BATH, England – It has two seats, three wheels and so far has cost $2.9 million. Students at the University of Bath in western England, who on Monday unveiled the prototype of the CLEVER (Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport), hope that it represents a greener future for transport.
The prototype, a skeletal speedster which had safety netting in place of body panels, exhibited the general design and technology of the vehicle rather than its actual, finished appearance.
It has the compactness of a motorcycle but the safety of a car, and cornering is smoothed by a tilting technology developed by mechanical engineering students Matt Barker, 29, Ben Drew, 27 and their instructors.
Equipped to handle both city streets and long-distance highway driving, the vehicle runs on compressed natural gas and is capable of 80-mph speeds.
"The goal was to produce a lower-emission vehicle and to combine the efficiency of a motorcycle with the comfort and safety of a car," said Drew, who demonstrated the ease of steering with several laps around the lot.
The concept vehicle is the fruit of a three-year project funded by the European Union, drawing on the expertise of German, French and Austrian organizations — including BMW — along with the Bath team.
Other partners included the Technische Universität Berlin, the Institut Français du Pétrole in Vernaison near Lyon, and the Institut für Verkehrswesen Universität für Bodenkultur in Vienna.
The French team developed the 218cc engine, based on the Rotax engine used in the BMW C1 scooter.
Limiting pollution was a big push for the project, according to the project's coordinators. And with rising fuel costs a rising concern for drivers in Europe, the car's use of natural gas emissions is one of its sterling points, according to the Bath design team.
"As fuel prices go up and up, people will look at how else they can get around," said Geraint Owen, a lecturer at the university who helped lead the team project.
Running on compressed natural gas, its fuel consumption is equivalent to 108 miles per gallon.
A commercial version could be a decade away, assuming a manufacturer is interested, Owen said. He said it would be priced in the micro-car bracket of around $8,500-$17,000.
"The idea of a narrow vehicle that is light has its significant advantages," he said. "It's less dangerous than a motorcycle."
The CLEVER car is fun to drive, according to Drew. The Bath team worked on design, suspension, steering, and transmission for their part of the collaboration, he said.
"It's been full-time for 40 months," he said of the project, which also served as his and Barker's dissertations.
"It's quite fun and very stable," he said. "It doesn't feel out of balance. You steer it like a car."
Matthew Butler, 20, a French and politics major who watched the demonstration, said fuel economy was a big attraction.
Butler said he pays about $62 every three weeks to fill his car's 13.2 gallon tank, at a time when gas is about $6.70 per gallon in Britain.