DEARBORN, Mich. ó Never take lightly a man who's nursing the impossible dream. He might be an eternal optimist, but if he's original in his ideas, provocative in his views and inspirational in his speech, he might just surprise you with the Next Big Thing.
Oliver Kuttner, CEO of Edison2, is just that sort of dreamer.
Kuttner, a real estate developer and a lifelong auto enthusiast, in 2007 founded Edison2 (Lynchburg, Va.), innovator of the Very Light Car (VLC) with low aerodynamic drag. Edison2 is the 2010 top prize winner in the four-seat vehicle category of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize -- a competition designed to create fuel-efficient vehicles.
Although Edison2 won the X Prize with an internal combustion engine, the company moved on and now completed an electric version, called the eVLC.
Kuttner's impossible dream is to change today's car architecture completely. He wants to build an ultra-lightweight vehicle platform, available for partnering or licensing by carmakers and component suppliers, to ultimately bring margins back to the automotive industry.
Kuttner, a keynote speaker at a Mentor Graphics-sponsored automotive industry event called the Integrated Electrical Solutions Forum (IESF), said, "The automotive industry is so ripe to change now."
Kuttner, who gave conference participants short rides in his eVLC (sans Chassis) outside the Ford Conference Center, explained, while driving, that the principle behind Edison2's automotive platform is very simple: "A car that is extremely lightweight, with low aerodynamic drag, requires very little energy."
Virtually every electric car today is banging its hood against the limited distances it can travel, while weighed down by a huge battery pack. In contrast, said Kuttner, the energy efficient eVLC can reduce energy consumption by 40 percent. The eVLC needs only a 10.5 kWh battery pack to achieve a 100-mile range, according to the company.
Why does Detroit need to change?
Beyond the electrification of transportation, today's macro-trends show that the state of pollution and congested cities worldwide are changing car ownership habits, explained Kuttner. Shared cars are proliferating in big cities. Buying a car is no longer a priority for a generation of younger people. Individual budgets are getting tighter. All these factors signal, said Kuttner, "sales of fewer cars" in the future.
As proof of this forecast, Kuttner noted that investment money is now flowing to Tesla, which only makes 20,000 cars a year. The money doesn't go to General Motors, which makes 9 million cars a year. "Why? It's because Tesla, which is not an automotive company, but a technology company, has been able to sell the promise to margins."
The same goes for Google. Essentially an outsider to the automotive industry, Google is selling the promise of self-driving cars -- the Google car -- and capturing people's imagination.
Environmental Protection Agency standards for Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) and reductions in CO2 emission are pushing the automotive industry, with some carmakers falling behind in meeting requirements.
While all these "outside forces are here to stay," Kuttner bluntly said, the automotive industry "has no answers." The day when the automotive industry could keep adding "more content and more weight" to their vehicles, without consequences, is past, said Kuttner.
Edison2, which has no plans to become a commercial carmaker on its own, is looking for partner (or licensees) to its VLC platform.
Edison2's VLC is based on components not available through the current supply chain. In pursuit of the very light car, the company's engineering team evaluated every part and component for function, and redesigned it to make the car simple, strong and lighter. A lighter chassis means needs a smaller drive train, a lighter suspension, lighter brake calipers, lighter lugnuts, and so on.
Wouldn't the volume use of currently non-existent components jack up the price of a car? Kuttner told EE Times, "Well, that's why I am saying that it won't be just one car OEM that we are looking for as our partner. We need several partners including components suppliers" to build an ecosystem, Kuttner said.
In Kuttner's mind, Edison2 is not enabling one car company. Because what the company is offering is a "platform," it enables OEMs to develop not just an eVLC, but a hybrid or even a car running on compressed natural gas, said Kuttner. The endgame is for OEMs to design and order their own cars -- "like in the early days of Dell Computer," said Kuttner.
Click the image below to start the Very Light Car (VLC) Slideshow
Edison2 has completed a electric version of Very Light Car (eVLC).