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EU-funded CLEVER prototype makes exciting debut

CLEVER is a three-metre-long and one-metre-wide tilting three-wheeler with room for a driver and one passenger, developed with EU support and aimed at alleviating rising urban transport congestion. On 10 April 2006, this sleek and exciting new vehicle was unveiled in Berlin where project partners, journalists and interested parties were allowed to test drive it for themselves.

Image of CLEVER eing test driven
Test drive

With the demand for mobility continuing to mount in our urban centres, creating ever more traffic frustration, pollution and noise, the CLEVER project represents a real concrete step towards more intelligent and imaginative alternative vehicles.

“When we looked at the current situation, the needs of consumers and the need for individual mobility, the answer to us was clear,” said CLEVER project coordinator Heiko Johannsen of the Technical University of Berlin. “What we need are new vehicle concepts. Up to now, few real attempts have been made to introduce alternative vehicles onto the market, and those attempts have been largely unsuccessful, not to mention ugly, and no fun to drive.”

“Three-wheeled vehicles have been tried before,” explained Peter Krams of BMW, “going all the way back to our famous Isetta of the 1950s. Unfortunately, these vehicles have tended to be poorly designed and unsafe, and have never made a significant impact aside from their curiosity.”

International award winning designer Peter Naumann drew on a range of sources when creating the look of the new CLEVER vehicle, taking inspiration from the aerospace industry, from nature and even science fiction. Walking a captivated audience through his creative process, he explained, “We wanted to create a concept that is light and open, with new lines that would give us a completely new aspect and tell a new kind of story. The result is an enclosed space that does not feel enclosed.”

More than a name

Image of Heiko Johannsen and Peter Naumann
Heiko Johannsen and Peter Naumann

In addition to an exciting new look, the project’s strong team of technical wizards have put together a complete transport package, addressing all issues crucial to the success of a new vehicle in the real world:

Safety – CLEVER is equipped with a two-chamber driver air bag and a special belt system, while its fully lined aluminium space frame cabin protects occupants against weather and provides a compartment stiff enough to withstand normal accident conditions. The aim, say project partners, was to obtain a three-star rating under EuroNCAP testing procedures. EuroNCAP, the European New Car Assessment Programme, is a safety assessment programme for automobiles supported by several European governments. It awards star ratings based on vehicle performance in a variety of crash tests.

Environmental performance – a dedicated 213cc single-cylinder, 15hp natural gas (CNG)-powered engine accelerates CLEVER from 0 to 60kph in less than seven seconds, emitting less than 60g/km of CO2, a figure well in line with the EUs long-term emissions targets. To facilitate the use of CLEVER in European regions where CNG refuelling infrastructure is still poor, the vehicle is equipped with two specially designed gas cylinders that can be removed and refilled externally.

Innovative tilting mechanism – due to the narrow track of the CLEVER vehicle, a tilting chassis was deemed necessary to maintain cornering stability at speed. An ingenious hydraulic system was developed by partners working at the University of Bath that tilts the vehicle towards the centre of the turn, based on driver and other vehicle inputs. Because of the unique turning characteristics, new tyres had to be designed, featuring specific handling characteristics, high durability and a special rain clearing tread design.

Teamwork works

Image of the CLEVER vehicle

Asked about the CLEVER partnership’s co-operative research approach, the University of Bath’s Benjamin Drew said, “Working together with European partners was a very gratifying experience. The first few weeks involved some getting to know each other and understanding each other’s skills and habits. We are talking about different cultures, after all. But here we are, at the end of the project, having achieved our goals and standing in front of these new working prototypes. Clearly, the process works.

“We could not have achieved the CLEVER vehicle on or own,” explained Johannsen. “We needed specialists in a variety of areas and the European Commission was very supportive, putting us in contact with potential partners and helping us to find the expertise we needed.”

“This is the culmination of a six-year effort,” said Volker Schindler of the Technical University of Berlin. “Our goal was to develop a new vehicle with the smallest possible footprint for European cities, showing exemplary environmental, energy and safety performance, and that is what we have achieved. This is a good example of the potential of co-operative research at European level. We have to remember that this is still a prototype, but I promise you that it is a very interesting vehicle.”

What’s next?

CLEVER represents a major step in the march towards future alternative vehicles for individual urban mobility. The project’s technical team say further changes can still be made to improve the vehicle’s safety, energy performance and handling.

“Working with this CLEVER team has been a fruitful experience,” said Peter Krams. “We have no specific commitments at this time in terms of actual production, but we have certainly gained invaluable insights and real know-how. This project represents an important milestone in the story of innovative alternative vehicles.”