In a minor break from the norm, Rob Marshall heads stateside, to examine the latest new car tech innovations at the consumer technology association event in Las Vegas.
CITROËN AMI – SIMPLE EV TECH…
According to Auto Trader, the electric car is increasing the gap between budget and wealthy motorists, because most interest in them stems from households earning at least £75,000. This finding is also echoed in North America. EVs are expensive, due mainly to the costly technology that underpins them. Ironically, it could be argued that the high cost of motoring restricts personal freedoms, especially among teenagers.
With a well-established history of bringing personal transport to the masses, Citroën is at it again. It sees low-tech micro- mobility as a potential alternative to public transport, a category that plugs the gap between motorcycles and motorcars. It would be easy to criticise the resultant AMI quadricycle as being slower, less safe and considerably less capable than a type-approved car, because, well, it is. Ami is slow (28mph top speed), is exempt from the same crash safety legislation as a car and its 46 miles range and 8bhp motor are hardly cutting edge.
At least the Ami is affordable. UK prices are expected to be around £6,000 and the battery can be recharged from a domestic 13-Amp socket in only three hours. Fourteen year-olds can drive it legally in France, although the British yoof will have to wait a further two years for their coming of age. With no need to comply with strict safety legislation, the stylists have been freed to focus on reducing production costs, minimising exterior dimensions, optimising interior packaging and maximising personalisation opportunities. For instance, the front wings, doors bumpers, windows, rear quarter panels and undertrays are symmetrical and, therefore, interchangeable. The firm is also keen to highlight Ami’s customisation options as an advantage over its competitors, especially Renault’s Twizy. A variety of off-the- shelf adhesive stickers can be ordered from Citroën and it is expected that buyers will be able to upload their own designs, something that may interest businesses. With the standard vehicle and its load-carrying sister, the AMI Cargo, are expected to go on UK sale later this spring, AT knows of one garage that is planning to use one as a promotional courtesy car.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE 4XE – PLUG IN HYBRID TECHNOLOGY…
With CES being held in North America, the new owner of Jeep, Stellantis, highlighted the Grand Cherokee’s first Plug-In Hybrid technology to its domestic market. Called ‘4xe’, (pronounced “four-by-eee”) the running gear produces 375 horsepower, 637 Nm of torque and can manage 25 electric-only miles.
It combines two electric motors and a 400-volt battery pack with a 2.0-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The inline-four GDI engine features a twin-scroll, low-inertia turbocharger, mounted to the cylinder head. Interestingly, the HVAC air conditioning compressor is powered by the high- voltage system and the circuit is employed to manage battery temperature. The conventional alternator is replaced with a liquid-cooled starter/generator, which provides a useful torque boost as well as carrying out the stop-start function.
A larger, high-voltage motor/generator e-motor is mounted within the transmission, replacing the torque converter. Two wet clutches control the torque flow between the e-motor and engine. An additional clutch is mounted between the engine and the e-motor. When the system operates in electric-only mode, the clutch is open, meaning that there is no mechanical connection between the engine and the e-motor. When the clutch is closed, combined torque from the 2.0-litre engine and e-motor passes through the automatic transmission.
The 400-volts, 17-kWh battery and the combined battery charger, AC/DC converter and Power Inverter Module are all mounted beneath the floor pan, protected from physical damage by skid plates. Interestingly, Stellantis says that the high-voltage electrics are sealed and waterproof, allowing the Jeep Grand Cherokee to wade through water up to a 61cm depth.
BMW IX – E INK…
BMW also showcased a means of altering a vehicle’s exterior appearance but the German method is a little more sophisticated than the Citroën’s individual adhesive stickers. E Ink comprises one large sticker – known otherwise as a wrap, applied to all of the outer panels. Obviously, wraps are available already but this technology is different. When stimulated by electrical current, the electrophoretic technology brings different pigments to the wrap surface, varying the hue between black and white. Therefore, E Ink has the potential for drivers to change the panel shades, whenever they like.
BMW says that adjusting the shade increases EV range. A lighter one helps to keep the interior cool on a sunny day, reducing the need for power-sapping air conditioning, whereas a darker shade is beneficial for heat retention. The company reports that E Ink is extremely energy efficient, because the electrophoretic technology needs no energy to keep the chosen state constant. Current flows only during the short colour changing phase.
The electrophoretic shading uses the same technology as that used in eReader displays. The surface coating on the wrap incorporates millions of negatively charged white and positively charged black pigments, each of which possessing a diameter equivalent to that of a human hair. Stimulating them with an electrical field causes either the white, or the black, pigments to collect at the surface of the microcapsule, giving the car body the desired shade.
Achieving this effect on a vehicle body involves many laser cut segments to be integrated on the wrap, which are designed to reflect the panel contours. Laser cutting technologies guarantee high precision for each segment. Once the power supply for the electrical field is connected, the whole vehicle is heated to complete the installation.
TOGG – TRANSITION CONCEPT SMART DEVICE…
The Turkish tech start-up, Togg, introduced itself to the world at the CES, by unveiling its Transition Concept Smart Device, known otherwise as a show car. The company certainly has ambitions, by aiming to produce one million EVs by 2030, comprising five models that share the same basic underpinnings. No technical details of the CES show car are available, although its handsome styling is reported to have been penned by Pininfarina. It is unclear whether, or not, this car (or a close derivative) is scheduled for production.
Togg sees itself as a technology brand and is partnering with Ava Labs to launch secure mobility services, powered by smart contracts, using blockchain database infrastructure. It views its navigation system as intermodal, meaning that a ‘user’ can select different modes of transport in any one journey. As an example, a smart device (known to you and me as ‘a car’) can be parked at a pre-booked EV charging bay and the journey can be completed with a pre-booked e-scooter and then, a ride-hailing service (presumably Togg means a taxi). All of this can be paid for and booked through one service. Whether users will accept the inconvenience remains to be seen.
Of more interest to technicians is that the vehicle maintenance and parts replacement history will be included in a report stored on the blockchain database, which cannot be changed. Togg argues that this will result in a reliable second-hand market, because it will not be possible to tamper with the records. Presumably, therefore, it will not be possible to correct human errors, either…