Can you imagine driving a car with a cockpit like your living room, complete with swivel chairs, cabin-wide screens and electronically tinted glass to keep out the sun? How about active suspension systems that automatically adjust camber and toe according to driving conditions, along with composite inboard braking, or even wireless driving, braking and steering.
Sounds like fantasy-land? Perhaps. But it’s all being talked about right now.
In a former life, at SaabsUnited, I reported early this year on a project that Saab were participating in, one that will see a concept vehicle built and exhibited by the middle of 2013.
The following quote is from Swedish publication, Ny Teknik, a report from which was used as the basis for the SU story:
The concept car, which will be completed by summer 2013 will include solutions that make it possible to build cars 20 to 40 percent lighter than today, without making major compromises elsewhere. Last fall, Saab invited the Scandinavian suppliers to a workshop to reflect together on new solutions.
That was back in January. Today, I had the pleasure of attending the group’s second workshop, where all of the participants came together once again to share their first conceptual impressions of how the project might progress.
Let’s step back for just a moment, though, and take a look at the project in general.
The project has earned the name Så Nätt, which Saabophiles will be familiar with from the Saab Sonett sports car range. The name means “so neat”, which is one of the goals of this car. The Saab Sonett was also an exceptionally light car with a fibreglass body and lighweight two-stroke and V4 petrol engines.
There are nearly 40 participants in the project, which is acting as a kind of think-tank for future car design and collaboration. Saab is the largest of the participants and the only vehicle manufacturer. There are also around 30 different component suppliers involved, as well as 6 academic institutions and FKG, the key association for automotive suppliers here in Scandinavia. FKG represents around 350 separate suppliers here in Sweden, so a 10% representation should provide good feedback for the rest of the supplier body.
As stated in the Ny Teknik article quoted above, one of the goals of the project is to devise lightweight solutions that can bring down the weight of a car by between 20-40%. The benefits from this kind of weight loss would be significant, from emissions and fuel consumption to maneuverability, crash avoidance and handling.
That’s just one of the goals, however.
Perhaps the more important goal is to get suppliers to work together with a manufacturer to achieve this goal. The end result will be a concept car that’s sure to be an exciting vehicle to see. It’s the road map to achieving that end result that will be just as interesting, if not more interesting, to the participants in the project.
Sweden is typically made up of lower tier suppliers. Tier 1 suppliers have a much greater say in the design and composition of parts used by manufacturers. Tier 2 and 3 suppliers generally have the requirements for the components they supply spelt out for them. This project gives typically smaller suppliers a chance to have input in a product from the outset, which is a major change in the landscape they work in.
The project is divided into a number of component parts or project groups. The purpose of today’s workshop was to bring those project groups together to share what they’ve come up with in their respective areas. The project groups are:
- Front Structure
- Cockpit IP
- Floor Concept
- Polymers and Composites
- Roof structure
Each project was presented by a project leader and presentations generally featured three or four options as solutions for their project – a near-term solution, a mid-term solution and a futuristic solution.
As you can imagine, some of the futuristic solutions were quite imaginative.
How about floor structures that can extend at higher speeds to decrease drag? Or detachable front sections of a car that you can remove and upgrade (think 2007 to 2008 Saab 9-3 front upgrade with minimal hassle or cost)? Wheels/tyres that are capable of leaning over in corners like a motorcycle? Or even a three wheeler with a single wheel that can pivot 360 degrees!
There were discussions about the use of composites in new and exciting ways, as well as the use of textile materials, where appropriate, to solve weight problems where structural rigidity can be taken care of elsewhere. There was even one proposal with an Aero-X type canopy roof.
Many of the futuristic concepts were for vehicles featuring electric propulsion and some were even self-driving vehicles with the capability to brake automatically or divert the vehicle in the event of an impending accident.
The secondary goal of working together to achieve solutions was quite evident and the buzz around the room was palpable as people asked questions and explored the ideas presented even further. The next step is to extend this approach, complete the project and use the lessons learned to develop new business opportunities from the ideas that arise.
The options presented were all quite exciting and I’m looking forward to attending another workshop in the future to see how things progress.