Canadian Green Car Design

2008 will be the year that everything changed for car design. There will be a before 08 and after, before green technology and after, history is writing itself as we speak. One of the most significant, and moving phenomenon of this year is the sheer number of people, designers and engineers, who have decided to ‘do’ something about the vicious polluting cycle that cars, and everything connected to their production, create. Abandoning all corporate ties these entrepreneurs are driving solo, taking their dream of a better world into their own hands.

We have seen it over and over, from big-wigs like ex-BMW Henrik Fisker of FiskerAutomotive and ex-Pininfarina Ken Okuyama of Ken Okuyama Cars, to garage enthusiasts, to a vast list of small, often family-run, businesses that are trying to make a change and make money at the same time. It is rare, however, to find a man on a mission quite like Martin Aubé – his dream is to build a Canadian automotive design icon in the form of a long-range electric vehicle. Aubé is refreshing. He is not a car designer, he is not an engineer…he is an industrial designer specialized in aeronautics. He worked quite happily at Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) for 16 years designing snowmobiles, Atv's, 3 wheelers and jet boats and left them in 2004 when the company was bought out. It was time to make a difference, time to move on. However, BRP left a distinctive mark on Aubé in the form of pride for Canadian design. As he founded his company, L’Unité Creative based in Quebec, he embarked on a project that was perhaps ahead of its time, ’04-’05, and only now is seeing the light of day, codename: Hinterland1.

Motor = AC 14 kW continuous, 43 kW maximum

Battery = Li-ion or Zebra, specific energy = 37,200 Wh Top speed = 110 km/hr

Acceleration = 0-60 km/hr in 7 seconds

Range = 100 kilometres or 2 hours (2005 spec)

“The Hinterland1 project is a vehicle design, development and production project, national in scope and using innovative technology to market an affordable yet environmentally friendly car that meets the needs of the people.”

When you read the press release for Hinterland1 a big bold phrase stands out from the rest. Aubé states that this design could make a significant statement for green-transportation and cause a “paradigm-shift” in the car industry. WOW! A bit arrogant? Not really, when we asked what he meant by this he explained that the design has an architecture specific to electric drive and that by using other manufacturing techniques and materials than those used in the car industry they can set themselves apart and propose a better way of making cars, at least green cars that is. Unlike the trend driven vehicles churned out today by big car manufacturers worldwide Hinterland1’s design was strictly to be devoid of obsolescence, it should not be replaced for aesthetic reasons but rather be based on ‘clean, innovative lines that will never go out of style’. The big idea is that this mono-van could serve both as a private mode of transport or part of a public transport system.

So lets get technical. Hinterland1 is designed on the principle that form follows technology. A monocoque body was used as the crux of the vehicle’s design because it could be made using a hydroforming process. This process could be applied economically to the making of low-volume vehicles. Instead of using costly tooling used to make today’s cars hydroforming uses one negative mould at the bottom of a pool of water on which equal pressure is applied. It not only allows for the production of dramatic shapes but allows the sheet metal to match the shape of the mould perfectly resulting in more uniform thickness and more precise dimensions. The Hinterland1 would have to be made from aluminum reinforced with skin-stringer panels and stamped and extruded aluminum parts to maintain the lightness and recyclability of the concept.

In the driving seat is an electric motor with an integrated harmonic drive and electronic controller with state-of-the-art batteries such as Saft, Panasonic, or Kokam Li-ion. Zebra batteries were also given consideration because the nickel/salt electrode and ceramic electrolyte can provide over 100km in range, or about 2 hours of driving, but their costs is not economical.

Voilá Hinterland1! The name was taken from German, yet also used in French, to express a feeling about a “place untouched by man”, much like a lot of Canada, and resumes the spirit of the project…an electric vehicle from Canada. Aubé’s home city of Quebec and its surroundings have suffered economically from the downturn in the automotive industry with factories closing and rising unemployment. Adding concerns and global warming to the equation only pushed him more to make a difference.

The design is pure and simple. Forms move around the cylindrical monocoque defining areas of use, the wheel-arches, the glasshouse, the door, the front end and rear. Even the semi-circular shape of the rear window is honest; the overall design is true to and follows its construction. Like a bus or a train wagon the package for Hinterland1 is designed according to its function; six seats with equal access, enough room to almost stand up, open-plan seating, and aerodynamics. The latter is of particular importance. Should the Hinterland1 ever be manufactured the aim would be to have a drag coefficient of less than .25 (as a reference the Ford Escape Hybrid is .40, the Toyota Prius is .26, and the Aptera Motors Typ-1 is .11). In its simplicity it has a very distinctive shape, an easily recognizable contour, much like a good logo. When the US patent was made submitted for this vehicle Mr. Buckminster Fuller is mentioned as no doubt his Dymaxion car inspired Hinterland1’s cylindrical body. Aubé's aspirations are that Hinterlad1 could, in time, become a recognizable icon, much like a London black cab.

Through their design process and alternative thinking The Creative Unit (L’Unité Creative) have hit upon a very green equation. Much like we try to source our food locally to reduce our carbon footprint they have sourced locally to save the planet and themselves. By adapting to manufacturing technologies readily available in the area, creating a low-volume short-distance transporter that can accommodate 6 people (check how many people are in the car next to you!), and by using electricity and recycled/recyclable materials they have developed a template for what should be the car industry’s model given today’s environmental issues. Yes, perhaps the design is a love/hate thing, and if you read people’s reactions online you would be forgiven if you feel embarrassed that there is a bit of controversy going on, but the concept is fueled by positive motivation. Hinterland1 is a bit weird because it's different, it's a bit bold because of it's package, it's a bit naïve because its local, but it's a lot of fun because it's interesting!

Martin Aubé is the CEO of The Creative Unit Inc, based in Quebec, Canada.  Clients include: Volvo-Prevost, Nova, Kimpex, and Camoplast. They are working with Higgins-Aubé to design a sports electric vehicle: Energya, a 3-wheel motomobile will be featured here soon. Aubé teaches Transportation Design at L'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)