A proposal for electric-car manufacture in Australia
The original intention of the Plateau Group was to set up a cooperative of interested component manufacturers who would be given a major say in establishing the design standards, along with the special interest groups (disabled, aged, etc.) who had special needs. Later the cooperative would need to become a professional collective operation with salaried staff to organise all production and marketing developments -- especially warehousing of components in the States.
We wanted to by-pass all the normal international car manufacturers and avoid the dominance automatically developed by large production/assembly companies. Dominance is the product of intensive capital requirements for large-scale conventional manufacture, so the idea of distributed manufacture, with local State assembly of the vehicles, is a novel cooperative way to avoid an old problems.
The corporate structure of component distribution and the need for a coordinated marketing chain would be reduced to two levels:
- The Australia-wide Cooperative: the cooperate's manufacturing members would each be responsible for supply and storing its own components in State-based Coop warehouses. The main staff of the Cooperative would handle the political and promotional activities.
- Local Regional or Suburban Agents: medium-sized local suburban organisations (the retail agents) would be responsible for assembly, maintenance, etc.
These agents would be the larger car-maintenance organisations in various suburbs or regions. They would have the basic facilities to assemble MinEVs to order (not very difficult), and they would be awarded the rights to both sell and rent them from their own local suburban depots. [See discussion below about their possible other role]
The plans included the need for parallel sales and rental of other vehicles needed by the aged and the disabled (gophers/mobility scooter, and conventional and electric wheel-chairs.)
The members of the primary cooperative would include representatives of a number of social-help organisations and probably also government departments. They would be charged initially with specifying the standards needed for road licensing.
It is not envisaged that any component manufacturer would be given exclusivity of supply; the market for MinEV has the potential to be very substantial, and if everyone is to benefit it will need the competitive force of various manufacturers willing to conform to a common standard. The initial group of manufacturing members would have only the advantage of prior understanding of the problems, and a part say in setting an overall standard (that may be to their own benefit).
Variations in Design:
We do stress, however, that a vehicle of the MinEV type should not be constrained in its design by the accepted ideas of conventional vehicles.
For instance, we believe that it is better for the body compartment and driving area to be higher off the road than is normal today. Modern cars are getting lower, sleeker, and faster, but vehicles which are higher off the ground (like some RVs) are certainly easier for the elderly to enter and alight.
Related to this is our belief that the driver should sit more upright than is normal in a modern sedan and, for cost saving, we don't believe there is much gained by elaborate seat upholstery and expensive interior linings. The driver's view is more important than comfort over the short distances that these vehicles will travel.
The vehicles will be sparse in their fit-out. Probably the best second family-vehicle ever made, the Mini was too, and you could buy it in a couple of different models; some had doors and windows. They will certainly need seat belts, front and back.
The battery-electric design is ideal for backward-facing rear seats (used by all astronauts on entry), and people in those seats don't benefit at all from air-bags (in fact, quite the opposite). A child in a backward-facing seat is far safer in the event of an accident than he/she would be in the normal car's passenger seat equipped with an air-bag.
We also consider the value of a full-width back door hinged on the driver's side. This again is safer again than a normal four-door sedan because the back-seat passengers don't open a side door and get out into a traffic lane.
With conventional sedans (and more so with commercial vehicles and RVs) the rear- panorama of the driver (either via his internal mirror or with a backward glance) is strictly limited vertically -- hence the number of accidents where parents back out over children playing in the driveway. These sedans also have a back-left/side problem; having a blind-spot when traffic approaches from behind in the kerb-side lane.
A conventional sedan has these blind-spots because of the lower relative heights of the driver, and the need for rear-seats and a back-compartment ledge across the boot compartment. Similar problems probably don't exist with the MinEV, and the forward view of a MinEV driver is similarly not constrained for children playing close to the front of the vehicle.
So accidental potentials of these kinds would all benefit, if not be largely solved, by a MinEV with its higher-sitting driver, no boot-height/distance obstructions, and larger-than-normal window sizes.
Crumple zone: While a sedan has an engine compartment and raised bonnet, the MinEV has neither. And without an engine compartment, the design can incorporate a crumple-zone, so that any front-end collision has less risk of leg-crushing, etc. This is especially true since they are moving at lower speeds.
Our conclusion was that the physical vehicle design benefits greatly by being shorter than normal (closer to the old Mini/Morris size), and more upright in stance. This may begin to sound like Grandma Duck's electric car in the Disney cartoons, but it is not necessarily so.
And anyway, the purpose is not to build a vehicle which will be cherished by the local hoons, or one that will appear on the front cover of 'design' magazine: dynamic air-flow shapes are not a primary requirement in a vehicle called upon to travel only 10 kilometres at speeds below 70 kph, and we should recognise and accept this. We are suggesting a vehicle which is designed for a utilitarian purpose, and not styled for effect.
A major innovation in the sale, rental, maintenance, insurance and licensing of the MinEVs would be a way of charging for usage, rather than annual feeds to cover the vehicles when on the road, and for regular upkeep to solve problems of wear and tear. This can be easily done today if it is incorporated into a new standard.
We are use to the idea that everyone should pay many hundreds of dollars to cover road usage and potential accident costs each year -- whether they daily drive a hundred or so kilometres -- perhaps at high speeds on unmade roads in the bush, dodging kangaroos -- or whether they are driven 10 kilometres a week between the home and the local supermarket.
In fact car license and Green Slip costs are most regressive form of taxation and fee imposition possible. And these inequities are being laid on those who are least able to afford them, and at both a personal and the national community cost. The users will be those most in need of a vehicle to retain their democratic rights to an independent life for as long as is possible.
The way to overcome this problem in an equitable way is to charge for road-usage -- and the most obvious way to do this is via a sealed mile-o-metre. However, TIME and DISTANCE are closely related in such vehicles, and so recording the vehicle's usage time is probably all that is needed, and this clock could be incorporated into a tamper-proof sealed box, with the driver's key-switch on the front.
- Road usage can be calculated on a per-minute basis (and charged appropriately, possibly with a small annual fee as well).
- Third-party accident insurance can be calculated on the basis of the minutes the vehicle is actively on the road (making it a much fairer way of billing low-mileage users)
- Car rental costs can be calculated (including the above) on both a fixed per-day/per-week basis + on a usage minute rate. Clearly, a very simple system to hire a vehicle when you need it only occasionally.(which would encourage people in retirement villages to share vehicles)
Gophers -- Mobility Scooters
If the local suburban MinEV agent is in the business of both selling and renting the small road vehicles mainly to the elderly, it would be worth considering the additional line of sales and rents of Mobility Scooter (aka "Gophers").
These are one-person foot-path vehicles that cost between $1,000 (used) and $4,200 (new) for the general shopping models and up to $8,000 for special types -- in some cases, these amount almost to being a single-seat mini-car.
Mobility Scooters come in three and four-wheel models, and the more elaborate of the four-wheel types are generally known in the USA as "gophers", which appears to be a good name for this useful class of vehicles for the disabled. Some have a shade canopy for outdoors; some have plastic windscreens, and some have side doors, but they are all definitely distinct from the MinEV.
The main problem with Gophers is the need to transport them a moderate distance (outside a kilometre or so) to the local shopping centre. There is no easy way of piggy-backing them for (say) 10 kilometres in another vehicle, then unloading them onto a footpath, for actual use.
Since the average owner only get to use them for a few years (and then only for a few hundred kilometres in total), Gopher hire is obviously a profitable business. On-line sales explain why there are so many second-hand deals in this market since the most expensive consumable component in a mobility scooter is often the battery.
We do note that special RV fittings and ramps are sold for transporting Gophers so that the partially disabled can get out into the country and still remain mobile.
Wheelchair Transporters -- Modified MinEV
The current design of the four-seater MinEV uses two hub-motors out in the wheels There is no differential between the back wheels, and there is no motor at the front, or gear box in the middle between the driver and primary passenger.
The use of hub motors within the back wheels of the vehicle, rather than a motor, gear-box, differential and drive-chain down the middle, makes for a flexible and adaptable vehicle. The only obstacle is the large battery unit across the width of the vehicle, which will be generally fitted with cushions and become the rear-facing seats.
It won't be difficult to shift the batteries to the side or the front, and then add a drop-down ramp entered through the back door. The most difficult thing about this adaption is that we would need to add a radio-control car-lock, and an automatic opening and closing rear door. The ramp would rise and descend by electric motors using "dissimilar horizontal cranks" (one lifts more than the other).
People could click their radio controller, and both open the door and drop the ramp automatically. They could drive up the ramp, directly into the driver's position behind the wheel where the electric wheelchairs would lock into position. They would only need to clip on their seat belt to become totally independent, and this would be revolutionary for many disabled people.
These possibilities should be taken into consideration when the primary design is being settled. Light construction weight is not a priority in such a limited range vehicle as the MinEV, but shell strength (ie a cast aluminium, or welded-steel body frame) might be an important consideration for reasons of adaptability as well as in providing extra protection from accidental road collisions.
Plateau Group Convenor: Stewart Fist
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