Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Aston Martin ‘unveils’ Li-S concept DBX

Aston Martin claims it has “challenged the nature” of luxury GT travel in the 21st Century with the debut of the “innovative DBX Concept”.

“Created to defy conventional thinking about the luxury GT segment”, Aston Martin claims the DBX Concept “widens the appeal of the iconic British luxury brand” and “reaches out to a more diverse global audience than ever before”.

Unveiling the two-door crossover prototype concept, Aston Martin’s recently chief executive officer Dr Andy Palmer, clearly out to impress his audience at the Geneva Motor Show as well as the European automotive world, said: "The DBX Concept is a challenge to the existing status quo in the high luxury GT segment. It envisages a world, perhaps a world not too far away, when luxury GT travel is not only stylish and luxurious but also more practical, more family-friendly and more environmentally responsible.”

"I asked my team at Aston Martin to expand their thinking beyond conventions, to explore what the future of luxury GT motoring would look like in years ahead, and the DBX Concept you see before you is the result," he said.

Dr Palmer added: "This is, clearly, not a production-ready sports GT car, but it is a piece of fresh, bold thinking about what Aston Martin GT customers around the world could request of us in the future.”

"The DBX Concept is more than a thought starter for us and for our customers, though. We will, in due course, be entering a car into the new DBX space and I am very much looking forward to seeing how this concept is received not only here today, but also by our legion of existing loyal customers and by those potential customers around the world who have, to this point, yet to consider one of our cars."

                                          Harmonious design

Imagined by chief creative officer Marek Reichman and his team at Aston’s headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire, the all-electric DBX Concept showcases “not only cutting edge engineering but also a major evolution of the British brand's world-renowned and highly-regarded design language”.

Clearly aiming to signal an extension to the brand's existing model lines in the future, the all-wheel drive DBX Concept “seamlessly” combines traditional Aston Martin beauty with elegant new engineering that gracefully aligns form and function, a Press statement gushes.

Capable of accommodating four adults in comfort, the DBX Concept also majors on day-to-day practicality. It offers generous luggage capacity by virtue of the fact that its rear trunk and forward load bay can both accept passengers' belongings.

"Opulence and cutting edge style go hand-in-hand in the DBX Concept thanks to a unique fusion of high luxury and advanced technology," the company enthused. These characteristics, allied to the ingenious use of unconventional materials and finishes inside and out, are calculated to further broaden the appeal of Aston Martin, claimed the company.

The concept's exterior bright work emphasises the brand's approach to the use of authentic materials, and is made up of machined billet aluminium with visible milling lines in a piece of exquisite craftsmanship intended to be seen as the car's jewellery. The DBX Concept's unique paint finish - Black Pearl Chromium - has been specially created to mimic the look of a genuine black pearl, and comprises a micro-fine layer of chrome to deliver a level of reflectivity that cannot be obtained through normal paint finishes.

Inside, the “deliberate use of non-automotive standard materials generates a uniquely soft, cocooning ambience”, the company oozed.

The extensive application of velvet-like Nubuck leather contrasts with the concept's hard, hi-tech equipment. The exposed leather reveals a sandwiched accent layer, more akin to high-end furniture, while the car's interior bright ware matches that of the exterior with the addition of a gold ‘pin striping' element on the edging.

Reichman explained: "The exceptional craftsmanship, with detailing more typically seen on luxury consumer goods or fine jewellery, gives the DBX Concept genuinely global appeal."

                                   Experimental engineering

Embracing the “very latest engineering techniques and theories”, the DBX Concept "needs no engine compartment thanks to its use of electric, inboard-of-wheel, motors powered by lithium sulphur (Li-S) cells". However, although unveiled as an all-electrci 4x4 with four separate electric motors - one in each wheel - the final production version could be a four-door petrol-electric hybrid hatchback, but still a crossover, that could hit showrooms in three years.

In the meantime, the DBX Concept has drive-by-wire electric steering, toughened glass with an auto-dimming ‘smart glass' inter-layer, and bespoke driver and passenger head-up displays are further examples of its cutting edge technology.

Active LED exterior lights, carbon ceramic brakes with a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and rear view cameras in place of conventional mirrors also underline the mould-breaking nature of this luxury GT concept.

Dr Palmer explained: "A concept car such as this should, in my view, challenge conventional thinking and explore the art of the possible. In the DBX Concept, I believe we have created a new type of luxury car that can not only broaden the appeal of   Aston Martin to a whole new generation of customers, but sit with pride alongside the rest of our range."

However, when questioned tonight for details of the 'powertrain', i.e. the lithium sulphur battery system, a spokesman told this newsletter tersely: “As this is still a concept, there are no details on battery or drivetrain.”

                                      Lithium Sulphur batteries

The two largest challenges to the mass adoption of electric vehicles are range anxiety and safety. The higher the energy density, the more battery can be added to a vehicle and thus the further the vehicle will travel. With the improvements being made to Li-S, it is anticipated that over time vehicle journeys of 400-500 miles should be possible on one charge.

Safety is seen to be major problem with Li-ion batteries – note the recent high-profile incidents with the Boeing Dreamliner.

Safety can be improved through physically protecting the batteries, but this only adds unwanted weight. Thus a chemistry that has a high specific energy and is inherently safe has a strong advantage.

OXIS Energy of Abingdon, Oxfordshire is part of the UK’s Gateway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project awarded by Innovate UK to trial driverless vehicles in Greenwich.

OXIS Energy is the lead partner in collaboration with Lotus Engineering, Imperial College London and Cranfield University to develop a “revolutionary Lithium Sulphur vehicle battery and Energy System Controller”.

The Revolutionary Electric Vehicle Battery (REVB) project began in November 2013, running until late 2016, and is funded from the Technology Strategy Board’s Integrated Delivery Programme (IDP9).

It is claimed the REVB will provide breakthrough improvements in energy density (400Wh/kg), cost ($250/kWh) resulting in a compound increase in the performance and safety of next generation electric vehicles. Compared with Li-ion batteries, Li-S cells have a specific energy density that is five times higher and currently performances of 300Wh/kg are being achieved with the 400Wh/kg figure predicted as being available in 2016. Li-S cells are also claimed to have indefinite shelf-life. OXIS is believed to be working on the next generation compound which could centre around lithiated graphene and sulphur.

By way of some comparison, the BMW 18 is powered by a hybrid combination of liquid-cooled Li-ion 7.1kWh battery with an effective capacity of 5.2kWh, and a three-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine driving through an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission.  These give a total range of 330 mile (530km).

All of which raises the interesting prospect of how Aston Martin's engineers will deal with this exciting, but fast-moving area of powertrain technology.

Editor: There is no suggestion here, in reporting one UK Lithium Sulphur battery development, of any link, real or imaginary, between OXIS Energy and Aston Martin.

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