It's just a car. it's called Axon, and it's just a car. It has a petrol engine, four wheels. So why is it supposed to be the greenest breakthrough in the automotive sector?
"Because it can do 100 miles to the gallon with less than half the CO2 emissions of an average car," said Steven Cousins, the founder of Axon.
Axon Automotive, a new British car company – no seriously - has built its first model out of carbon fibre. The engine is made of metal, yes, but almost everything else is carbon: The chassis, the structure, even the body.
Axon's pitch to investors, here at the St John's Innovation day in Cambridge, is pretty simple: Tooling.
"Massive tooling costs are the main problem we're solving. Tooling costs of a new design steel car are around £100m," Axon founder Steve Cousins told financiers. "We're a fraction of that, which is why we can get started with quite small production runs."
The engine is innovative, of course, but it's someone else's bright idea - a two-cylinder, 500 cc block, and tiny, at 26 kg. It was designed by Ptech in Norfolk, and it's pretty high-tech, for all that. If something goes wrong, you send the engine to Norfolk, where they read the built-in black box, discover what the fault was, and send you a new one back while they fix the old one.
"We took a different approach to improving energy efficiency – which normally focuses on different fuels – by marrying the best of old and new technology to create a lightweight, aerodynamic car that is also recycleable," said Cousins.
"There is lots of inefficiency built into a standard car, and the two main sources are the weight of the vehicle and relatively poor aerodynamics, both of which we have addressed.
"Because manufacturers have responded to public concerns by changing energy sources we have seen electric and hybrid cars emerge. But this has led to cars becoming heavier and more consumptive than is necessary," he said.
So the car is recycleable. Previously, carbon fibre wasn't thought of as good for recycling, but Cousins thinks they've cracked that.
And the upholstery? It's recycled already. Presumably by standing outside Canary Wharf and collecting Lehman execs cast-offs, they've made the seat covers from old pin-stripe suits and jeans.
Let's hope they get better publicity in the future than their only headline so far, which was the sad story of how they called the company CoreTex (pun on brain design and carbon tech) and had the name "stolen" by a large American corporation.
"We came up with the name Axon," he says. "It has a similar brain connotation - to do with nerve endings. We're also very proud of being a British firm, and Axon is an amalgamation of Anglo-Saxon."
The first cars should appear on the road in 2010, and should cost £10,500 – and should reach 85 mph top. It's all in the shape, apparently.
"As well as massively reducing weight, we have also designed the overall shape of the car to be highly aerodynamic. The most obvious features we have introduced are the wheel arch covers to prevent turbulence around the wheels, but detailed changes over the whole of the body have contributed to class-leading drag reduction."
The process for manufacturing structural beams from carbon-fibre was described as "unique", and naturally Axon has protected its intellectual property with a collection of international patents.
Prior to founding Axon, Steven Cousins was a professor at Cranfield University, where he researched low-carbon vehicles at the Honda Eco-Technology Centre. Axon spun-out of the university in 2006, and one of its first projects was to turn recycled carbon fibre jet fighter wings into car bodywork components. "This was a world first for automotive components," says Cousins. ®
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