A city car with a semi-amphibious ability sounds like a bit of a misnomer, but for the residents of Bangkok in recent years, it could have been a true lifesaver. Created by a small Japanese company called FOMM (First One Mile Mobility), the Concept One vehicle is designed for Thailand's high flood risk areas. Gizmag has been following Concept One's progress since it was announced earlier this year and we were recently invited to take a closer look.
The inspiration for Concept One and the formation of FOMM came from its CEO, Hideo Tsurumaki. After the tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the possibility that other coastal towns in Japan would be hit by a Tsunami became a very real possibility. Hideo Tsurumaki's hometown is located in a danger area, so he formulated had a dream the idea of a small car that could float out of flooded areas and "swim" to safety.
Creating the ideal amphibious vehicle is not as easy task, as it involves making numerous compromises on whether your vehicle should be geared towards roving the land or skimming the sea. Hideo's vision was to optimize the vehicle for land use, so much so that in the true sense it is not strictly an amphibious vehicle – i.e. its movement on water is limited, but it does float.
"Its amphibious ability is only there for emergency situations, which could mean the difference between life and death", he told Gizmag, further explaining that maintenance is required after use in floods and any water submersion.
Hideo's dream started to become a reality just after the formation of FOMM in February 2013. Foreseeing problems with entry into the fledgling Micro Mobility Vehicle in Japan, FOMM switched its market attentions from Japan to Thailand.
This switch of direction did initiate a few changes to the original idea. The biggest change was that the original two seat capacity was increased to four by adding a rear bench. Such an addition was a relatively easy design change to make, as all the driver controls are mounted on a handle bar type steering control. The result is a vehicle that with enough room for four adults despite its compact size, as Gizmag found out during our brief ride around their test area.
Hideo's plan is to market the Concept One to city dwellers that live in flood threatened areas as a potentially life saving vehicle. As there are no foot controls and entry and exit is very good through the sliding side doors, it may also appeal to the elderly market. The commercial market is also a possibility, as the rear seats can be replaced with a cargo platform, it would give local governments an extra edge in times of flooding or in the rainy season.
Concept One is driven both on the land and in the water by its two front wheels, each being fitted with an in-wheel 5 kW electric motor. Based on his experience working for Toyota on the Coms EV project, Hideo says he chose front wheel drive because rear wheel drive vehicles tend to lock up and skid in wet and slippery conditions under full re-gen braking as weight is transferred forward.
To get the maneuverability required for an urban vehicle, it was also decided to have in-wheel motors as against a single front motor and drive shafts. The drawback of this mechanical arrangement, Hideo concedes, is that it has made the vehicle a little more expensive and complex that he would have liked.
In the water, the Concept One's propulsion comes from both the tire tread and the wheels themselves. When rotating at high speed the front wheels act like impellers to generate some movement. The wheel "blades" are reversed on the other side of the car, so that as the front wheels spin forward, the left wheel and the right wheel are both drawing the water in, so acting like an impeller and moving the car forward. This process is reversed when the wheels are spun backwards. Steering in water is also via the front wheels, which change the direction of the thrust and so the direction of the vehicle.
Water testing of Concept One is still in its early stages and, if costs and efficiency can be kept in-check, a four wheel drive system may also being considered.
The Concept One design is expected to have a range – on land – of around 100 km (62 mi) and a top speed of 50 km/h (31 mph). It weighs 460 kg (1014 lb) and is made of plastic, both injection molded or vacuumed formed, that covers a tubular space frame.
FOMM is currently in the process of constructing its second prototype and there will be a number of changes made to move it closer to a production ready vehicle. These include replacing the front perspex windshield with a glass unit, which will also require the addition of two extra A pillars. At the rear, an opening hatch will be added which will provide an emergency escape when waterborne. As mentioned, four-wheel drive may also be fitted to improve speed in the water and egress from water to land. The company says that if these changes can successfully implemented, production could start in late 2015.
Hideo Tsurumaki sees Concept One as a starting point for FOMM in its mission to produce new mobility solutions – Gizmag will be keeping a keen eye on developments.