Pilot production begins for electric- and gas-powered honeycomb-composite Spira4u

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We first drove the Spira4u in its first prototype form six years ago and we were mightily impressed. Conceived as a low cost (both to manufacture and run), hyper-economical vehicle to mitigate the world's 1.25 million road deaths each year, the Spira4u went on to become a finalist in the Automotive XPrize. It was never intended to run against the world's biggest universities and brightest minds – it was always intended for production. Now it's there and seeking to license its design across the globe.

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UPDATED January, 11, 2015 Automotive XPrize finalist Spira4u has begun pilot production in China of both an electric and a gas-powered version of its distinctive and hyper-economical three-wheeler. The above picture shows six 10 kW electric and six fuel-injected 150 cc Spira4us being prepared for shipping. The car-scooter three-wheeler has finished emission testing to meet United States EPA requirements and approval is expected within a month.

The electric version weighs in at around 236 kg (520 lb) and the gas (internal combustion engine) version weighs around 200 kg (440 lb) while both versions share the same honeycomb composite chassis and a body made of fiberglass with recyclable lightweight foam body panels. It's the same shape as it was six years ago but the entire construction of the Spira4u has been rethought with new construction techniques and newly available composites.

The Spira4u's soft foam body panels are something quite unusual in the automotive space – it means that a parking lot touch by another vehicle does insignificant damage, with the outer layer being up to 8 inches thick at the front and four inches thick on the sides and rear. The shock absorption qualities of the EPP foam make it much safer in an accident but primarily make up the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle and give it another unique attribute amongst roadgoing vehicles – it floats. Indeed, such is the buoyancy of the vehicle with its composite honeycomb and foam structure that a lightweight amphibious version is under development.

The US$5000 gas-powered version uses a fuel-injected, 150 cc Chinese Wangye motorcycle engine with automatic transmission which gives the vehicle a top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph) and economy of 2.94 l/100km (80 mpg), delivering a 320 km (200 mile) range from the 9.5 liter (2.5 gallon) gas tank.

The US$9000 electric version uses either one or two 10 kW (13.4 hp) motors with the additional motor fitted to the other rear wheel at an additional cost of US$1500. With one motor fitted, the vehicle has a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph).

With two motors and a total power of 20 kW (26.8 hp), the lightweight Spira4u is understandably very fast. "We've modified the programming of the controller so that it doesn't spin up the wheels from standstill," says Spira4u's Lon Ballard, "but everything can be changed and we're also happy to share the controller program with the buyers so that they can tweak it to their liking."

With one 10 kW motor and the standard 72 amp battery pack, the Spira4u's range is approximately 115 kilometers (70 miles), though an additional battery pack can be fitted at a cost of around US$3500, which will double the range to 230 kilometers (140 miles).

The electric Spira4u comes with several advantages over the gas-powered version, most significant of which is that it has a reverse gear and a rear-facing camera, while the gas version has neither.

A big issue with most electric vehicles is charging. The Spira4u plugs into any normal household 15 amp 110v or 220v power point and fully charges in two to four hours. Charging is simplified with light weight and smaller battery packs. Spira4u will also be showing its new removable battery pack option at the NAIAS (Detroit Auto show) enabling instant "refueling" (quick switching), or the battery pack can be taken into your apartment/condo/house/office for recharging.

Apart from the tiller steering, the controls of the production Spira4u function primarily like those of an automobile, with the foot brake operating all the three disc brakes and a foot-operated gas pedal.

There are some interesting benefits of the Spira4u for apartment dwellers and those with restricted parking space at home or work. The light weight of the Spira4u means that the front of the vehicle is easily picked up, and a special pad is being built into the back of the vehicle so that it can be parked upright. "We've found that we can fit eight Spira4us in a single parking spot by parking them that way," says Ballard.

The Spira4u will be shown at the NAIAS show in Detroit next week where Ballard is hoping to find potential dealers in the United States and manufacturing licensees around the world.

Spira is seeking to partner with experienced manufacturers and is seeking rapid promotion of the design globally by seeking a very low royalty fee of 1 to 2 percent (a standard royalty fee is usually around 3 percent according to Ballard), and only then on componentry designed by Spira.

"We are seeking manufacturers to expand production globally using local components incorporated into new light, safe vehicles meeting local design and production requirements," says Ballard.

Product page: Spira4u

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