Keeping fossil fuel alive with an 89-mpg microcar?

With automakers such as Tesla already selling reliable, fast, and quick-charging electric vehicles, and numerous companies moving closer to launching mass produced hydrogen cars, the industry makes small but firm steps toward phasing out fossil fuels. Sure, it won’t happen anytime soon, but the number of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles could decrease dramatically in a couple of decades. This a scenario that frightens many gas companies, including Shell, which has just unveiled a concept car that aims to prove fossil fuels can still be used efficiently with backing from the right technology.

Developed from Gordon Murray’s (yes, it’s the same man that designed the bonkers McLaren F1) T25 city carof 2010, Shell’s microcar revives the "bubble car" concept of the 1950s. It’s small and light as a feather, but unlike the BMW Isetta, it was built using modern materials and promises to return outstanding fuel economy.

Although the vehicle is still in its conceptual phase and plans for a production model have yet to be revealed, Shell believes that its new microcar will revolutionize transportation.

"This is a significant automobile engineering milestone. I’m very proud of what Shell’s scientists and their partners at Geo Technology and Gordon Murray Design have achieved. Insights gained from this project could be transformational in terms of how we address energy use in the road transport sector. Energy use and climate change are major issues for society. This project shows that if we use the best of today’s technology, including cutting edge lubricants science, we could potentially have a major impact on energy use and reduce CO2 emissions," said Mark Gainsborough, executive vice president of Shell.

It remains to be seen whether Shell’s concept car will make it into production and make an impact on the industry, but until the oil company releases further details, we will have a closer look at what we already know about this modern Isetta.

Continue reading to learn more about the Shell Concept Car.

  • 2016 Shell Concept Car
  • Year:
    2016
  • Engine:
    inline-3
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    43
  • 0-60 time:
    15.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    70 mph
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:

Exterior

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution Exterior
- image 673639

Design-wise, Shell’s microcar is obviously an evolution of Gordon Murray’s T.25 design. The overall shape and size are similar, but the new vehicle was redesigned aerodynamically in order to reduce drag as much as possible. The front fascia has smooth, rounded contours and the headlamps are completely integrated into the body. The wheels are covered by aerodynamic caps usually seen on cars attempting speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, while the conventional side mirrors have been replaced by cameras. The rear wheels are hidden underneath the fenders, also to reduce drag.

Shell's new concept is a new take on the "tall and narrow" look introduced by 1950s microcars and adopted by Japanese kei cars in the 1980s

All told, Shell’s new concept is a new take on the "tall and narrow" look introduced by 1950s microcars and adopted by Japanese kei cars in the 1980s, but much to Murray’s credit, it’s far from ugly for a vehicle that was designed with aerodynamics in mind.

Styling aside, the Shell Concept Car is as modern as they get as far as construction goes. The body is made from recycled carbon-fiber, which means it can be assembled for a quarter of the price of a conventional steel vehicle, while many components were created using 3D printing. It’s also very light, tipping the scales at only 550 kg (1,213 pounds). What’s more, the entire car can be fully recycled at the end of its life, which can’t be said about most products on the market today.

Interior

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution Interior
- image 673638

Despite its diminutive exterior, the Shell Concept Car can provide seating for three people thanks to its seating arrangement with the driver in the center of the cockpit and two passenger seats behind. If this layout sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same Gordon Murray introduced it in the McLaren F1 supercar in 1992.

The interior is obviously simple by design with a tiny dashboard and a handful of buttons and switches at the driver’s disposal. Behind the three-spoke steering wheel lies a display using a modified version of Shell’s Drive App, which provides the driver with real time information on the vehicles performance and fuel efficiency. The main screen is flanked by two smaller displays that receive images from the cameras that act as side mirrors.

The lower section of the cockpit is made from exposed carbon-fiber, a feature that will probably make the production model pretty expensive

The lower section of the cockpit is made from exposed carbon-fiber, a feature that will probably make the production model pretty expensive unless the lightweight material doesn’t become cheaper in the near future.

Not surprisingly, given the car’s exterior dimensions, the cabin looks cramped and rather uncomfortable for long drives. That shouldn’t be an issue though, as Shell’s microcar isn’t the kind of vehicle you’d spend a lot of time in, especially since it has no actual trunk. I guess there is enough room for some groceries if you go shopping with just one passenger in the rear seats.

Drivetrain

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution Exterior
- image 673641
These figures were achieved at speeds of 45 mph and with bespoke lubricants provided by Shell.

The Shell microcar gets its juice from a tiny three-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 43 horsepower. The company doesn’t provide many details about the powerplant, but it’s probably related to the unit Gordon Murray built for the T.25. The three-pot is mounted behind the seats and moves the vehicle from 0 to 62 in 15.8 seconds and up to a top speed of 70 mph. Granted, that’s far from impressive, but this car wasn’t built with performance in mind. It’s the fuel economy department that’s supposed to be impressed with a consumption of 89.1 U.S. mpg (107 U.K. mpg / 2.64 liters per 100 km). Carbon-dioxide emissions are rated at 4.67 grams per km, which is significantly lower than typical petrol-powered city cars and hybrid vehicles. These figures were achieved at speeds of 45 mph and with bespoke lubricants provided by Shell.

The gas company says it used a bespoke engine oil based on its Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology that minimizes friction within the engine. The special oil reportedly reduced CO2 emissions by 7.1 percent, but Shell doesn’t say what impact it had on fuel economy. The three-cylinder engine also received special attention, with Geo Technology optimizing it by redesigning many of the components associated with friction.

So, is Shell’s 89-mpg fuel economy as impressive as the company’s wants it to sound? Well, it really depends on what you compare it with. The new Smart ForTwo, for instance, returns up to 39 mpg, which makes this microcar quite the deal. On the other hand, the Volkswagen XL1, a hybrid using a three-cylinder turbodiesel and an electric motor, is said to return up to 260 mpg when using both sources and up to 120 mpg on diesel power alone. It’s probably not best example given the recent Dieselgate scandal, but it’s proof that hybrids can be significantly more efficient than the most energy-saving gasoline engine ever built.

Conclusion

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution Exterior
- image 673637

The Shell Concept Car is a daring project in an era where most automakers are looking to improve their fuel economy and reduce carbon footprint by developing electric, hybrid, and hydrogen cars. It might seem like a desperate attempt from an oil company to keep fossil fuel alive, but the fact that Shell worked with Gordon Murray and integrated a few innovative ideas into the concept gives it some credibility. Granted, the concept looks good on paper and its 89-mpg rating is nothing to sneeze at, but Shell’s microcar won’t matter unless it is followed by a an equally efficient production car with an affordable price tag. With performance-oriented EVs like the Tesla Model 3 set to cost less than $30,000 after incentives, a gasoline-powered microcar that costs more than $10,000 is doomed to fail no matter how much carbon-fiber it has in its body.

  • Leave it
    • Cramped, spartan interior
    • Just a concept
    • Production car could be expensive

Press Release

Shell has today (22 April 2016) unveiled a concept city car which, if it were ever to go into production, could deliver material reductions in energy use in the road transport sector. The three seater car is tangible proof of energy efficiency improvements that can be achieved by using cutting edge technology available today through a process of “co-engineering” whereby vehicle body, engine design and lubricants are all created together.

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution Exterior
- image 673641

Independent testing and a rigorous life-cycle study shows that Shell’s Concept Car would deliver a 34% reduction in primary energy use over its entire lifecycle when compared to a typical city car available in the UK. The Shell Concept Car would use around half the energy required to build and run than a typical small family car available in the UK and 69% less than that of a typical sports utility vehicle available in the UK

The Shell Concept Car is a total rethink of the Gordon Murray Design T.25 city car produced in 2010 for which Shell produced a prototype oil to improve the vehicle’s energy efficiency. The new car is the result of a co- engineering collaboration between world leading vehicle, engine and lubricant designers, with each of the three elements of the vehicle tailored to work optimally with each other. It takes a holistic view on energy reduction focusing on design material selection; reduced energy demand via aggressive downsizing, and streamlining while enhancing the efficiency of energy delivery through innovative engine design and lubricant formulation to minimise the impact in terms of overall energy lifecycle use.

The car’s gasoline consumption has been measured using a range of vehicle testing protocols covering both steady state and urban driving styles. Sample test results include a steady state consumption of 107 miles per gallon [2.64Litres per 100km] [38km/Litres] [89.1 miles per gallon US] at 70kmph/45mph and an improvement of 4.67g CO2/km on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) from the use of bespoke lubricants, equivalent to a 5% improvement in fuel efficiency compared to standard lubricants available in the UK.

Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice-President of Shell’s global lubricants businesses which backed the project said, “This is a significant automobile engineering milestone. I’m very proud of what Shell’s scientists and their partners at Geo Technology and Gordon Murray Design have achieved. Insights gained from this project could be transformational in terms of how we address energy use in the road transport sector. Energy use and climate change are major issues for society. This project shows that if we use the best of today’s technology, including cutting edge lubricants science, we could potentially have a major impact on energy use and reduce CO2 emissions. The improvement in economy derived from the collaborative design of engine and lubricant is impressive and highlights the enormous benefits achieved from close relationships between design partners. It also shows the powerful role that lubricants can potentially play in helping achieve CO2 reduction targets.”

2016 Shell Concept Car High Resolution
- image 673642

The Shell Concept Car was independently tested at a UK certified automotive testing facility alongside a range of other cars under comparable conditions to measure fuel economy and CO2 emissions. In the formal NEDC test the Shell Concept Car produced lower CO2 emissions than both a typical petrol-powered city car (28%) and a hybrid car (32%).

Shell provided all the fluids for the car, specially ‘designing’ the motor oil to complement and enhance the overall efficiency of the vehicle, principally by minimising friction. Shell’s Lubricants technology team created bespoke engine oil, based on its premium product Shell Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology. In parallel, engine guru Osamu Goto’s group at Geo Technology optimised the three cylinder petrol engine by re-designing and optimising many of the internal engine components associated with friction. On the cold portion of the NEDC, these fluids reduced CO2 emissions by 7.1% and on the combined cycle by 5.0%, compared to standard lubricants available in the UK, again highlighting the value of co-designing engine and fluids.

Built around Gordon Murray Design’s patented iStream® platform, the Shell Concept Car represents a radical rethink on the way in which cars are designed, developed and produced. It combines cutting-edge lightweight technology – the car weighs just 550kg – and is built using carefully chosen materials which have a low energy and CO2 footprint. Gordon Murray’s experiences in Formula One™ racing have been used to develop the car, particularly its crashworthiness and lightness. A number of the car’s components were created using 3D printing to accelerate the construction of this prototype vehicle. The car also uses recycled carbon fibre for its body that can be assembled for a quarter of the price of a conventional steel car and almost the entire car can be recycled at the end of its life. The car makes use of a modified version of Shell’s Drive App via a smartphone. This App provides the driver with real time feedback via an on-screen graphic which emphasizes the fact that fuel consumption is highly dependent on driver’s behaviour.

From a styling perspective, the Shell Concept Car offers a new take on the ‘tall and narrow’ look, and dials up the fun factor with its sporty central driving position and two passenger seats behind. The design produces an extremely novel seating arrangement allowing three people to be carried despite the car’s diminutive exterior dimensions and gives it a turning circle smaller than that of a London taxi, making it ideal for urban driving.

Dr. Andrew Hepher, Vice President, of Shell’s lubricant research team said: “Our car may be small, but it’s packed with potential. We want to accelerate the conversation about how we make road vehicles more energy efficient and less carbon-intensive. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing our research insights from this project with engine designers, car manufacturers, academics and other experts across the automotive sector.”

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