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Morgan LifeCar

posted Nov 15, 2010, 8:11 PM by Tony McLaughlin
Ted Laturnus, October 20, 2008
MORGAN LIFE CAR Morgan shows off its high-tech capability

TED LATURNUS

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

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October 16, 2008

When we think of Morgan automobiles, we don't usually associate them with alternative-fuel, low-emission technology.

Morgan is the oldest privately owned automobile manufacturer in the world and has been pumping out full-fendered, minimalist sports cars for almost 100 years. Even today, most Morgans utilize an ash-wood body tub and front suspension designed in 1910 and, for many non-cognoscenti, today's breed of 4/4 or Plus-4 is indistinguishable from the ones that came out of the plant 50 years ago.

But there are changes in the wind. Morgan recently launched its alternative-fuel Life Car, and it couldn't be more different from the traditional models that come out of the company's plant in Malvern Hills in Britain. In almost every respect, it has absolutely nothing in common with its tweedy stable mates.

"We have been trying to demonstrate that as a business we have a very high technical capability," explains Morgan's public relations manager, Matthew Parkin. "This has been hard when we continue to make traditional cars, as there are such strong associations with this car not changing. The Life Car project seemed a good opportunity to help to reposition the business as modern and capable, using a mixture of high-tech materials and craftsmanship." Morgan Life Car Enlarge Image

With a body shell and frame made from recycled aluminum and laminated ash-wood seats, the Life Car will tip the scales at about 650 kilograms. (MORGAN) The Globe and Mail

And when you think about it, utilizing sports-car technology in the pursuit of environmentally friendly, emission-free mode of transport isn't that over the top. After all, sports cars are all about weight reduction, performance engineering and getting the most out of the least.

And few car makers can top Morgan when it comes to delivering maximum bang for the buck. They may look ancient and creaky, but, over the years, Morgans have consistently outperformed their larger, heavier and more powerful competitors.

In a study conducted by Cardiff University, Morgans also held their own in overall environmental impact. Measuring things like carbon dioxide output, toxic emissions and the consumption of raw energy and resources during production, the Environmental Rating for Vehicles (ERV) ranked Morgan automobiles near the top of the heap, surpassed only by the Smart car.

On a scale of two to 60, the Morgan 4/4 was given 24 points — the same as a Toyota Prius. By way of comparison, a Porsche 911 Carrera garnered eight points and a Bentley Arnage two. The average rating for most production automobiles is 15 or 16.

With a body shell and frame made from recycled aluminum and laminated ash-wood seats, the Life Car will tip the scales at about 650 kilograms. That's considerably less than the company's regular production models, which typically weigh in at around 800 kg, and about half the weight of most conventional, similarly sized cars.

Unsurprisingly, the prototype features a hand-welded body shell, with wood patterns used throughout during the forming process. As sleek as something out of Star Wars, the Life Car also retains vestiges of the classic Morgan body profile, with flowing fenders, oversized wheels and the unmistakable "tombstone" front grille.

So far, the company has designed the Life Car around a fastback body style, but that could change. Either way, the company assures us that the "Morgan DNA is clearly visible."

Propelling the Life Car are four electric motors — one at each wheel — with small gearboxes incorporated to maintain power. Interestingly, this type of technology is also found in the massive off-road dump trucks used by mining and construction companies.

Morgan says that the Life Car will go from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in about seven seconds, with a top speed of some 130 km/h. It will travel 240 kilometres for every gallon of fuel consumed, with a range of approximately 400 kilometres.

And that fuel will be liquid hydrogen, which is stored in a carbon fibre-wrapped tank at the back of the car. It feeds a four-stack fuel cell that produces some 22 kilowatts of electrical energy, which is in turn directed to the electric motors through a set of electronic controls developed by Cranfield University. There are no emissions whatsoever.

The electric motors are said to be "95-per-cent efficient." Each motor will also have a regenerative braking feature to capture kinetic energy during deceleration, and Morgan engineers are claiming that their system is up to five times more efficient than that found on today's hybrid vehicles. There will also be conventional hydraulic brakes at each corner.

Unlike many alternative-fuel vehicles, the Life Car does not have a battery pack, instead employing heavy-duty capacitors, which can "shuffle" 1,000 amps of power throughout the vehicle. This helps keep the weight down, as battery technology continues to be the weakest link in alternate fuel technology.

The Life Car was on display at last spring's Geneva Auto Show and Morgan has been quietly putting it through the endless bench, track and road testing necessary to get the bugs out of a vehicle this sophisticated.

It's also interesting to note that the finished product is almost identical in appearance to the computer-generated image that was proposed at the beginning of the project.

It's far too early to think about marketing, production numbers or pricing, or whether the Life Car will even make its way across the pond to North America. "We still have much work to do before we can give an on-sale date," Matthew Parkin adds.

But one thing's for sure, the Life Car is now officially the best-looking alternative-fuelled vehicle in the world, and things will never be the same at the Morgan plant.
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