The fully electric concept car dubbed "Deep Orange" may not be street legal, but neither was Doc Brown's DeLorean. Its creators, grad students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR ), rolled it out for an ogling crowd at the recent Motorsports on Main  in Greenville, SC.
What did you do with your summer?
In truth, Deep Orange was a yearlong project. It is powered by lithium-polymer batteries or by a two-cylinder onboard gasoline engine. In automotive terms, the gas engine makes Deep Orange a range-extended vehicle, meaning it can cruise to an all-electric range of 20 miles, but gets an overall range of 400 miles from the internal generator--just in case the driver decides they want to keep the wind in her hair.
Pike Research  just released a report predicting there’ll be 4.7 million charge points installed globally by 2015, but at present finding a place to recharge has been an issue for electric cars. Dr. Paul Venhovens, BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration tells Fast Company the Deep Orange vehicle can be plugged into any 110-volt wall socket. Charge it for an hour and be ready to go. The car sucks approximately 10 kilowatt hours of electricity, which Dr. Venhovens estimates costs about a buck at current prices.
The car itself--if manufactured commercially--would cost between $30,000 and 40,000, comparable to the Chevy Volt, says Dr. Stephen Hung. That's a big "if," but keep in mind these are students, pushing ahead the future of auto manufacturing.
They built some pep into this machine, too. The Deep Orange prototype is designed to reach 100 mph and accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 10 seconds. Dr. Imtiaz Haque, chairman of the automotive engineering department, points out that this is somewhat theoretical right now as the chassis and engine have only run in the lab, but they should be proven soon enough when the car is taken for a spin on a test track.
First, though, Deep Orange is set to make a guest appearance in Pasadena, Calif., where it will be on display at the Art Center College of Design 's Classic Car Show in October. It's a second homecoming of sorts, as students at the Art Center College of Design collaborated with CU-ICAR on design and styling. Dr. Venhovens quipped that this was a handy partnership because if left to their own devices, the automotive engineering students would have just designed a car shaped like a box.
The car packs some amazing utilities, including a docking station that will take a regular smartphone (a Dell/Google Android is used for the prototype, above) and sync it to the car’s systems. Think: Pandora, satellite radio, vehicle data, etc. all on your mobile so you can take it with you. Dr. Venhovens points out that this differs from the Ford Sync which is a dedicated system. "This way you just need one device," he says noting that the students built in a disabling feature for text, Facebook, et. al., so drivers won’t be tempted to tweet in traffic.
Other innovative features include the seats hinged to both the roof and the floor to lighten the load and give greater protection in a crash.
Then there’s the "industrial origami" of interior metal components which eliminates the expense of stamping by using laser cuts that will allow the pieces to be folded by hand.
After its turn in Pasadena, the Deep Orange car will go to Las Vegas for the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Show, the LA Auto show and others, hopefully creating some buzz for the graduate program says Dr. Haque.
As for the students, they’re already hard at work on the next prototype. Venhovens says, "Each year's project will be unique, with different problems and different parameters for success."