MicroCab Circular Automotive Design Philosophy

Circular Economy Aspects in the MicroCab Automotive Design Philosophy

At the recent consortium meeting in Koblenz, Germany, John Jostins, Managing Director at MicroCab and one of the ECOBULK partners, presented an overview of how MicroCab has integrated circular economy concepts into its own designs.

John and MicroCab have been working on new mobility and concept designs, focussing on lightweight fuel-cell driven solutions. Back in the 1990’s, John was prompted by poor air quality in his environment to start thinking about alternatives to the internal combustion engine. John’s experience in Motorsport had already prepared him to work on saving every possible gram on weight; which he combined with emerging fuel-cell technology in lightweight mobility concepts that MicroCab has been pioneering for the last 15 years.

Much of the current design and development work in the automotive industry seems to be focussed on increasing recyclability of the materials in the car. MicroCab, from early on, adopted a wider circular economy philosophy by focussing also on modularity. For example, they worked together with Lotus to develop a chassis design that could be used for multiple applications. The re-usability of the chassis spreads the costs over multiple product lines, but more importantly, allows for the possibility of switching out and upgrading every major component within the car. MicroCab estimates that from a structural perspective its current chassis design could be used for over 20 years – the challenge would be to maintain the inside of the car functional and up-to-date so that the vehicle remains useful and attractive.

To achieve such a long-lasting product life without the drawbacks of aging technologies (energy inefficiencies, usability limitations, etc) and styling, would truly open up the market for vehicles that could be provided as a service rather than a product.

The inside of the vehicle is also designed to fit in with the CE philosophy. Modularity is key, and every effort is made to ensure that assembly and disassembly is as simple as possible. By implementing IoT technologies and intelligent systems, the health and viability of all parts can be easily controlled and maintained. Beyond that, currently there are many options for the human-machine-interface (HMI) which allows people to control the car and its amenities; in the future, there will be many more. MicroCab anticipates the development of new interfaces and interaction concepts by maintaining an open-architecture interior design. Swappable components can be designed, using the latest technologies and interface concepts, that can be installed in the car as necessary, or desirable, during the lifespan of the vehicle.

John admits that circular enabled vehicles are more expensive to produce. But that can also be turned around – circular enabled vehicles are more valuable. The circular economy philosophy advocates maintaining the value within products and materials for as long as possible. Combining modularity and open-architecture offer opportunities to keep vehicles on the road for longer. It also opens the way to easier upgrades and refurbishments that can maintain the value of the car at a higher level for longer – instead of having to buy a new car to have a new more efficient engine, you can just replace the engine. MicroCab is currently exploring the Open Platform Architecture concept together with Mahle, the first results of which were on display at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show with the MEET (Mahle Energy Efficient Transport) project.

For more infromation on MicroCab and its activities, refer to their website – www.microcab.co.uk.