How should automakers improve the range of electric cars? Smart believes it has the answer with an even more eco-friendly version of the Fortwo Electric Drive for the Frankfurt Motor Show. Called the Forvision concept, the Smart has unusual components like plastic wheels and a semi-transparent roof which help trim vehicle weight and reduce the need for climate control.
Those hexagonal cut-outs in the roof are actually transparent solar panels. They admit light to the car's cabin, but also generate enough electrical energy to power the Forvision's sound system and interior fans. Better yet, they double as OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) which gently illuminate the cabin at night, while consuming half the energy of traditional lightbulbs. During the day, the Forvision appears to have a glass roof, while at night it is "pleasantly illuminated."
Smart also plans for the Forvision to have plastic wheels. Made in partnership with materials company BASF, the wheels are almost seven pounds lighter than a conventional wheel. Initial tests reportedly show that these wheels are durable enough for real-world use -- Smart hints that it could put lightweight plastic wheels into production in the future. The car's doors are made from carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy resin, which is a claimed 30 percent lighter than aluminum. Smart and BASF have developed a faster drying method which could make such panels feasible for series production.
The curiously shaped seats are made from a lightweight plastic frame and covered in a BASF foam that is supposedly 10 to 20 percent lighter than normal seating materials. It's covered in what Smart calls e-textiles, which have special heat-conductive materials to help warm occupants more quickly. There also are "superabsorbent" fleece fabrics to help further preserve the occupant's body heat.
Because using the air conditioning saps energy from an electric car's battery, Smart and BASF have designed the Forvision's cabin to reflect as much heat as possible. The primary method for keeping the cabin cool is a special non-metallic, anti-infrared light film applied to all the glass. It blocks infrared radiation but allows light and radio waves to pass -- so your cell phone will still work. Insulating foams in the body panels help keep the cabin warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Most of the interior plastics are painted light colors to reflect sunlight; those painted dark colors use special BASF pigments that absorb less heat energy than traditional materials.
The quirky exterior design features hexagonal cues, new headlights ringed with running lights, and taillights with segments that illuminate to indicate the car's battery charge. The steering wheel rim only extends three-quarters of the way around the wheel to make it resemble and airplane yoke. The doors have LED lighting and integrated storage pockets. The copper-frame dashboard has a semi-transparent instrument cluster that is nearly invisible when the car is turned off.
The bottom line is that Smart says all the innovations seen on the Forvision concept could increase the range of an electric car by about 20 percent. We're all for more range from EVs, but the tweaks made to this Smart make it look laughably bizarre. Maybe, though, Smart will have the last laugh if these ideas make it to mainstream production on future cars.