"Which one do you want to get hit by? The 1,000 pound steel vehicle or 300 pounds of soft foam?"
That's the question that Doug Ballard, director of the Spira team in the Automotive X-Prize asks because he knows the answer. In fact, while his team is serious about efficiency, its safety that really drives them. As the company's official press release says, "Spira is in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize to educate the world that the #1 cause of deaths in 15 ‐ 25 year olds is from unsafe vehicles that slaughter people." Coming from Thailand, where – like the rest of Asia – the mix of vehicles on the road means that a lot of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists are killed in accidents, gives Ballard and his brother Lon a different perspective than most other teams. As Doug told AutoblogGreen:
Given the team's focus on safety for people inside and outside the vehicle, the three-wheeled Spira is, yes, made of soft foam. The frame starts out with a plastic coreboard that's coated with epoxy fiberglass to create a sort of I-beam. The frame is then covered by polyurethane foam, the same material that Croc shoes are made of. So, instead of feeling like being hit by a car, if you come into contact with the Spira, maybe it's kind of like being kicked by a soccer player.We were trying to build a car for safety. Most people don't realize that 80 percent of vehicle accidents are people not in the vehicle. The number one killer in the world of people between the ages of 15 and 25 is vehicle accidents. You don't hear the auto industry say, 'We're the number on killer,' but that's actually true.
The engine – taken from a Ninja 250 Kawasaki – is on by the right back wheel of the vehicle along with the transmission. On the left side is the fuel tank, the radiator and the radiator overflow. Inside, the seats are arranged in a tandem set-up and the driver steers using a handlebar that is very much like a tiller and is connected to a conventional motorcycle front wheel. There are hydraulic brakes operated by a pedal, not from the handlebar as the pictures might suggest (see the gallery below). For efficiency, the trike uses cameras instead of mirrors and Ballard said that going electric in the future is a possibility.
The Spira could also develop a new vehicle market in Asia. The continent is full of motorcycles, but there are few options between a $1,000 motorcycle and a $15,000 car. The Spira is meant to fit into that gap. The car has thus far passed all of the X-Prize's tests it had attempted and the technical inspection, so it's onward and upward for the team from Thailand.