Axon takes 100mpg wonder car for a spin
Carbon auto has half CO2 emissions
It's just a car. it's called Axon, and it's just a car. It has a petrol engine, four wheels. So why is it supposed to be the greenest breakthrough in the automotive sector?
"Because it can do 100 miles to the gallon with less than half the CO2 emissions of an average car," said Steven Cousins, the founder of Axon.
Axon Automotive, a new British car company – no seriously - has built its first model out of carbon fibre. The engine is made of metal, yes, but almost everything else is carbon: The chassis, the structure, even the body.
Axon's pitch to investors, here at the St John's Innovation day in Cambridge, is pretty simple: Tooling.
"Massive tooling costs are the main problem we're solving. Tooling costs of a new design steel car are around £100m," Axon founder Steve Cousins told financiers. "We're a fraction of that, which is why we can get started with quite small production runs."
The engine is innovative, of course, but it's someone else's bright idea - a two-cylinder, 500 cc block, and tiny, at 26 kg. It was designed by Ptech in Norfolk, and it's pretty high-tech, for all that. If something goes wrong, you send the engine to Norfolk, where they read the built-in black box, discover what the fault was, and send you a new one back while they fix the old one.
"We took a different approach to improving energy efficiency – which normally focuses on different fuels – by marrying the best of old and new technology to create a lightweight, aerodynamic car that is also recycleable," said Cousins.
"There is lots of inefficiency built into a standard car, and the two main sources are the weight of the vehicle and relatively poor aerodynamics, both of which we have addressed.
"Because manufacturers have responded to public concerns by changing energy sources we have seen electric and hybrid cars emerge. But this has led to cars becoming heavier and more consumptive than is necessary," he said.
So the car is recycleable. Previously, carbon fibre wasn't thought of as good for recycling, but Cousins thinks they've cracked that.
And the upholstery? It's recycled already. Presumably by standing outside Canary Wharf and collecting Lehman execs cast-offs, they've made the seat covers from old pin-stripe suits and jeans.
Let's hope they get better publicity in the future than their only headline so far, which was the sad story of how they called the company CoreTex (pun on brain design and carbon tech) and had the name "stolen" by a large American corporation.
"We came up with the name Axon," he says. "It has a similar brain connotation - to do with nerve endings. We're also very proud of being a British firm, and Axon is an amalgamation of Anglo-Saxon."
The first cars should appear on the road in 2010, and should cost £10,500 – and should reach 85 mph top. It's all in the shape, apparently.
"As well as massively reducing weight, we have also designed the overall shape of the car to be highly aerodynamic. The most obvious features we have introduced are the wheel arch covers to prevent turbulence around the wheels, but detailed changes over the whole of the body have contributed to class-leading drag reduction."
The process for manufacturing structural beams from carbon-fibre was described as "unique", and naturally Axon has protected its intellectual property with a collection of international patents.
Prior to founding Axon, Steven Cousins was a professor at Cranfield University, where he researched low-carbon vehicles at the Honda Eco-Technology Centre. Axon spun-out of the university in 2006, and one of its first projects was to turn recycled carbon fibre jet fighter wings into car bodywork components. "This was a world first for automotive components," says Cousins. ®
Axon Picture Gallery
The Citroën ID and DS also had covered wheels. It's not unique to Citroën and not a recent development - spats for rear wheels were a popular design element in the 1930s. The HP suspension also helped with wheel changing.
Every point you can imagine has been made above, but the one I always make is:
Mk II Golf GTi 8v. 1980s (70s, really) tech. Seats 5. 0-60 in 8.5 seconds, 115-121mph top speed.
46mpg. Not "quoted", not "best", but the average I got in my 1989 model. I got 52mpg driving it for economy. And that's not the most aerodynamic car, or particularly light for the time (though it seems positively flyweight now).
I'd like to see a Citroën BX with a suitable diesel; perhaps the new 1.6 110 HDi - and MORE use of plastics, perhaps front wings, aluminium doorskins, and the like. Correctly geared that would probably come close to 80mpg, and unlike the Axon would be capable of seating 5 people and delivering reasonable performance.
One of our cars is an A-class, and I can never understand why Mercedes didn't make that final jump, using the sandwich floor for batteries, and perhaps using more lightweight panels (the front wings, and perhaps the tailgate, are plastic. I'm not sure about the tailgate, but it's a common part to be made of materials other than metal. The packaging is brilliant, the concept sound, but they seem reluctant to do the last bit to make it a genuinely useful city car (quite aside from the fact that a hybrid drive, with CVT and electric motor, would be infinitely better than their automatic gearbox options).
Re: Photos and wheel arch covers
The wheel arch cover is nothing new, they had those on the old Citroën CX more than 30 years ago. But they had the advantage of having a removable section so it wasn't completely impossible to change a tyre/wheel on the back. Except it was really tricky if the car's hydro-pneumatic suspension had depressurised either due to failure or just settling after parking, which made the car 'hunker down' on it's haunches. Try changing the tyre on one when that happened.
Bigger is usually not better
Safety is a real concern, given the unorthodox design and materials. Still, the folks saying small cars are less safe are simply misinformed. Here in the US at least, most Honda & Saturn sedans had safety records rivalling the big, heavy gas-hogs from Volvo, last time I checked. And of course, no SUV comes close.
Polo part 2
"The Polo gets around this, and lowers it's emmisions figgures, by installing a filter on the exhaust. This is not much different to the carbon capture schemes (or storing nuclear waste for that matter) as it just stores the crap to be dealt with later."
This is rubbish. The 'crap' that is removed by a particulate filter is soot particles which are a health hazard in the air because of their small size. Trapped in a filter they're no hazard whatever - if the filter doesn't actually burn them off to a tiny bit of extra CO2 during operation, which many types do. The filter does not lower CO2 emissions, it actually increases them slightly. You make it sound as if the Polo is somehow cheating to achieve its MPG figure.
The official mpg figure of your car is 88mpg, fine that's close to 100mpg. Except you reckon that on a long run, when cars are generally at their most efficient, you can only achieve 70mpg. So effectively your exemption from VED is under false pretentions. Surely VAG are commiting something akin to fraud here?
Manufacturer's official mpg figures are notorious for being somewhere on the high side. Things are supposed to have improved recently but I've seen no evidence of this. There are notable exceptions, I used to run a little Daihatsu with official mpg figures of about 60mpg and when driving gently I could get almost 70mpg out of a full tank, not a single long journey but a full weeks mixed driving. Diesel Daihatsu's tend to make those figures look pretty silly.
Instantaneous MPG means nothing, after all many modern cars cut fuelling completely on the overrun so will be achieving infinite mpg at those times. So the instantaneous mpg for your Polo are pretty poor by the standards of, say, a perfectly ordinary Nissan Micra.
My concern about this car is nothing to do with it's fueld efficiency, more to do with the environmental impact of the car itself. What is the environmental impact of manufacturing all that carbon fibre and what is the environmental impact of recycling it?
It always concerns me that recycling itself is assumed to be environmentally friendly, yet there is no consideration of the environmental impact of the recycling process. Take for example the process of recycling glass. These days bottles are smashed up and melted down to make new bottles. In the old days you returned your bottle, got 2p for your troubles, and it was checked, cleaned and reused. The old process was much better for the environment, but the modern system probably makes more money for big business. Too much of our supposedly green society is about political spin and making money for business and actually has little consideration for the environment.