An open source project is currently in the works to build an electric vehicle powered by in-wheel motors.
The goals are ambitious: 1) Build an electric vehicle with a minimum range of 186 miles that can theoretically be put into production and sold for under $22,700. 2) Share the design so that others can replicate or customize the platform. 3) Do it all in less than a year.
“The overall aim is to show that all electric cars can be competitive,” said MW Motors of the prototype, which it has named the vehicle the Luka EV.
Working from a shop in Plzen, Czech Republic – about 50 miles west of Prague – MW Motors’ team was formed by a handful of enthusiasts. The team plans on sharing full details on the Luka EV on Hackaday.com, a website that encourages an open exchange of ideas, with an emphasis on engineering.
“We hope that by open sourcing everything we may even encourage small companies to open building cars locally in different countries,” said the project manager.
The project itself is an experiment on a small scale, limited to one vehicle for now. But if the prototype successfully meets the team’s goals, MW Motors see three possibilities. The first is that an outside company will take the concept and customize it to fit a specific market segment.
“We are sharing a platform, not just a car called the Luka EV,” explained MW Motors. “The platform is very flexible. We think that with subtle changes to the chassis design that people can make themselves, it should be easy to make a range of cars [such as] a family car, a modern city car, a taxi or even light goods vehicles.”
The company could also commercialize the Luka EV, though MW Motors doesn’t know if this is a suitable direction.
“We are not sure if we will make it commercial or just leave a platform for others to develop,” MW Motors said.
The team leader said the most likely option of the three is to create a kit car for consumers to assemble.
“We will probably sell all the parts needed to make a car as a kit,” said MW Motors. “Furthermore, we will release details of all the vendors we use and (if legally possible and approved by a vendor) we will say how much each component costs us. If this is not possible, we will bundle products” to sell items such as the wheels and tires together. “Bundling would get us over the potential legal issue of showing the amount we paid for a single item.”
No matter which opportunities, if any, the project eventually leads to, two final items must be checked off for MW Motors to call the Luka EV a success: the design must be production-grade and a few vehicles must be sold at a profit.
“In order for the project to be meet all the stated aims, we must sell some vehicles for under 20,000 euros [$22,700] and we must give documentary proof that we make a profit selling for 20,000 euros. So, without doubt we will need to form a legal entity, make some cars and sell some cars,” MW Motors said.
Though the Luka EV’s platform could be altered to create a larger sedan or taxi, MW Motors noted that the expected market is most likely individual commuters:
“We did not have a target market at the start of the project … But, talking to people, it seems the majority of people seem to think this would be a perfect car to go to and from work in.
“Usually an individual has to pay for the petrol to get to and from work, and almost always they go to work alone. The journey to work is usually short – below 50 km [31 miles] one way, 100 km return. As such, the Luka EV would seem ideal.”
The car “only having the seats is not a problem as the kids usually do not go to work with you,” added MW Motors.
Significant progress has already been made since the project began. During a recent 5.5-hour range test, the Luka EV drove 128 miles on a single charge, reaching a top speed of 47 mph.
The next step is to have the car road certified. Yesterday, MW Motors learned last minute that the testing center in the U.K. has an opening for May 22, and is scrambling to prepare.
“Very few pass the test first time around so it is likely we will fail,” MW Motors said. “However, even failing will be good because we will get a definitive list of faults we need to fix.”
MW Motors wanted only electric power for the Luka EV, selecting hub motors. Mounted within the wheel assembly, the company said it picked this technology because it hub motors arelightweight with few complex parts.
By mounting the electric motors on the wheels, the amount of weight on the suspension is also reduced.
“If we can prove that it is possible to overcome at least some of the perceived negative aspects of hub motors, the project would be worthwhile,” the team leader explained.
The team is still deciding between two and four hub motors, depending on the battery, each costing about $600.
MW Motors is testing two different batteries on the Luka EV: a 19.2-kilowatt hours (kWh) and a 24 kWh unit. Both batteries feature a lithium iron phosphate 4 mH chemistry.
Keeping the weight as low as possible was a priority, said MW Motors. The goal is for curb weight to measure under 1,660 pounds, which is lighter than the 1,800-pound Smart Fortwo.
“Weight is critical!” MW Motors emphasized. “Power [requirements have] a direct relationship to weight. Less weight equals less power required, equals less batteries and smaller motors, equals less weight. [It’s] a virtuous circle.”
To keep weight low, the Luka EV’s body, doors and hood are built from fiberglass. For the chassis, MW Motors located a basic, street legal blueprint to fit the body. The chassis includes a ladder frame and a roll cage.
Meticulousness is required to meet all the standards for the U.K.’s certification, the team said, comparing the list of regulations to a minefield.
“Nothing difficult but great attention to detail required” for the interior and exterior specs, MW Motors explained.
“Too expensive to hire Pininfarina. That would cost millions,” MW Motors lamented. Instead, the company took inspiration from the “world of gaming.” Three-dimensional online images were used at a cost of about $100. These were transferred to foam, which was then used to make the fiberglass molds.
For the interior, MW Motors used seats from a Mazda MX5, adding off-the-shelf parts for components like the seat belts, labels for the controls and door latches.