Until now, electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers have placed car batteries under the floor as a convenient way to package sufficient battery energy for an acceptable range.
This has resulted in the traditional ‘skateboard’ layout of EVs. The drawbacks of this arrangement are the added height, increased weight and body structural complexities that have led to EVs becoming increasingly large, heavy and expensive whilst reducing their range.
Page-Roberts is looking to drastically upscale EV efficiencies with its new engineering solution and design, which the company believes overcomes some of the many obstacles facing the industry. The design delivers a smaller, lighter and more efficient vehicle with a considerably enhanced range for an equivalent battery size.
There are four key barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the UK. These are: a lack of EV charging infrastructure; low usable range; price premium compared with combustion engine cars; and time required to charge. All four challenges are in one way or another related to vehicle efficiency. The key reason for EV efficiency is that despite the rapid push towards electrification of the auto industry, the design and layout of our cars has stayed the same, with manufacturers seeking to sell large, luxurious and therefore profitable versions of their legacy designs.
Our lives and family dynamics have changed. Covid-19 has changed the way we work. The average car journey in the UK includes just two people and most people don’t want overly large cars. But the car industry has not responded and continues to make increasingly large, expensive vehicles that price a great proportion of potential car buyers out of the EV revolution. For those who can afford a new EV, range-anxiety continues to be a concern, stalling uptake.
The Page-Roberts innovation positions the battery between the front row seats and a second row of rear-facing seats. This arrangement is far more compact than standard electric vehicle designs on the market and offers the potential for a lower, more aerodynamic vehicle with a standard wheelbase. The resulting vehicle would be lighter and more streamlined (with 20% less drag), offering the potential either for an extended range of up to 30%, or the ability to use a much smaller battery to achieve a similar range.
Manufacturing costs, meanwhile, could be cut by up to 36% as a result of the unique arrangement, requiring less expensive aluminium or composite structures to compensate for the additional mass and poor structural complexity of the skateboard platform.
How It Came About
Launched in 2019, Page-Roberts combines the expertise of automotive pioneer Freddy Page-Roberts, and ex-Ricardo project director, Mark Simon, who were seeking a technological route to develop a low sporting coupe with 2+2 seating whilst achieving high efficiency and long range. To fit in the 400L of volume required for the batteries, they explored a number of options, including the layout that was to become the innovation that underpins Page-Roberts. From their initial analysis, it became clear that the arrangement offered many advantages beyond simply packaging a large battery. These primarily related to efficiency and cost, suggesting they should explore the potential for other applications beyond their coupe. Observations about vehicle usage, backed up by academic research, showed that the key need was for a small vehicle to carry two occupants and that the compromises in the EV sector were due to the focus on designing cars for five occupants.
It was against this context that the Page-Roberts team figured there could be an opportunity to re-think vehicle design in search for an ultra-efficient EV that meets the needs of most use cases. The back-to-back seating layout delivers a small, lightweight, efficient and inexpensive EV that has the potential to greatly catalyse the shift to EV.
What Sets It Apart?
The patent and design innovation allows for reduced height of vehicles, which in turn allows for the design of sleek and stylish vehicles and sports coupes with long range. The profile of the rear of the vehicles can be more raked as the rear seat passengers’ heads are close to the centre of the cabin rather than the rear of the vehicle, leading to innovative and flexible designs with increased efficiency. Though primarily intended for two passengers with luggage, the rear seats can be used by passengers on short journeys or by kids.
By offering an OEM a supply route where the cost of a small EV is reduced significantly, the status quo can be disrupted, making small EVs commercially viable. Leading industry experts have commented that the high price of EVs is limiting adoption by consumers. The Page-Roberts innovation stands to fulfil the consumer demand for smaller vehicles whilst remaining profitable for manufacturers. The efficiency gains can also be translated into EVs that have a far smaller carbon footprint. Rightfully, the environmental impact of producing and recycling batteries is a growing consideration for policy makers and manufacturers – the ability to design vehicles with smaller batteries reduces the impact at the start of a vehicle’s life and makes recycling the batteries easier.
The Commercialisation Process
Page-Roberts is currently pursuing mass-market and niche vehicle OEMs as customers for the technology. With the routes to market and opportunities present with the changing automotive landscape, it should be possible for a start-up to get a design to market in under 48 months. With the right team and investment it may be possible to be in production within 36 months from a kick-off point. For existing mainstream manufacturers, the vehicle layout could readily be taken to a production design, using many of their existing components, in fewer than 36 months.
Mark simon is CTO at Page-Roberts Automotive