Is it just a clever 3-D projection or maybe a mirage of a four-wheel art object? Or is it actually a real car sitting there? Some visitors to this year’s Geneva Auto Show (March 8th thru 18th) will ask themselves just these questions when faced with the new fully transparent Rinspeed creation “eXasis.” The insect-like body and even the floor pan of the seemingly “glass” concept car from the renowned Swiss powerhouse for new designs and ideas actually consist of a transparent high-tech plastic with a tinge of pale yellow.
The “eXasis” has open wheels, a cigar-shaped body with fore and aft tandem seating, and has elements of the legendary Auto Union race cars from the first half of the last century combined with a modern Baja-1000 off-road vehicle.
The transparency “dematerializes” the car to a large extent. Behind the seemingly fading matter the spirit of the “eXasis” reveals itself: The ideas, thoughts and imagination that were the basis of its development. For Rinspeed boss Frank M. Rinderknecht the “eXasis” symbolizes this development process, a process that takes immaterial spirit and turns it into matter, transforms a mere vision into a concrete car: “And in all its transparency the “eXasis” still seems as if it hadn’t arrived fully yet in the material world.”
Definitely part of the material world is the engine of the concept car: A compact and powerful two-cylinder 750-cc engine provides some 150 environmentally friendly horsepower for swift conveyance. Bioethanol that reduces CO2 emissions powers the tiny supercharged engine. With a projected vehicle weight of just 750 kilograms thanks to plastic lightweight construction each horsepower has to account for just five kilograms - on a level with a Porsche.
Altogether these figures give plenty of reasons to expect of loads of driving fun and numerous visionary technologies and innovations from Rinspeed’s “eXasis.” A very special thrill will be the view through the transparent floor pan - it will be an absolutely unique anniversary ride.
In fact, the illustrations could only hint at what Swiss automotive visionary Frank M. Rinderknecht had thought up in collaboration with the experts from Bayer MaterialScience AG – one of the largest plastics producers in the world – to mark his company’s 30th anniversary: a drivable "glass" car with a completely transparent body and floor made of Makrolon®. Once again, this Rinspeed creation has been built by the Swiss engineering specialists Esoro, and will be shown to the public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show (March 8-18, 2007), 40 years after Bayer presented the first "all-plastic car" at the K67 Plastics Fair in Germany in 1967.
"Everyone who sees the eXasis for the first time raves about the glass car, but they actually mean our transparent high-tech plastic," says Ian Paterson, the member of the Bayer MaterialScience Board of Management responsible for Innovation, describing the typical reaction to the prototype. "Many people only talk about innovation. We do it, in conjunction with our partners." In fact, nearly all the Bayer MaterialScience business units were involved in the development of the concept car, providing products such as surface coatings and polyurethanes (for molding tools). but it was the plastics experts from BMS with their Makrolon® polycarbonate who were responsible for the transparency of the eXasis. Frank M. Rinderknecht: "In this ethereal transparency, the true spirit of the eXasis becomes visible. An abstract idea becomes material, visions become a tangible car. Yet the eXasis still doesn’t seem to have quite arrived in our material world."
So is it just a clever 3D projection, a fata morgana or perhaps a four-wheel ‘objet d’art’? In any case, the third vehicle to emerge from the cooperation between the two companies differs fundamentally from the other two: the futuristic-looking "Senso" and the pure-blooded "zaZen" sports car. The eXasis is a completely new development, in other words it is not based on a production-line vehicle. The insect-like, shiny yellow body with the exposed wheels looks like a mix of the legendary Auto-Union racing cars from the first half of the last century and an off-road vehicle, offering room for two people, one behind the other. The reinterpretation of the frequently cited cigar form is crowned in the "sexy" rear section with an attractively integrated ventilator and a superb matching, highly polished Remus exhaust muffler. And the transparency also provides an unrestricted view of the compact 2-cylinder 750 ccm Weber engine, which, very unusually, sits above the transmission.
The eXasis is a real eye-catcher with nothing to hide. The outer Makrolon® shell, molded by the Swiss firm Mecaplex and coated with a tinge of yellow by the German hard coatings specialist, KRD, reveals the vehicle’s load-bearing aluminum chassis. The chassis looks as if it has been cut from a solid piece of material, and in fact the bulkheads are. Despite this, the entire construction exudes a sense of lightness like bamboo, underlined by a Lesonal chrome effect finish based on Bayer MaterialScience’s Desmodur® and Desmophen®. To finish the surfaces of the knobs and levers, the Bayer experts came up with a special soft-feel coating based on waterborne binders - their sole aim being to pamper the eyes and hands of the driver.
The two occupants sit in special seats designed in cooperation with Recaro. Each seat consists of twelve transparent Makrolon® ribs – the same number as a human being has. The head restraint and armrests are made of transparent Technogel®. The Hightex/Sellner Group, which is specialized in interior design, was responsible not only for the futuristic seat coverings and the design of the fabric-covered steering wheel, it has also added a number of other stylish highlights. One example is the innovative application of aluminized glass fiber material with a diamond-shape design on the wheel rims, trim, wishbones, fuel tank and headlamps.
The two transparent indicator and function displays are an absolute delight, both technically and optically. They seem to hover on both sides in the driver’s field of vision. By touching them, various functions can be displayed and controlled. Each of the touch-panels is made of a transparent CD/DVD Makrolon® blank that has been coated with electrically conductive Baytron® from H.C. Starck to trigger the switch functions. The displays were developed by the Swiss safety and closure system specialists, Kaba. The personalized access system to the car is also be integrated in the touch panels.
The "eXasis" is powered by an extremely lightweight, 150 bhp Weber engine driven by CO2-emission-reducing bioethanol. In view of the fact that the car weighs only 750 kg because of its lightweight plastic construction, one horsepower has to shift only 5 kg – and that is about the same as a very nippy Porsche.
Rinspeed was also able to persuade some state-owned companies and government departments to become involved in the eXasis project. The fuel is provided by Alcosuisse, the profit center of the Swiss Alcohol Board, while the Swiss Federal Office of Energy has chosen the eXasis to take part in a study on the subject of lightweight construction and ecology. More information on bioethanol and Germany’s first fuel station brand for environmentally friendly fuels can be found on the Internet at biofuel24.de.
To transfer all this power to the road, the KW chassis specialists have accommodated the tailor-made spring and shock absorber units vertically in the front in the partition wall and horizontally at the rear. The tires are Pirelli’s 22-inch High-Performance P Zero, mounted on forged five-spoke wheels manufactured by the German wheel maker, AEZ. Here too, attention to detail is evident: the wheels are decorated with transparent "inlays" of Makrolon® that look like small windows.
Despite the attractive sweeping contours that blend smoothly into the car’s transparency, the eXasis is ‘edgy’ and definitely has a character of its own. But everybody who has the pleasure of driving it is agreed on one thing: glancing down through the transparent floor while the car is moving gives a very special kind of thrill…