XP Vehicles is ready to launch a new development in the automobile industry designed to reinvent the basics of car design. Its model, the Mini Utility Vehicle (MUV), is a battery/fuel-cell hybrid that utilizes new technology in an attempt to improve safety, reduce costs, and increase its range as an electric car (see the figure).
The MUV relies on its power-to-weight ratio as well as its endless hot-swap energy storage array, which XP believes set it apart in the auto industry, to achieve its efficiency. The physics of pressure pneumatics allows the MUV to endure crashes without incurring serious damage, says the company.
Besides its crash-resistance, XP contends that its new MUV is also bulletproof, thanks to its use of modern ceramics, Kevlar, and vectran-type materials in layers. In the near future, XP will carry out a test “shoot-out” with SWAT officers and AK-47 assault rifles to compare the durability of a traditional steel door with that of an MUV, which will be seen on the Internet and television.
In addition to its strength, the MUV also weighs much less than regular cars made of steel. According to XP, an MUV’s door, created from nano-tech material, has the ability to diminish the crash impact because of its flexible and lightweight nature. Unlike the steel used today in many cars, the company asserts that nano-tech fabric can move and increase passenger safety through its combination of strength and tolerance.
Some of the features of the MUV, as stated by XP, make it easy to avoid the auto shop. The vehicle has a battery-powered electric drive train and a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to extend battery range while driving. XP believes this car will have no need for an extension cord, since it has a removable power pack that can be recharged at home. The MUV also features solid-state non-pressurized hydrogen storage cassettes, and they are rechargeable using a home generator or can be swapped while driving.
Aerospace technology, such as an inflatable membrane construction for added durability, also plays a role in the construction. In addition, the seats, dashboard, and body have already-deployed airbags inside them that give the car enhanced higher-speed crash safety, according to XP’s team. There is no steering column in this car; instead, the MUV includes an end-to-end shock tubing system. An interactive video dashboard and an optional energy-creating skin are two other features of the prototype.
The MUV will have a base price of $20,000, which makes it an affordable option for consumers, according to the company. XP has accomplished this goal by using pressure membrane materials, allowing the company to create the MUV with up to 70% less parts than a standard car. With its simplified assembly, XP contends that the manufacturing time for an MUV is much shorter than that of a typical car, resulting in lower costs for both the company and the consumer.
XP has taken advantage of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Incentive Program (ATVM) to obtain government funding for its efforts. This program, created in 2007 by the Department of Energy (DOE), was designed to give loans and grants to automobile and automobile part manufacturers to cover the cost of re-equipping, expanding, or opening manufacturing facilities in the United States to generate advanced technology vehicles or qualified components, as well as for related engineering integration costs.
XP, an ATVM loan applicant, has recently learned that its application is almost complete, which makes the company among the first to receive this news. The company applied in November 2008 for a $40 million commercial loan, which led to a seven-month review by the federal government. U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has lent his support to XP, requesting that funds from ATVM are donated to XP “as fast as possible.” Besides this program, XP has also inquired about other loan and grant opportunities and is looking into investor options.
XP Vehicles has offered a challenge to all other electric car companies to outdo its metrics, but it has not yet had any contenders. The company, almost 12 years in the making, is an off-shoot of Clever Industries LLC. Its mission is to develop the safest, most affordable vehicle with the lowest total cost of operation (TCO) and the best power-to-weight ratio driven by alternative energy.
For XP, the economic downturn has diminished its investor opportunities but at the same time has drastically reduced its competition within the field. As for the future, the company sees the industry turning towards boutique automobile firms with more outsourced manufacturing. In the current economy, however, XP wants its “vehicles of change” to inject hope into the new auto industry and create the largest number of American jobs possible. XP hopes to have its prototype finished in 2009, and the volume production stage is expected to begin in 2010.