Electric vehicle concepts, prototypes and production models are everywhere at the moment. Enter into any discussion on the subject and you're likely to come across a few common threads, such as range anxiety, prohibitive cost and charging inconvenience. A collaborative project involving 200 assistants and students across 20 departments at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) is hoping to address many of those fears with its MUTE concept - a lightweight, sporty two-seater electric coupé designed from the ground up with three main factors in mind: efficiency, low overall cost and safety.

TUM says that its MUTE concept would be aimed at a Central European market and is the first visible prototype to result from the Science Center for Electromobility's TUM.Energy research program. The energy-efficient electric vehicle concept features some interesting innovations claimed to help keep weight down without adversely affecting driver/passenger safety, extend the vehicle's range by up to 40 percent, recover more energy from braking, and allow the vehicle to be manufactured at a cost equivalent to similar-sized combustion engine vehicles.

MUTE has a curb weight of just 500 kg (1,102 pounds), including the batteries, thanks to an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis that's said to generate very little aerodynamic drag. The vehicle features narrow tires to minimize rolling resistance and extend range, and has sporty single-wheel suspension for optimum power transmission between wheels and road.

Its 10 kWh lithium-ion battery solution (with a glass fiber reinforced housing to protect the battery pack in the event of a crash) is said to give the vehicle's electronically limited 15kW, L7E-certified electric motor enough juice for a range of at least a 100 km (62 miles) and a top speed of 120 km/h (74.5 mph). Charging is reported to take 3 to 4 hours at 230V, but MUTE also benefits from a 4 kWh zinc-air range extender located at the front of the vehicle.

The TUM researchers also incorporated a specially-developed active torque vectoring differential drive that's said to offer excellent driving performance in spite of the relatively small electric power system. A small electric motor in the differential functions as both a motor and generator to distribute optimum power to the two rear wheels. One benefit of MUTE's torque vectoring technology is its ability to recover up to twice as much energy during braking compared to vehicles operating without the system.

User interface elements like a navigation system that chooses the route based on energy-efficiency, and indicates the location of nearby charging stations, and infotainment outlets like radio are brought together into a centrally-positioned touchpad control. The vehicle can also cater for server-based mobile services such as allowing a user to check the status of charging via a smartphone.

Other notable features of this electric city car concept include air-conditioning which heats the inside of the vehicle via a carbon neutral, ethanol-powered heater during colder months, an electronic stability program (ESP) system, crash elements made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic, and LED strip daytime running lights to complement the energy-efficient LED main lights.

The project is also looking into the potential of semi-autonomous driving, where a driver externally controls the vehicle with the aid of onboard video streams and a wireless link.

The MUTE team has developed a strategy for mass production, which should see the vehicle competing in the same price range as its combustion engine cousins. A prototype model was recently showcased at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

We'll be keeping a close watch on future developments, and will keep you updated on MUTE's progress towards commercial availability.

View gallery - 7 images