Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Chevrolet Volt: architecture and technique

Architecture and technique

Starting with a quick look at the design. In the side profile just check how the front overhang is small. This is usually an attribute of luxury longitudinal engine RWD cars. And yet the Volt is a FWD car… however, the E-flex platform allows evolutionary changes in the architecture like this one. The electric engine is placed very low and the small ICE engine is placed behind it, in front of the firewall. This arrangement makes for a lot of free space in the front for radiators (also very small because of the size of the ICE) and in the end you can make the car with very short front overhang. Other benefits of the current E-flex architecture include more space for crash absorbing structures and an easier implementation of pedestrian safety measures because there are much less hard points under the hood.

More good stuff in this architecture: having the ICE placed behind the front wheels and all those batteries sitting low in the center of the vehicle make for outstanding weight distribution, very low center of gravity and a bigger wheelbase for the same vehicle length. This means making an humble FWD with most (if not better) attributes of a RWD car, something impossible in the current paradigm of vehicle architecture.

Another significant note: the ICE is decoupled from the electric engine. Imagine what one can do with that: ICE in the front and electric in the rear wheels, two electric engines for AWD and the ICE in front, ICE and electric together but in the middle for a mid-engine roadster, 2 electrics+ICE and batteries under the platform for a SUV… And when the in-wheel electric engine reaches maturity one can have a truly revolutionary architecture change.

Finally a quick look at the underpinnings. There’s a wonderful real-car feel to it. You don’s see exotic materials (these were used but in the body of the concept), you see stampings, sheetmetal and familiar parts (the rear suspension looks like the one in the Opel Astra). The overall message is: “this is for real, this is meant to go for production…”

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