Metre-wide mean machine

European scientists are developing a one metre-wide, three-wheeled vehicle that combines the safety of a micro-car and the manoeuvrability of a motorbike, while being more fuel-efficient than other vehicles.

A new type of vehicle only one metre wide and specially designed to be driven in cities is being developed by a team of European scientists.

The vehicle is said to combine the safety of a micro-car and the manoeuvrability of a motorbike, while being more fuel-efficient and less polluting than other vehicles.

The CLEVER (Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport) vehicle is a £1.5 million collaborative project involving nine European partners from industry and research, and part of which is under development at the University of Bath’s Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control.

The aim is to produce a stylish tilting three-wheeled vehicle that is fully enclosed and has seats for the driver and a passenger. Its strengthened frame will protect the driver in a crash and the vehicle will have a top speed of approximately 50 mph (80km/h).

At just over three feet (1 metre) wide, it is 20 inches (0.5 metres) less than a micro-car, and several feet less wide than a medium sized conventional car. This reduced width means more efficient parking bays can be created, and brings the possibility of narrower lanes for such vehicles.

The vehicle is different from previous attempts to create a small urban vehicle in that it is fully enclosed in a metal framework and is much safer. Its roof is as high as conventional cars, and it carries one passenger, who sits behind the driver. A prototype CLEVER vehicle will be built as part of this project in late 2005, and, if put into production, it should be cheaper than a conventional car.

Matt Barker and Ben Drew, research officers from the University of Bath’s Centre for Power Transmission and Motion Control, are working on a tilting chassis concept to keep the vehicle stable in corners. The vehicle controls the amount of tilt automatically, unlike on a motorcycle where the rider controls how far to tilt the vehicle.

The hydraulic active tilt system is electronically controlled and keeps the vehicle upright at low speeds and allows car-like steering at high speeds. The work focuses on the simulation of the vehicle chassis and control of the hydraulic tilting system to give a good driver feel and safe, manoeuvrable vehicle. Cooper-Avon Tyres Ltd are working with the University of Bath to achieve these goals.

Running on compressed natural gas, the vehicle would not only help preserve stocks of oil but would emit less polluting carbon dioxide than conventional cars. Because it does not run on petrol or diesel, it would not be liable for the congestion charge in London, or any other city where the charge is likely to be adopted. Its fuel consumption is predicted to be equivalent to 188 miles per gallon (or 1.51 litres per 100 kms), a fifth of most cars.

The collaboration developing it, including German, French, British and Austrian organisations, began work on the project in December 2002 and expects to complete it in December 2005.