AutoblogGreen Q&A with Hugh Kemp about the Naro concept vehicle

As part of the AutoblogGreen Podcast number 3 (which you can listen to here), we spoke with Hugh Kemp, who is working on the Naro concept car. We introduced you to the Naro at the end of March, and this transcript of our interview should fill in a few more gaps in what we know about this unique vehicle. Enjoy.

ABG: I'm with Hugh Kemp and you are working on the Naro car which we wrote about, um, two days ago on this site and I just noticed that, I believe it is you – before we get into the Naro, you did some work on – with Lotus on the Elise is that true?

HK: Yes. Yeah, I used to be the engineering director at Lotus up until about 1996 and my last responsibility was to be the project director for the Elise.

ABG: So that should give people a little bit of confidence in your ability to design a nice looking car?

HK: That is right. I like a challenge and the Elise was a, you know, a performance car, lightweight and I think they achieved that, you know, with a fairly modest engine and we still have got super car performance out of the vehicle, really, so that is sort of a stretch there trying to follow. So Naro is the next step for me and I have now launched my own company. We are targeting the vehicle for city use. It's a meter wide, 2 1/2 meters long, 1.7 meters tall, carries two people in tandem, and the target really is to have an efficient, space efficient, fuel efficient, means of getting into work or transporting around a city basically. We see three applications: a commuter car for the sort of the city worker really, a single-seat taxi, currently in London 80 percent of the fares are single fares so why send a four-seat taxi when a one seat taxi will do and then the third one is to look at a van application, you know, some light cargo delivery vehicle, or something like DHL would use.

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ABG: Yeah, and in reading about that before coming down here, I was thinking – I was wondering if that target was the goal of the car or once you designed the car you saw those as possibilities. Which came first, I guess is the question.

HK: I think the commuter we were aiming at. I think everybody has sat in traffic jams. You know, you sit in a big five seat car and you are probably on your own, and there are another five cars around you with the exact same number of people in them, it just seems wrong that we still have that sort of strategy going forward. It came out of a conversation with Damien Hardy, my chief engineer. I was complaining about getting to work and he was saying oh, well, what you want is a motorcycle and I said no, I wouldn't get on a motorcycle because I don't feel safe and he said, oh well maybe if we started thinking about how to make motorcycles safe and then we thought well, you know, four wheels is better than two. It would be less alien to a car driver and then the project simply evolved from there really and we have now spent about 18 months to 2 years to developing the roll steer system that enables us to keep a very tall Naro vehicle stable by banking it into corners, to tilt the vehicle into the corner we are turning – to enable us to make it stable and that is the main area of concentration so far and we have developed a control strategy, electric steering system and operating system that operate the dynamics of the vehicle.

ABG: What I read about it was that the initial design was done at Coventry University in what 2004? A lot of research was what you called fundamental research was done in 2005 and it sound like since then – well, we are now in 2007.

HK: The early work was looking at some of the styling ideas and that is where Coventry University were very useful. They did some packaging ideas of taxis and motor vehicles and vans and gave me a good direction. In between periods – between, then and now, it has been really concentrating on developing a mule vehicle we call it a development vehicle with the latest in software improvement and we are now moving into the next phase to develop the concept really of the structure of the vehicle, the body, the passenger cell and working on how we make the door mechanisms work and how we make the, crash worthiness meet the requirements for this vehicle.

ABG: And where do you hope to be in about a year?

HK: In a year we hope to be in a position where we have got a vehicle packaged that we have developed in the mule car built into a new crash type test that has the right seating and the right door mechanisms and the sort of thing that we can then take to the market to develop the to take it through.

ABG: And so this is one that maybe we'll see at next year's conference?

HK: I would very much like to but, you know, we'll see how it goes. But, you know, I am sort of targeting 2009 – 2010 to sort of get into the production stage.

ABG: Okay. So that fits into the next question about, uh, the prediction that the U.K. sub – what is it called, the sub car market?

HK: Sub car market, yes.

ABG: In 2012, about some 20,000 sales a year are predicted –

HK: Something like that.

ABG: – and so you would very much like to be a part of that.

HK: I would, yeah, very much so. I think we are already starting to see cars coming into the market, Carver are selling a three wheeled Naro and there are some other vehicles very close to production and coming into the market sector. We have Tango over here, probably a slightly different concept but it demonstrating the idea of a Naro vehicle and I think this concept of vehicles that are sort of between normal cars and motorcycles is gradually growing. I see a few here, the NEV.

ABG: Right.

HK: They are sort of in that category, not quite but, you know, in Europe they are just normal cars but here they are very small.

ABG: And so the goal from what I have heard is the production of about 1,500 a year?

HK: Yeah. Yeah. The idea is

ABG: Commuters, right?

HK: – for the commuter to get to about 1,500 a year as sort of a U.K. production. And then very much the roll out, you know, with a demand for this sort of vehicle, we plan to sell licenses to the platform design to other manufacturers to look at both other markets, maybe in North America, maybe, the far east, and also to look at other applications, the taxi and the van application.

ABG: You spoke earlier about sitting in traffic kind of helped promote this –

HK: Yeah.

ABG: – and it sounds like the three problems that, you know, that the Naro was meant to address are the congestion like you were talking about pollution and parking in the city and I do think that a production Naro would, you know, hit – nail those three targets. Do you think any one of them would be more appealing to customers than the other?

HK: I think probably traffic congestion is probably the key one, you know. Everybody lives in a society where time is of the essence, and we have got to get to the next place or next meeting, we want to deliver things quickly, and I think that is probably the key feature. Obviously there is a green environment now and if we can use cars that use less than a third of the fuel of the normal car at its first introduction and then obviously going through battery power or fuel cell power in the next generation of the vehicle, that is another very, you know, strong incentive to buy the car.

ABG: Yeah, so if you can get there quicker and happen to be doing it at 100 miles to the gallon or more, even better.

HK: Yeah, you have a smile on your face. You haven't paid the congestion charge and a lot of people would say you used about a third of fuel of your colleague who is in a normal car, you got there an hour and a half earlier and you have found a parking space that you can squeeze into.

ABG: Great. That is definitely appealing. So once the Naro comes out, we'll see but I, uh, I can see that being a – a popular selling one. Hugh, thank you very much for talking with AutoblogGreen.

HK: Thank you.

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