Feature A German design company has opted to mark its 40th birthday by coming up with what it believes is the car of the future.
The light touch
What's the best way to celebrate your 40th birthday - a card, a cake or a simple meal out? A German design company has opted to mark the occasion by coming up with what it believes is the car of the future. Based in Munich, EDAG was set up in 1969 to create innovative ideas and designs for the international mobility industry. To date, it has played a part in the development of the BMW Z4 M, the Mercedes CLK 63 and the Porsche 911 GT3, among others. But its current project is arguably its most ambitious, despite its less-than-catchy working title of Light Car Open Source. EDAG has already revealed graphics of the design but the car will get its official unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show. And project leader Christoph Brezansky admits he has had some sleepless nights getting it ready. "Put it this way, I've got more grey hair now than I did before," said Brezansky. "It's been stressful and busy but exciting at the same time. We're looking forward to showing off the car." EDAG first came up with the concept in April 2008 initially just to mark its birthday celebrations the following year. "We sat down and decided we wanted to do something special to mark our 40 years of existence," said Brezansky. "We decided that it was important to make a new show car. We'd already done 11 other show cars before then but wanted to take things even further this time." There is a sense of trepidation ahead of Geneva, because the last show car the German company came up with, a luxury utility vehicle, was some way off the mark. Brezansky admitted: "Our last show car was not right for that time so we decided we needed a concept car that was just right for the current time. "The idea was initially to make an alternative car for families in particular. But by August we'd completely changed the concept and moved to a much smaller version, alongside a Volkswagen Golf or Polo." The car that will be unveiled in Geneva, the company calls "the world premiere of its vision of an environment friendly, future-orientated vehicle for everyday and leisure use". Its frame will be built entirely from basalt fibre, which was first used to design Russian space shuttles, a material which the company claim will be 100 per cent recyclable. Brezansky explained the reasoning for using basalt fibre. He said: "It's not as tough as carbon fibre but it is a very strong material and it's greener. We think this material is the future for cars as it's cheaper and more recyclable. In fact, we think this is the car of the future."
The car will be completely electric. Initial plans are to use lithium-ion batteries, although Brezansky is hoping to use newer electrical technology from other partners as the project progresses. The plan is to have a prototype car on the road for next year's Geneva Motor Show, with the long-term plan to have it available for global sale by 2020, by which stage Brezansky hopes electrical technology will have moved on considerably. "At the moment, we're working with lithium batteries but we hope that will change," he said. "Now, the power reduces the distance the car can travel to about 150 kilometres, but that's still an improvement on Smart's electric car, which travels 90km, and the Mini version, which can go 120km. "We believe we can use technology to take that up to 300km, which we believe is sufficient. The way the industry is changing, the idea of cars travelling 1,000km without being topped up is going to disappear altogether. "The other issue is that electric cars are really expensive, but this is something we want to change and think we will change. In fact, we aim to put this in line cost wise with the regular Vokswagen Golf or Polo." Sticking with the electrics, the other ground-breaking aspect of the Light Car Open Source is the proposed LED system that will power its lighting and enable it to communicate with other vehicles. Every driver can adapt their car to their individual style as their needs require. "At the moment, LEDs are not legal on the roads [as they are set up on the car now], so what we're doing is quite a bold move," added Brezansky. "We're not trying to change the law just through this but believe it is something that could change. Things move forward so quickly in the motoring industry so who knows. But at the moment, this is so far away from how things are today. "But what it means is that the driver can set their lights to their exact needs in the car, which makes sense as every driver is different. "As for communicating with other vehicles, what we're talking about is using the LED technology to give cars behind a greater warning sign. "So many accidents happen by sudden braking. The car behind only ever sees the brake lights go on so there's no idea how heavily the car in front is braking. "What we're proposing is a level of lighting in which more go on the heavier the braking, enabling cars to have a better idea of the danger ahead. "We think safety-wise this is the way forward for the motoring industry. To us, it just makes sense." EDAG readily admits it cannot pull off this project by itself and has opened it up to other technology partners, hence the Open Source part of its name. Already talks are ongoing with other leading technology companies and EDAG plans to unveil the partners it will work with on making the car a reality shortly after Geneva. One thing that will need to change is the title. Brezansky refused to be drawn on possible ideas for a new name - "honestly I've been too busy to even think about that" - but readily admits a catchier title is envisaged. "At the moment, we're keeping it vague so people understand what we're doing," he added. That message is already getting across with its "Let there be light" slogan. And in an age of rising energy prices, bids to cut CO2 emissions and slash car prices, Brezansky and his EDAG team are confident they have tapped into something. "Put it this way, we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it could work," he said. "Geneva is just the first step for us and hopefully for the future of cars." firstname.lastname@example.org