Innovation in the green vehicle market need not be restricted to major automakers or well-funded inventors. A Romanian design team recently announced plans for a unique concept vehicle that can convert from hybrid to electric propulsion. This team includes journalist Dan Scarlat, designer Marian Cilibeanu and engineer Cristian Ionescu. The resulting SCI hyMod concept could function as an all-electric vehicle over short distances and convert to hybrid drive for longer commutes. Drivers could undergo this transformation with the help of hyMod stations equipped with tools and sensors for quick conversions. The SCI hyMod would allow drivers to avoid the difficult choice between hybrids and electric vehicles over the next generation.
The drive system used in the SCI hyMod includes a 5 kWh lithium-ion battery underneath the rear seats. A 42 kW electric motor is stationed on the front axle and used to support both driving modes. Scarlat, Cilibeanu and Ionsecu have created front and rear modules in the SCI hyMod to allow for drive system conversion at hyMod stations. The design team estimates that the SCI hyMod would cost about $32,848 per unit though changing stations and tax are not included in this estimate.
The rear module on the SCI hyMod contains all of the components necessary for hybrid drive attached to the chassis. These components include the fuel tank, cooling system and radiator as well as an 82-horsepower engine. A driver need only head to a nearby hyMod station if they wish to convert from the default all-electric mode to hybrid mode. Each station uses finely tuned lasers and sensors to guide robotic arms underneath the vehicle. The SCI hyMod concept is designed so that the station need only shift rather than remove components to speed up the conversion process. A network of hyMod stations would be necessary to accommodate drivers but the initial design is akin to battery-swapping stations used by Better Place.
Performance estimates for the SCI hyMod are split between “battery pack” and “engine pack” modes. The “battery pack” or all-electric mode combines a 17 kWh primary battery with the existing battery to achieve a per-charge range of 112 miles. The SCI hyMod in “engine pack” mode uses a gas engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) in conjunction with the electric motor for greater distance. An estimated fuel economy of 39 miles per gallon seems relatively meager compared to existing hybrid models. The designers note that the hybrid version can travel up to 373 miles before stopping for fuel.
Scarlat, Cilibeanu and Ionsecu demonstrate that the future of green vehicle design depends on innovators as much as manufacturers. The SCI hyMod is an ambitious concept that requires some infrastructure investment but allows the versatility desired by early adopters. Consumers might be initially leery of a vehicle that requires frequent conversion and features another layer of complexity compared to existing models. Concept vehicles like the SCI hyMod expose the lack of imagination in the existing green vehicle market. The design team is unlikely to get this concept on roads anytime soon but we should hope for similar creativity among the big automakers.