I get emails about concepts and proposals and grand automotive schemes all the time. It's pretty rare that any of them actually come to fruition. But I was sent one that, while still very much non-existent, was charming and interesting enough that I want to show it to all of you. It's called NOBE (the website doesn't seem to work yet), it's Estonian, and just look at the damn thing.
I'm a sucker for weird old microcars and retro designs, so this thing is pretty much just a thirst trap tailor-made to rope me in. Whatever; it worked. I think the design for this is absolutely lovely, and if they can somehow maintain the look in a production model (I'm told a physical prototype is about to be built), I'll be thrilled.
The design is clearly based on a late '50 to early '60s-era European automotive design vocabulary. The front end feels a lot like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, with the central triangular grille inverted here.
The rear quarter windows and greenhouse profile sort of remind me of a Studebaker Avanti, and from above the tail-dragging three-wheel design and overall teardrop shape with the open roof remind me a bit of a Messerschmitt Kabinenroller. There's a lot of design references going on here, but overall I think it manages to work together.
The three-wheel design also gives me some hope for the car, because three wheels means that it could, hypothetically, come to the U.S. and be free from all those crash-testing rules that we all know it won't pass. The one good thing Elio has done is paved the way for three-wheeled cars to be legal in most states, so that lack of a fourth wheel is actually what makes this actually plausible for sale in America.
The proposed specs on the NOBE are that its electric, making a maximum 45 kW, or 60 horsepower, which seems pretty substantial for something like this. That 60 hp seems to be spread over three motors, I suppose each making 20 hp?
They're optimistic about the future.
The range is targeted at 160 km, or 161km, which, again, would be very good; that's about on par with what current Nissan Leafs get, and, trust me, you'd much rather be seen in one of these.
Technically, it's an interesting three-wheeler because it's all-wheel drive; I guess it'd be a 3x3? I'd only seen that on specialised ATVs, so it's interesting to see it proposed here.
What's most interesting to me is an innovation you can see in that diagram to the right there. The main battery is that big box up front, but look right behind it, in the passenger's footwell -- see that little beige box?
That's a battery, too. This briefcase-mounted battery is designed to be easily removed and taken from the car for recharging. It acts as a supplemental auxiliary battery, either providing power for auxiliary systems or providing up to 40 km (24 miles) of additional range.
I think this is a fantastic solution for how to deal with the still-very-inadequate charging infrastructure. Even if you have nowhere to charge your car at your office or home or a friend's place or whatever, it's a great way to be sure you can at least get an extra 32km of range to get home or wherever.
Now, this is all just a concept, but based on some other work I'd done involving the idea of removable batteries, I think such a battery, with about 20-25 miles of range, could weigh about 18kg. Maybe less, since the demands of the NOBE are not as much as what I was looking at. That's definitely more on the luggable side, but it is possible.
The NOBE people also described a plan to me about a way to tow the car with a normal, full-sized car to charge it up. Like, you'd tow it like a trailer to a big city, park the full-size car outside the city, and use your charming little electric three-wheeler in the dense metropolis, all charged up from the drive.
I have no idea if this project is likely to happen or not, but I'm rooting for it. The team is made up of people from Estonian racing car companies like RSMotorsport and RaceTech, so there appears to at least be some practical experience behind these charming ideas. I was also told by email that these guys have mortgaged their homes to get this off the ground, so they seem to have some skin in the game, too.
Getting into the car business is tough no matter what, and who knows what will happen? What I do know is that this is an appealing concept, with at least one actual new idea that feels promising. I'd love to see some of these things buzzing around, looking all lovely and colourful, and watching their happy owners' arms twitch and strain as they lug little leather suitcases full of batteries into coffee shops and offices.
Best of luck, you crazy Estonians. I want to drive that prototype when you get it done!