Mobility is a challenging concept in Africa. Rugged terrain and a lack of infrastructure make moving goods by land difficult, which is why some countries like Rwanda are turning to drones in search of a better way. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have been working on a more conventional solution, but one that could prove just as valuable to remote communities by offering a low-cost, modular and emission-free vehicle built to handle rough terrain.
The all-wheel-drive aCar was built primarily to move passengers and cargo, with seating for two and a total load capacity of one ton (2,200 lb/998 kg). In Africa, this could mean helping farmers transport their produce to urban centers for sale, for example, and also improving access to things like health care and education.
"With the aCar we have developed a mobility concept that can solve these problems," explains professor Markus Lienkamp, head of the TUM Chair of Automotive Technology. "The aCar is an off-road capable vehicle that is affordable for people there and is capable of transporting heavy loads. The modular structure also allows other uses for example for water treatment."
The modular capabilities of the aCar relate to cargo bed, which can be adapted to serve different functions. So it could, for example, be turned into a mobile physician's office or a water treatment station. The battery meanwhile could also be used as a mobile power source or to power large devices like a winch.
With a 20 kWh battery onboard, the aCar has an electric range of 80 km (50 mi) and a top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph). It can be charged in seven hours from a regular 220 V wall socket, while solar modules mounted on the roof can collect energy throughout the day to keep it running for longer.
Last month, the team took the aCar prototype from Germany to Ghana, to see how it stood up under the tough local conditions. This involved having locals drive the car and observing its performance under higher temperatures and air humidity.
"It spent six weeks in a container on its way there, we unloaded it, switched it on and it functioned perfectly all the way to the last day of testing," says Sascha Koberstaedt. "We gathered a lot of data which we now have to evaluate, but we can already say that the aCar fulfills all the necessary requirements and has even exceeded our expectations."
The team aims to bring the cost for each aCar to below €10,000 (US$11,800). For the initial prototypes, it had to import high-tech components like batteries and electric motors, but these will eventually be manufactured more cheaply on location, which will have the added benefit of strengthening local economies.
With the first prototype passing its initial road tests with flying colors, the team is now preparing to present a new prototype with an emphasis on clear and modern design to keep production costs low. It is also working on further optimizing weight and the electrical systems, and has started a company called Evum Motors GmbH, which it hopes will soon start series production at a factory Europe.
"We'll have to master all the technical procedures before the car can be made in Africa," says Koberstaedt. "Then we can train people from Africa who can in turn pass on their knowledge there."
The new prototype of the aCar will be on show at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt between September 12 and 15.