According to Korean tire manufacturer Kumho, our future may yet be filled with SUVs after all. Unlike yesteryear's gas-guzzling behemoths, though, tomorrow's multi-purpose vehicles will be fully electric and powered by lithium ion battery packs. Being a tire company, it comes as little surprise that Kumho's Fortis concept SUV would feature body panels molded from recycled rubber for an eco-friendly twist. Another interesting exterior bit are the front light clusters inspired by Korean glass sculptures.
Underneath the SUV-shaped body sits a modular platform with one chassis-mounted 100-horsepower electric motor per wheel. This arrangement allows for an unlimited number of drivetrain possibilities – front- rear- or all-wheel drive are all possible and traction control, stability control and hill descent control can be baked right in via the software that controls the motors.
Perhaps the coolest bit of future-tech in the Fortis design study are the tires. When traveling off-road, the tires deflate, leaving a series of metal lugs exposed for ultimate traction. When it's time to hit the road, air cavities in the tires expand, covering the metal lugs so as not to cause harrowing spark-induced moments of panic.
Kumho claims that Rob Dolton, the mind behind the Fortis concept, is the only full-time vehicle designer currently employed by a tire company. His job is to explore future automotive technologies and to help Kumho plan next-generation tires. Note to Kumho: We'll gladly take a set of these units for our next off-road excursion.
'Fortis' - Kumho's eco‑friendly SUV with previously unattained levels of off/on‑road capability
Kumho is a tyre manufacturer with a conscience. It produces millions of tyres for today's SUVs, but is acutely aware that such vehicles will have to change dramatically if they are to survive ever greener vehicular legislation. They will also have to provide a better balance of on‑ and off‑road ability. The company has therefore employed the skills of its in‑house designer, Rob Dolton, to demonstrate exactly what tomorrow's SUVs could be like - the intriguing result is Fortis!
Body panels manufactured from recycled tyre rubber
Fortis has the aggressive stance expected of a highly capable SUV combined with such fresh aesthetic touches as light clusters influenced by Korean glass sculpture. Far more contemporary still are the bumper sections, doors, bonnet, front wings and rear hatch which are manufactured from recycled tyre rubber. Underpinning all this machismo is a modular chassis and drivetrain concept that will be developed through subsequent designs, the platform allowing for different vehicles to be easily packaged around common parts.
The drivetrain comprises four 100hp chassis‑mounted motors - one powering each wheel when the vehicle is in 4‑wheel drive mode. This system provides ultimate off‑road traction, ESP and hill descent, while the motor configuration allows for easy transition between 4WD, 2WD, FWD and RWD. The in‑wheel regenerative braking system gives optimum on‑road driving response.
Power comes from a Lithium ion battery pack and Kumho believes the viability of such alternative propulsion will depend on the technology becoming as user friendly and convenient as petrol and diesel are today. Fortis's batteries can therefore be used in two ways:
1. Recharged - at home, work or recharge stations
2. Exchanged - old batteries replaced by new ones on longer journeys
Revolutionary tyres with adjustable treads
As you'd expect from one of the world's leading tyre manufacturers, the Fortis also boasts revolutionary tyre technology. Currently, the only way an SUV will provide optimum performance both on and off‑road is to change the tyres for each requirement. The Fortis, however, allows its driver to specify the performance required from just one set of tyres by having a tread pattern that can be adjusted at will.
The tyres feature metal biters in their tread that optimise off‑road performance - when employed, it is primarily they that grip the terrain for maximum traction and durability. For on‑road use, the tyre cavity is inflated. This expands the rubber areas of the tyre to cover the metal biters, offering high levels of comfort, noise performance and road‑biased dynamic ability. With this technology, one really can achieve the best of all worlds.
Rob Dolton is the only qualified vehicle designer employed within the world's tyre industry and is retained by Kumho's European Technical Centre in Birmingham specifically to explore future technologies for road and track vehicles, and the tyres on which they run. A graduate of the internationally renowned Automotive Design Department of Coventry University, he worked for Fiat Advanced Design in Turin before joining Kumho in 2005. Dolton's previous vehicle concepts include a bamboo‑chassied single‑seat racecar powered by four Maglev units.