Sunday, 21 April 2013

‘Zero-turn’ technology on the road soon

Tata will have road-going models of its Pixel city car fitted with ‘zero turn’ technology by the year end, according to Auto Express. Whether it will use Torotrak’s infinitely variable transmission (IVT) remains to be seen.

When questioned from time to time concerning progress about its infinitely variable transmission (IVT) fitted to the “spin-on-the-spot” Tata Pixel, Torotrak of Leyland, Lancashire has always held a position of ‘no comment, arguing that it is the responsibility of the customer to make disclosures.

Now, it seems, Auto Express has enjoyed a world exclusive first drive of the concept car designed for European cities.

Based on the Nano, the Pixel measures under 3m in length and has seats for four adults. Using the Torotrak IVT, the Pixel has the smallest turning radius for a passenger vehicle. It lacks the conventional steering system, and so the Pixel ‘crabs’ into parking spaces instead of steering into them.

Using the IVT, each wheel on an axle can be spun in different directions to give the vehicle a turning circle radius of only 2.6m.

Now, it seems, the Tata Motors European Technical Centre (TMETC) at Warwick, headed by Nick Fell, vice president of engineering, has improved the technology and patented the concept. There are plans to have working models soon.

In 2011, it was stated that Tata Motors had invested some £85 million in automotive research and development at the University of Warwick since it was established in 2005. Tata Motors is very closely associated with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) headed by Professor Lord Kumar Battacharryya. At that time, (in 2011) TMETC employed a team of 240 engineers and announced plans to boost this by 40 per cent over the next two years.

Certainly, 100 engineers were mentioned at the time as a potential recruitment target. It was also mentioned Tata Motors was the setting of of a test and development activity as party of a ‘clear commitment’ to build and develop the R&D activities as well as form a closer working relationship with the WMG. In May 2012, TMETC appointed Jonathan Lee as master vendor for UK recruitment.

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya (below left), chairman and founder of WMG, said at the time that “Tata’s Pixel city car is a clear symbol of Tata’s technological prowess and its future aspirations.”

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya’s ‘good friend’, according to the Warwick University website, is Mr Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group from 1991 to 2012.

The TMETC was set up initially under the leadership of Dr Clive Hickman, formerly managing director of Ricardo and, since January 2011, chief executive of the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

In the Pixel, which also has scissor doors that rotate upwards for effortless passenger ingress and exit, the ‘zero turn’ technology operates only below a certain speed. The car pivots on the centre of the rear axle and the car moon walks into a tight parking space. To lock the inner wheels, Tata Motors could use an extra functional ABS instead of the Torotrak IVT, thus reducing the overall cost of the system.

The innovative system could go into the production version of the Megapixel concept, an improved version of the Pixel brought to the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, according to Auto Express.

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