Urbee HybridEnlarge Photo
It may not be fast and it may not even be pretty, but the Urbee car is important for other reasons.
The potential for 166 mpg is clearly a number to raise eyebrows. Using a combination of electric motors and a small, single cylinder, 8 horsepower engine running on ethanol, high economy was never going to be a problem. The aerodynamic, low profile shape and narrow wheels see to that.
At between 60 and 70 mph flat out it certainly isn't quick but an electric motor and batteries that take their energy from solar panels mean that it's quite green.
The most unique aspect of the Urbee though is the way it was produced.
The bodywork hasn't been stamped, formed or crafted - it's been printed. We've covered additive layer manufacturing (ALM) before at All Car Tech, but essentially it involves building up layer upon layer of ultra thin material that becomes fused together at each step to eventually form a 3D object. This body is currently mounted on a stainless steel chassis.
Though the technique isn't suitable for mass production yet it uses low energy and develops low waste, since computer control allows the printer to use only as much of the printing material as necessary.
Until now you'd be forgiven for a little skepticism - can you really print a whole car? - but the Urbee 3D printed car is now on display to the public at the TEDxWinnipeg conference in Canada, the BBC reports.
3D printing has mainly been used for prototyping, but its thought the technique could soon be used for constructing automotive components on-site, which not only means reducing supply chains but also allows for small component changes almost from part to part - the printer will build whatever the computer program requires of it, including objects with moving parts.
We've already seen 3D printed nylon bicycles offering light weight and impressive strength, and the ALM technology even allows printing with metallic powder to form 3D metal objects.
So how much would a 3D printed car cost? Jim Kor from Urbee estimates between $10,000 to $50,000, depending on production numbers. It could hit the roads as soon as 2014.
The printers of tomorrow? Not just for holiday snaps, it seems...