Resources

Rinspeed, www.rinspeed.com

For a video of iChange, got to tinyurl.com/265ttk

Crowds at this year’s Geneva Auto Show got a treat. Swiss automotive designer Frank Rinderknecht and his Rinspeed firm displayed their concept car, iChange. The car is a looker with a serious point: It shows how attractive the face of environmentally friendly motoring can be. It took Rinderknecht and his team of top-notch engineers just six months to design and build iChange.

The sleek, teardrop-shaped car can morph from a one-seat sports car to a three-person sedan; granted, though, it is an unconventional sedan. For example, there are no doors. Instead, the driver uses an Apple iPhone to open the domed roof, which tilts forward enough to let passengers climb in.

A domed roof is one of the vehicle’s most innovative features. It rises and falls on its rear mounting, changing the angle of the smooth roof and the aerodynamics of the car. When iChange is configured for just the driver, sensors in the car detect speed and wind conditions, feeding the data to a controller that continually adjusts the roof angle for the most efficient aerodynamics.

To carry passengers, the driver again uses an iPhone, this time to reconfigure the car so the roof cants up as high as it can go, making room for two back-seat passengers. Once the passengers are dropped off, the driver can instantly switch back to the more-efficient single-passenger mode.

Emission-free power comes from a Siemens electric motor that generates 150 kW, or a little over 200 hp. It can accelerate the 2,310-lb car from 0 to 60 mph in under 4 sec and then to a top speed of almost 140 mph. The motor mates to a six-speed gearbox from a Subaru WRX.

Lithium-ion battery packs supply the electricity, and the vehicle can carry up to three of them, depending on the length of the trip. With three of the 567-V packs, the car travels about 55 miles. Packs take approximately 3 hr to recharge.

The roof is also covered top and sides with solar panels. They generate enough electricity to keep a small fan turning. The fan keeps the interior of the iChange comfortable on hot sunny days. Any additional power goes to recharge the lithium battery pack(s).

Electric motors don’t generate enough heat to warm the interior, a must for cars conceived in Switzerland. To give the car options, the designer developed two different heaters — one for short hauls and one for longer trips.

The smaller electric heater is 99% efficient and emission-free. And despite its compact footprint (228 × 167 × 36 mm), it puts out 5.6 kW of heat.

The larger heater burns E-85, a gas/ethanol blend equipped with a catalytic converter. The device is 84% efficient and burns about 0.43 liters/hr. The car carries a 3.5-liter E-85 fuel tank.

Even the car’s navigation system is touted as environmentally conscious. Its 3D display is said to show the most energy-efficient route to a destination.

“The iChange is a symbol for the fundamental changes the auto industry is undergoing worldwide,” says Rinderknecht. “And it is clear that only those companies that have innovative answers for the demands of this new automotive era will survive.”