The Tokyo Auto Salon 2013 in Chiba City kicked off the auto show season this week with intriguing entries from major automakers. Toyota promoted a concept vehicle with advanced carbon roof while Nissan’s Juke Nismo was premiered ahead of a February release in Japan. An interesting entry at the Salon was the AERO-Y concept EV produced by Yokohama. The Japanese tire manufacturer has experience on the international racing circuit as a supplier as well as a competitor. The AERO-Y is not intended as a preview of a production model but a Christmas tree decorated with Yokohama’s latest innovations.
Yokohama worked with designer Takuya Yura at Mooncraft Co. to create a lightweight frame necessary for a cost-effective EV. The keyword for the AERO-Y design process was drag reduction, which Yokohama views as a significant issue for high-performance EVs. Mr. Yura used sheeting made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics (CFRP) to cover the frame for greater aerodynamics. CFRP is already used by airplane manufacturers and provides a great balance between tensile strength and weight. Yokohama is also using HAMATITE adhesives and sealants made from resin in the AERO-Y to contribute to improved aerodynamics.
The centerpiece of the AERO-Y is a set of specially designed tires developed with green transportation in mind. Each tire incorporates nano blend rubber with a proprietary ingredient called orange oil that ensures durability. Yokohama designed the AERO-Y tires with dimples on the outside edge and fins on the inside edge to fit within the drag reduction theme. The exterior dimples allow air to pass by the tires without obstruction while the interior fins increase air flow underneath the vehicle. The AERO-Y is capable of handling roads covered in ice, snow and rain without creating excessive road noise thanks to Yokohama’s innovative tire design.
The path toward a completely green vehicle requires practical experience as much as creativity or good engineering. Yokohama gained experience in the past three years with all-electric entries in the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. This rigorous event requires each driver to complete 156 turns, traverse 12 miles while ascending nearly 5,000 feet. The Yokohama team won the Electric category in 2010, 2011 and 2012 while setting new records each year in that category. The HER-02 EV used in previous races incorporated orange oil tires and a well-designed frame similar to the AERO-Y. The AERO-Y represents a new generation of Yokohama technology that could fit vehicles ranging from the family sedan to the typical stock car.
The auto industry going forward needs to resemble its earliest origins rather than its recent past to develop innovative vehicles. Innovation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came from workshops rather than corporate complexes. The consolidation of the auto industry into the hands of a small group of American, European and Japanese automakers meant limited options over the past 50 years. Development of neighborhood electric vehicles, alt-fuel conversions and hybrids has taken place away from major automakers in the past decade. Yokohama has the engineering knowledge and familiarity with the auto industry of a major automaker but seems willing to tinker with new ideas. The AERO-Y isn’t destined for showrooms but could open up collaboration with other manufacturers to create an effective EV design.