Tata’s EV Gains Attention


In the week where the top news would be test driving Tesla’s Model S at its Fremont California hub, a new EV has remained under the radar and has turned heads by its design and technology.

The EV is the Tata EMO concept or the Electric Mobility Study. Here, the unveiling had no pomp and pageantry but was an austere and serious affair in a parking lot in a suburb at northern Detroit. The EMO includes a notional motor drive system and not the production unit yet, just so it can be moved on and off the stage.

According to Peter Davis, Design Chief at Tata Technologies, a subsidiary of Indian giant Tata Group, “The EMO was built as a kind of calling card.” The company’s offices in Singapore, United Kingdom, Novi and Pune, both in India worked together to provide engineering and design services to carmakers and other manufacturers. The EMO project was headed by the Indian hubs of the firm while Davis has a long resume with General Motors and Fiat design teams. He was ably assisted by Nikunj Jain, based out of Novi, and works as a designer for Tata Technologies.

The EMO is a great departure from the design philosophies of Tesla, Nissan and Ford. Even its marketing strategy is very different, as it targets the lower echelon or bare bones market that need a low priced electric vehicle. While the other carmakers target the top or at least the middle market, the projected price for this EV would be around U.S. $20,000 before applying the federal incentives.

Davis underscores though that EMO is not an electrified Nano, the people’s car from Tata Motors. This vehicle platform has enjoyed limited success in the American market, with much of the publicity focused on Tata’s ownership of luxury brand Jaguar Land Rover.

The goal of the EMO was to provide the maximum amount of interior space compared to the overall car’s footprint. The projected performance of the four door super mini would be at sixty five mph with a range ability of a hundred miles. Engineers boast that when the EMO would be tested by the EPA, it would easily top current 112 mpg efficiency registered by the Mitsubishi iMev.

The design involves a steep angular frontage with headlights giving the feel of being part wasp and part cobra. It was first unveiled last January at the Detroit Auto Show where the design was featured in the Michelin Challenge Design program. The design of the body and chassis was expected to meet American and European safety standards but that did not say if it was production ready. Davis said, “If we put it in production, we would refine the aero.”

To maximize the space, the team had made unconventional compromises, such as the rear doors that open front to rear, providing access to the back where seats can be folded for cargo space. The nearly vertical rear does not have a hatch, but just a single fixed polycarbonate panel integrating taillights and other electronics. For the driver, the windshield is steeply angled with clearance of just half an inch from the driver’s head. This may be modified at production but the same provide visibility in all directions.

Another design was the windshield wiper that park at the A pillars of the windshield, making the hood simpler in design. All in all, the company has identified about fifteen possible patents from the EMO’s overall design.

The cabin has a floating center console like what Volvos have with many interior options available for the future owners. Furthermore, the design of the EMO was an exercise in fiscal responsibility and cost management. Davis further adds, “The first thing, we did was get rid of the paint shop.” This means that the company would use integrally colored or powder coated composite panels, making curb weight to just a little over 1,000 kilograms. The pinnacle of the cost management is making the battery costs to forty percent of the total vehicle cost of production.

It is expected that this approach would become more viable as battery prices decline over time. They take inspiration from the experience of the microprocessor for PCs in the 1980’s where prices plummeted over the improvement of the technology.

To reduce battery power demand, the designers used narrow LED strips instead of standard headlights. As this requires cooling, the designers put in a channel for airflow, creating a clawlike shape, earning the monicker “the lobster claw”. The wheels though, appeared to be a marriage of the Hindu deity Shiva’s arms and art noveau representations of electric sparks.

The Detroit Hybrid Electric Car Show

some cars at zero pollution
some cars at zero pollution

Automakers now have to contend with increasing fuel economy standards and government regulations and as a response, more and more hybrids and electric cars have been showcased in the latest Detroit Auto Show currently underway.

Despite analysts’ expectations that the hybrid market would grow significantly in 2012, the main drawbacks continue to be the lower pump prices for gasoline and higher purchase cost for these kinds of vehicles. The automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Ford Motor, and others, continue to build and market hybrids and other plug-in vehicles.

Electric and hybrid cars cost several thousand more than internal combustion engines. BMW said that the ActiveHybrid 5 would be priced at $8,700 above the gas-fueled 535i. For GM, the Volt costs double compared to the Cruze, after the federal tax credit application.

While consumers are able to recover their costs for purchasing alternative fuel vehicles within a year, the lower gas prices has extended that recovery to more years. Another drawback is that the shortages in batteries and other important parts held back sales last year.

According to Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan said, “We have a bottleneck with the batteries.” He added that he is expecting supplies to increase as their flagship Leaf goes online in markets in the United States. The electric car and battery arrays would start to be built in Tennessee, United States.

Ghosn further adds, “A lot of consumers are thrilled that they have the option of buying an electric car. We sold 9,700 the first year. We can double that. I am much more optimistic on the prospects for electric cars than many people. We are very, very far from our potential.”

As for GM, the carmaker is planning to sell 45,000 Volts in 2012 even if they fell short of their 10,000-unit target for the previous year. GM’s CEO, Daniel F. Akerson said that the company would build as many Volts as the demanded by the market. He said, “We’re going to match production with demand. There are new variables in the equation, so we’ll see.”

Toyota for its part would unveil its Prius C, a smaller version of the most popular hybrid in history, the Prius. The original Prius sales dipped 3.2 percent last year mainly due to the disasters in Japan. The company is also making available the Prius V this fall and the plug-in Prius this spring season with unveiling of a hybrid plug-in concept named the NS4 while Lexus, the company’s premium brand would be unveiling a hybrid sports coupe concept.

Other carmakers also had their own versions. For Honda, its upscale Acura brand unveiled two hybrid versions, namely the ILX and the NSX. These vehicles would be built in its new Ohio plant. For Volkswagen, the Jetta model would unveil its hybrid version while Mercedes would also unveil two E-class hybrids. These German hybrids would not be available in the United States. Volvo would also have its very own hybrid plug-in concept.