Clever car built for the street and narrow
Tuesday April 25, 2006
Only Fools and Horses, the genre has something of a reputation to live
down. But yesterday engineers unveiled a machine which may redress the
balance - a three-wheeled car which at a metre wide is designed to help
the commuter squeeze through the narrowest of gaps and nip into the
tiniest of parking spaces.
Funded by the EU, built partly in the UK, and backed by BMW, it is
being trumpeted as more environmentally friendly than the average
vehicle, because it runs on compressed natural gas; in contrast to Sir
Clive's effort and to some other modern microcars, its designers have
been at pains to make it look sleek and nippy and ensure it appeals to
The car, called Clever (for compact low emission vehicle for urban
transport - and a possible swipe at the Smart car brand) was launched
at Bath University, one of the centres behind the three-year project.
Its developers hope to see it on the streets of London, Paris and Rome
within five years at a purchase price of as little as £5,000.
Until now the car has been tested in secret at an RAF base in Wiltshire
but yesterday it was put through its paces in the university's car
park. The most striking feature is the way the chassis tilts like a
motorcycle as the vehicle goes around a corner. The tilt system,
designed by the engineers at Bath, is controlled electronically to make
sure the car is balanced at all speeds. The driver does not have to
lean as on a motorcycle - he or she simply turns the wheel and the car
works out how far it needs to tilt. One of the engineers, Ben Drew,
said: "The main problem was finding a way of making sure such a narrow
car did not overturn as it went round corners. The tilt system does
that. It also makes it really fun to drive."
The designers say it combines the convenience and fun of a motorbike
with the safety and dryness of a car. Unlike many other attempts to
create a small vehicle for the commuter, the body is enclosed in an
aluminium frame and plastic coating.
BMW is thinking of producing the Clever car if, as is expected, the EU
insists that carmakers produce a quota of green cars to counter the
effect of the gas guzzlers. The vehicle emits about a third as much
carbon dioxide as conventional family cars, with fuel consumption
equivalent to 108mpg. It has a top speed of 60mph and takes seven
seconds to get from 0-40mph. It can carry one passenger in a seat
behind the driver.
Geraint Owen, a lecturer in the department of mechanical engineering at
Bath, said: "A lot of work has been done on the impact these cars would
have if they took off in various European cities. Our towns are getting
more and more congested and unpleasant and we believe they would be
improved by vehicles like this."
While the Clever vehicle is interesting there is what I feel a much more
practical approach by a company in Oregon. This is also a three-wheeled, but
three passenger vehicle with a CNG approach as well. However, I've talked
with the people on this project at great length and have come to know the
concept designer quite well. He's no slouch when it comes to this sort of
thing a design engineer on the moon rover vehicle the US sent to the moon
many years ago. Believe it or not he has a "method" patent on the CNG
compression unit which comes with each vehicle. One problem has been the
length of time it takes to refuel CNG vehicles using a compression appliance
at your home. This guy came up with a compressor that takes natural gas from
the source at your house and puts 2-1/2 to 3-gallons per hour in the fuel
tanks (there's two in each vehicle) running off an ordinary 120-volt outlet.
Cost: about 60 to 70 cents per gallon, an in a vehicle that is suppose to
get 70 miles per gallon. Harley Davidson in a way paved the road for this
vehicle since it is licensed as a motorcycle instead of a car. That way they
avoid all the expensive crash testing, etc. Even in California, a state
where you need a special license to pilot a motorcycle, the rules change
since it is three wheels, not two, and you don't need a helmet since the
vehicle comes with a removable hardtop. Interesting indeed. While this
indeed sound like a pitch for the vehicle it really does bear looking at.
Their site is www.eco-fueler.com.
Motorsforum.com is a website by car enthusiasts for car enthusiasts. It is not affiliated with any of the car or spare part manufacturers or car dealers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.