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By Andy Russell
, Motoring editor
Saturday, October 27, 2012
From the outside it looks like a standard Lotus Evora sports coupé but the Evora 414E Hybrid is really a shop window for Lotus Engineering – putting it at the forefront of hybrid development and technology.
Part of a £19m project supported by a government Technology Strategy Board award to develop the UK supply base in the electric vehicle (EV) market in which car-makers Lotus, Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover are partners along with transmission company Xtrac and motor manufacturer Evo Electric.
Some 35 Lotus Engineering staff have been working on the 414E Hybrid research project to demonstrate hybrid technologies and capability, and take them to the next level, for two years with the Hethel company investing £2.5m which was match-funded by the government.
Tim Kearney, Lotus Engineering vehicle architect, said: “The big thing is that it shows off Lotus Engineering and how we can do hybrid technology.”
Client confidentiality means much of Lotus Engineering’s work is secret, but the 414E Hybrid project allows it to highlight its work and how it is pushing the boundaries of hybrid engineering.
The donor car was the 2+2 version of the Lotus Evora – using an existing car was a better way to showcase it as a Lotus attracts more attention to the project and it’s relatively easy to make modifications to the car and chassis to accept the electric hybrid system.
The two small back seats were removed so the battery could be fitted behind the front seats.
Lift the rear hatch and where you would see the conventional 3.5-litre V6 engine and boot space there’s a bespoke Lotus-designed and hand-built 35kW 1.2-litre, three-cylinder range-extender petrol engine, two electric traction motors each side of the automatic gearbox, four traction inverters to supply the electric power and lots of heavy-duty, high-voltage orange cables.
Unusually, the whopping 1,000 Newton metres of torque is kept balanced to each traction motor by the Lotus electronic vehicle control system, one of four controllers in the 414E with others looking after safety systems, dynamics and the range-extender petrol engine which acts as a generator to supply electric to power the motor as well as the battery, rather than a less efficient mechanical differential.
The electronic controller also means that Lotus can do future development on torque-vectoring – altering torque distribution to each side of the car, so improving dynamics and handling.
Mr Kearney pointed out that the 414E was not built to go on sale but was an investment in knowledge.
The exercise shows Lotus Engineering’s core competencies, know-how, technology breakthroughs and problem-solving in various elements of the hybrid project.
These include vehicle control and hi-tech safety measures, cooling systems for the battery and electric motors, computer simulations and potential fault scenarios carried out in test cells and on the rolling road in the semi anechoic chamber which is normally used for noise development work.
Patents have been taken out against some of the work.
Lotus Engineering has been holding briefing sessions with potential clients to outline its new expertise and skill sets and already five car manufacturers have driven the 414E.
Mr Kearney said: “Clients are coming in from all over the world and driving the car to see what Lotus Engineering has achieved.”
He said they were primarily big car companies and big brand owners.
“Companies we have worked with before, those we are currently working with and companies we have not worked with for some time. It is a calling card for us as well,” he added.
The 414E project has pushed the boundaries of hybrid technology and has very much been a case of safety first and it was more than 18 months before the hybrid car was signed off as ready to be driven on the track by Lotus test drivers.
Mr Kearney said Lotus Engineering could sell its new-found expertise from this latest hybrid project, including controllers and safety systems, to other car manufacturers to develop such vehicles and companies that make electric motors, batteries and traction inverters. Throughout this project Lotus Engineering has also played a key part in helping its suppliers grow their own knowledge, technology, engineering expertise and safety systems to meet the new demands of the automotive industry.
And Lotus Engineering’s experience of developing gearboxes, motors and clutches was applied to developing the electric motors themselves.
“That is where Lotus Engineering makes its money,” said Mr Kearney. “This shows our capability.
“We believe there is a good return.”
Lotus Engineering is also hopeful the 35kW 1.2-litre engine and a 50kW supercharged version, which run at 3,500rpm to act as generators, will prove attractive to other hybrid car-makers.
The 414E has now come to the end of the second phase, along with the government matched-funding, and now Lotus Engineering is looking to invest more than £1m on the next phase to look at further developments.
They include adaptive energy management to constantly monitor the power source of the battery and range-extender engine, configuring it to minimise CO2 and maximise performance and MPG, a bespoke touchscreen display, Halosonic sound synthesis to create external noise to alert pedestrians to the quiet electric vehicle and internal noise to add to driver enjoyment and a simulated seven-speed paddle gearshift
Simon Corbett, principal engineer of aerodynamics and thermal management systems, said the 414E shows the potential of hybrid systems.
“You can still have fun driving and get involved as a driver but you still have the top-end performance of an Evora S and have a range of 300 miles which you expect of a standard vehicle.”
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