Automotive

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

Pilot production begins for el...
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.
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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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us.
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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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.
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its unique ability to park upright as a space saver
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its unique ability to park upright as a space saver
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its ability to float - an amphibious version is in the design phase
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its ability to float - an amphibious version is in the design phase
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
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," said Ballard.
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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," said Ballard.
View gallery - 15 images

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.

One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its ability to float - an amphibious version is in the design phase
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us demonstrates its ability to float - an amphibious version is in the design phase

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).

One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us
One of the first batch of pilot production Spira4us

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," said Ballard.
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," said Ballard.

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

View gallery - 15 images
24 comments
mhpr262
Quote: "The US$9000 electric version [...] with the additional motor fitted to the other rear wheel ..." Does that mean that the gas version and the version with only one electric motor have only one powered rear wheel? I find that hard to believe, it would drive like crap.
owlbeyou
The design is quirky and too bad it only seats one, but give this concept an autonomous self-driving capability and we can have something that is quite efficient, effective and environmentally friendly. And no issues about using your cell phone or tablet while on the way to work, (or even eating your breakfast)---totally stress free. If enough of them eventually use the highways, they can have exclusive use of their own skinny express lanes too! This would minimize the potential problem of sharing the roads with conventional cars.
Jeff Goldstein
I have never been a fan of electric cars as currently available but this makes a lot of sense as a second or third family car for around town for families in the suburbs. It could be used to drive to the train station or to the supermarket. If it was expanded to hold 2 or 3 it could be used to take a child to school. I would love to see them for sale here in the US. With 3 wheels it would be classed as a motorcycle so it wouldn't need the expensive and heavy mandatory safety equipment that cars need.
b2p
Pretty neat little vehicle! I would really like to have a back window for visibility. Additional structure at the rear would protect expensive wheels, axles, brakes from damage in a low speed rear or rear quarter impact. In fact, since the vehicle has a bulky look, why not put another bulky foam barrier at the rear to absorb a rear end impact? Hopefully there is adequate roll over structure also as the three wheel stance will not be as resistant to rollover as a wider 4 wheel stance is. As this will be sold in Asia I am quite sure that in short order the roof will be cut off so the whole family can pile aboard.
Pat Kelley
The Elio three wheeler, planned for hitting the roads this Summer, is head and shoulders a better buy for the American market. The Elio will have all of the features expected of an auto, including air conditioning, seats two, has a 90 mph top speed, delivers 84 mpg highway and 48 mpg city driving, and is priced at under $7,000.
Sam Helmy
The only benefit that comes clearly across with this vehicle is the immense fuel economy. Other than that, it is not able to show the point: US$5000 is NOT hyper-economical for a three wheel scooter, there are well designed safe full-on hatchbacks that are around that price. Toyota's new Atkinson engine delivers 78 mpg fitted into a proper car (just 2 miles per gallon less than the Spira4u), and the Tata Nano wins the pricing war with a retail tag as low as US$2000. This is a bubble-car. BMW's Isetta achieved the same mileage back in 1955 (3 liters/100kms, or 78 mpg). So what's the point of the last 70 years? It doesn't have a reverse gear, it seats one, it goes hardly above highway legal speed, and it has the stability of... well... a three-wheeler. Same problems that killed the earlier bubble cars. The concept has been around and failed definitively. Everything else about the honeycomb chassis and the foam panels that may help it float are gimmicks that cannot salvage a bad idea.
hdm
This should be the norm. nobody requires the sheet metal on the road today. there should be one machine, dedicated to fuel efficiency and conservation/safety. no need for many different car companies making status symbols... travel isn't an expression of your inner 'you'..it's about getting a to b. a better world would treat travel as such...and eliminate the overlap of so many ridiculous car companies. YOu get enjoyment out of burning fuel? You are pathetic.
Paul Anthony
Did I miss the top speed with 2 motors?
Nicolas Zart
Reverse the Spiral4U into two wheels in the front and a motorized one behind, and you have a super great handling vehicle that will put to shame $30,000 to 40,000 cars.
Jon Smith
Wow hdm do you realize how many motorsports enthusiasts (myself included) you just insulted? Despite being an motorsports enthusiast I am also an environmental enthusiast I put about double the mileage on my bicycles than I do on my ultra low emission motor vehicle each year. That includes commuting 6 miles each way by bike everyday this week where the temperature in Wisconsin has been in the negative numbers. So forgive if I think you are the pathetic one... Anyway what I really wanted to post was a request for pictures of the interior of the Spira4u as the exterior was well covered but there isn't a single shot of the interior.