You say you want a Revolution?
This weekend, the Aspen Skiing Co. is turning over a new leaf by allowing snowboarders on Aspen Mountain and throwing a big, unruly party to celebrate the event.
Meanwhile, a small Basalt-based, high-tech automotive design firm is hoping another institution, much bigger and more set in its ways, is about to do something even more revolutionary.
Hypercar Inc. is betting that the global auto industry will adopt the technologies its engineers are developing.
This weekend, as part of the Spring Jam, Hypercar will unveil a model of its concept vehicle, the Revolution. The Revolution is designed to be an advanced sport utility vehicle, incorporating, at least in concept, technology that will make current production models obsolete.
Hypercar has already begun marketing bits of the technology incorporated in the Revolution to Detroit and foreign auto makers.
The car will be on display at the Silver Queen Gondola plaza from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Members of the Hypercar design team will be on hand to answer questions. One engineer is flying in from England for the event.
The Hypercar Revolution model to be unveiled Saturday is a sport utility vehicle, about the same size and performance level as a Lexus RX300. But, at half the weight, it will have fuel efficiency equivalent to 99 miles per gallon of gasoline, five times the efficiency of the RX300.
The SUV isn’t the ideal body style to demonstrate the ultimate in fuel economy. Hypercar chose to build the SUV instead of a compact car because SUVs are popular.
“This is where the heart of the market is today,” said Michael Brylawski, Hypercar vice president of marketing development. “People want a vehicle that is sporty but also has the ability to go off road and the capacity to haul stuff. The Revolution has almost 70 cubic feet of cargo space.
“This is a relatively big car, but it goes from zero to 60 in 8.3 seconds,” Brylawski said. The acceleration figure was determined in computer simulations, of course, because the model is nonfunctioning.
Spring Jam is an appropriate opportunity for the unveiling of the Revolution, Brylawski said.
“People thought the Skico would never lift the snowboard ban. They think of the auto industry the same way,” he said. “But this is a revolution.”
The Hypercar team, with more than 30 engineers and designers, has focused on four categories of technical innovation: lightweight, carbon fiber composite structure, fuel cell propulsion, steering and braking accomplished with wires and control of numerous systems by software and electronics.
The composite structure features panels and structural members of carbon fiber, a material used in some high-end skis, snowboards and bicycle frames.
“This is what cars will be made of in the coming decades,” Brylawski said. The composite body has 62 parts, while a conventional steel auto body has as many as 270 parts.
The fuel cell technology uses hydrogen as fuel, converted to electrical energy in a chemical reaction, to power an electric drive motor. The reaction emits only plain water as exhaust. Fuel cells are already used to generate electricity for domestic use, and every major auto manufacturer is currently developing fuel cell technology.
Though a Department of Energy Web site estimates that easily recoverable oil reserves will last only another 40 years, hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles are now expected to replace petroleum propulsion in less than half that time.
Brakes and steering in the Revolution are controlled by wires rather than by hydraulics, emulating systems used in aircraft, Brylawski said. This saves weight and provides more positive control.
The car, as designed by the Hypercar engineers, would have an on-board computer that integrates the action of the propulsion system, the brakes, the steering and the suspension. The computer also performs remote diagnostics to determine the cause and cure of anything that goes wrong. For serious difficulties, the driver would get a message saying “take me to the dealer,” Brylawski said.
It also has a smart fuel gauge. It tells the driver the distance to the next hydrogen filling station.
“We want people to feel comfortable driving this car,” Brylawski said.
A lot of thinking has gone into safety. In a head-on collision or a crash against a barrier, the car’s front-end components compress and leave the carbon fiber-reinforced passenger compartment intact.
“We’ve actually simulated a crash of the car at 35 mph against a wall,” Brylawski said. The team has also simulated collisions with a vehicle of twice the weight.
“We wanted to make sure this car is safe in real-world situations,” he said.
The Revolution, which has all-wheel drive, has a two-position suspension, Brylawski said. A high-clearance position is necessary for four-wheeling on rough roads.
But the car also has a low-clearance position, safer at high speeds on the highway. Conventional SUVs are susceptible to rollover accidents because of their high center of gravity.
Another safety concern is the car’s three fuel tanks. The team has reduced the possibility of the hydrogen fuel escaping in a crash by designing carbon-fiber tanks that are up to five times as strong as steel per pound.
Brylawski said hydrogen may be a lower fire risk than gasoline because, if a tank is ruptured, the hydrogen, which is lighter than air, would dissipate.
“We think the hydrogen will actually be safer than gasoline,” he said.
Putting these technologies together in a single vehicle was a big part of the engineering challenge, Brylawski said.
“This is our first attempt as a company to take all these technologies and carefully integrate them,” he said. “You get some really interesting ways to integrate technology, and that’s what saves money.”
But despite all the work that’s gone into the technologies and into integrating them into the car, the engineering group never meant to manufacture the Revolution.
“It is not the intent of Hypercar to produce this car,” Brylawski said. “It is our intent to develop the systems in this car and get them adopted by the industry. All this car is is a showcase for our engineering capabilities.”
Brylawski said the firm evaluated a number of business models at the outset, and the model that involves selling technology to automakers and their suppliers appeared to have the most “pop.” It would provide the most profit for any level of investment, and it would be the most successful at getting Hypercar technology on the road, he said.
“We’re gung-ho to see [these innovations] on the road,” Brylawski said. “This is the DNA for a variety of vehicles.”
The design group is trying to keep in touch with the needs and wants of drivers and also the needs of corporate or institutional fleets, he said.
“We’ve focused our resource on how to make this work, how to make this affordable, not on making a drivable car,” Brylawski said. “But we’re also trying to keep our finger on the pulse of the user.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.