may get the chance to truly shine. Think of the use of new materials, lean manufacturing technology, traffic management, on-board systems and 'connectivity', public transportation interfacing, vehicle dynamics, propulsion techniques, battery and reusable energy, road pricing, etc. Contact sevehicle@gmail.com to mail me your feedback any time.

** In fact, Cochran's law firm (yep, that's the same one who defended O.J.Simpson) stated, and I quote, "that the rear impact collision is the most common type of automobile collision with approximately 2.5 million rear impact collisions occurring each year in the U.S. Most of these accidents occur as a result of inattentiveness on the part of the rear-ending driver. One can expect these types of collisions to rise with increased use of cell phones, and other driver distraction features being added to automobiles (....) Did you know that car manufacturers are only required to design rear bumpers to handle a five-mile per hour rear collision? We all know that a significant number of rear impact collisions occur at much greater speeds. Unfortunately, many of today's bumpers are designed more to protect the car rather than the occupants."
** Vehicle dimensions in principle (but subject to change):
Length: 149.6 in (380 cm) / Width: 57.0-59.0 in (145-150 cm) / Height: 55.1 in (140 cm)
Weight (empty) dependent on construction and use of materials: 1320-1540 lb (600-700 kg)
Front track: 53.5 in (136 cm) / Rear track twin-wheels: 15.75 in (40 cm) / Wheelbase: 106.3 in (270 cm)
Wheels: 140/70 – 19 low rolling resistant tires

'Semi split-lane use': over time throughput of a typical freeway, particularly during heavy and slow traffic, can be enlarged by allowing semi split-lane use. Not by having NTV's share one lane, driving fully parallel side by side, but in an offset configuration. The one upfront driving close to the lane's left marker, the one who's trailing, close to the lane's right marker - keeping a safe distance of one vehicle length between the two NTV's, and so forth. Lane Assist (already standard in many cars) helps the driver to maintain lane position. In case of an emergency stop, NTV's would be able to slow down side by side, with ample room between the two vehicles. Lane width of European freeways and American interstates varies between 3,70-4.50 meters. Here is a picture of what the view of the NTV driving upfront seen from the 2nd NTV would be like: good visibility to what happens in front, to the left and right, as well as to the rear. 

*** If there is one thing that needs further research, then it is the issue of a stable ride and predictable rounding of the bends by a three-wheeling Narrow Track Vehicle. What is the ‘recipe’ so far for the FWD SEV with the motor in the front, regardless if it is an IC or electric motor? A combination of (1) a low center of gravity, especially with batteries, (2) control arms at the front changing the wheel geometry, forcing the SEV to lean - angle dependent on steering input (and speed) and (3) G-force dependent active damping. (4) Co-steering rear wheels operated at 40+ kph speeds may (also) be opted for. That should keep body roll in check and prevent the rear from side sweeping.
**** The SEV may (will) have wheel covers to minimize drag. A more smooth transition from the body’s rear end to its trademark rear wheel cowling (without fully integrating the last) will need further study. The streamlined (<0.20 Cw) hull is meant to combine low drag, high-speed stability, cross wind resistance and rear down-force for optimum control.

***** The global car market measures between 60 and 70 million cars sold annually. 1 out of 400 comes down to 150,000.

****** The SEV is registered with OAMI and was recognized by a distinguished jury of automotive experts as a valuable contribution at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. Unauthorized use strictly forbidden. The author’s ultimate goal: nothing less than mass-production of an affordable SEV.
The SEV is perhaps the first truly holistically designed vehicle, in the sense that all aspects are interrelated. Change one aspect and it will influence everything else. For instance, having a narrow vehicle brought about the necessity to change the seating layout. Having a low-drag body with a tapered rear end meant that it had to do away with the usual four-wheel layout. There are a few more ideas that will extend the ‘automotive horizon’ even more, the author chooses not to reveal at this time. Will be dependent on how the SEV is received (appreciated) in the first place. For more information, contact sevehicle@gmail.com

The SEV proposal also proves to be in sync with the July, 2011 issued 'European Green Cars Initiative' that literally aims for "a new generation of passenger cars (...) that will safeguard our environment and lives and ensure jobs, economic activity and competitive advantage in the global market".

PS: this presentation was put together using U.S. (English) spelling. The "EV that sparks: the S-EV" presentation for ELVA no longer applies as of Nov. 14th, 2011.