Renovo updates its electric Shelby with Nvidia-powered cockpit

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The Renovo Coupe at CES 2015 (Photo: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)

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California startup Renovo Motors showed off the ageless Shelby body and electric powertrain of its Renovo Coupe at last year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, but it waited until this year's CES to open up the doors to the car's high-tech interior. Now that it has, it's put together all the pieces of an authentically-bodied Shelby with 500-hp electric powertrain and cutting-edge Nvidia Tegra X1-powered infotainment system ... a strange but alluring combination if ever there was one.

While the Renovo Coupe from last year had a more traditional interior layout, with analog gauges and toggle switches, the Renovo Coupe from CES packs nearly as much digital display space as the Volkswagen Golf R Touch. Its center stack is filled with an 11.6-in touchscreen that's basically an infotainment tablet, while the all-digital instrument panel packs a set of brightly-lit gauges. Behind those screens is Nvidia's recently revealed Tegra X1, a mobile super chip that offers a full teraflop of computing power.

In preparing for CES, Renovo used Nvidia's DRIVE Studio software to design the digital cockpit. The HMI design software tool chain and runtime engine was developed specifically for designing instrument clusters and infotainment systems.

"In a few short weeks, design teams at Renovo and Nvidia created a beautiful, functional cockpit concept, showcasing the flexibility of Nvidia DRIVE Studio and the power of our new Tegra X1 super chip," said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at Nvidia. "DRIVE Studio enables carmakers to easily create a wide range of exquisite designs for in-vehicle systems and ultimately enable customers to personalize their own vehicle interiors."

You'd be forgiven for scratching your head while trying to wrap it around the idea of a factory-built Shelby CSX9000 stuffed with bleeding edge technology like supercomputers and electric motors. We'd been staring inquisitively at the Renovo Coupe since last August, and the CES appearance left us more dumbfounded than ever. Renovo's co-founder and chief technical officer Jason Stinson clarified that the car's duality is at the heart of the company's playbook.

"What we tried to do is marry this classic, timeless look with modern technology. On the exterior, we have this timeless, classic body, Peter Brock design, and then we made it with what we think is the world's most technologically advanced drivetrain," Stinson explained. "In the interior, we don't have a ton of cup holders, we don't have a lot of distraction, but we then have this insane teraflop-level compute platform that we think is going to offer just some really amazing interfacing and experience for our customers."

With production not planned until later this year, Renovo will continue refining the interior design. When we pointed out the obvious – what's up with the flat-faced central display? – Stinson stressed that it's still a work in progress.

"I wouldn't disagree with you that it's a little flat," he said. "Certainly, that'll be one of the things, as we go into production, figuring out what the right angle is. Should it be tilted toward the driver, should we use a curved screen, what should that display ultimately look like?"

We can't imagine that upright screen won't give way to something more ergonomic. Beyond that type of clean-up, Renovo sees an opportunity to further leverage the digital technology toward creating a more engaging driving experience.

"One of the things we're excited about, that base level platform offers things like driver's assist, you can do multiple displays," Stinson says. "We're all Silicon Valley guys; we think in terms of video games, and you look at Gran Turismo, and how it helps you go around the track. This system with the compute platform and the vision that's available to it, we could do that inside the car and have the car itself basically help you go around the track."

Stinson wasn't ready to answer the question of what specific types of driver-assist technologies the finalized Coupe might include, but Nvidia used CES to show what its Tegra X1-powered DRIVE PX system is capable of. DRIVE PX uses dual X1s and up to 12 high-resolution cameras to give the vehicle surround vision. The chipmaker demonstrated how a driver could use the system for smartphone-activated autonomous parking.

Beyond its high-tech driver's area, the Coupe is a performance-forward piece of machinery equipped with twin sequential axial flux motors that fire out up to 500 hp and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. A 740-volt lithium-ion battery powers those motors, and the car can sprint from 0 to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in a mere 3.4 seconds, topping out at 120 mph (193 km/h).

The car at CES was Renovo's last validation prototype, and the company plans to get the first cars into customer hands by the end of the year. As you might imagine, a high-tech electric sports car with state-of-the-art electronics and Shelby body shell and chassis won't come cheap – US$529,000 of not cheap. The company hasn't decided if the X1 digital infotainment system will be standard equipment or available as an upgrade.

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