Daimler and German chemical giant BASF have taken automotive development right down to the molecular level in this joint project, the Smart ForVision concept, which also (no doubt) previews many of the design elements we’ll see in the next Smart Fortwo.
Smart boss Annette Winkler explains: “Smart is doing justice to its role as Daimler's think-tank for urban mobility. The objective is to greatly increase battery range, so we looked at every factor that influences this on a vehicle.
“The result was new concepts and materials for insulation, reflection, lightweight design and energy management. The concept has transparent organic solar cells, transparent, energy-saving light-emitting diodes and infrared-reflective films and coatings, and high-performance foams for insulation against cold and heat.
“But it also has the first all-plastic wheels on a road car and yes, it's a runner; we can't wait to get it out of the research laboratory and on to the road!”
She encouraged the researchers and designers to “think ahead” on the ForVision project; some of the materials and technologies used for the concept have a realistic chance of becoming production-line reality, while others are frankly experimental.
Nevertheless, the concept's most eye-catching feature does work - the transparent hexagonal panels in the roof are actually solar cells that produce enough current (even on cloudy days) to power the car's multimedia electronics and the three fans that ventilate the cabin.
And because they don't use battery power the fans are available all the time; if the car is standing in the sun, they'll switch on automatically to keep the cabin cool.
But wait, as they say, there's more: each transparent solar cell is also an organic light-emitting diode, which is switched on when a door is opened or a button pressed, so the roof allows for a clear view outside during the day and provides diffuse, glare-free lighting at night.
The ForVision rolls on what BASF claims are the first all-plastic rims suitable for volume production. Each is three kilograms lighter than a comparalble alloy rim and, thanks a new polyamide composite material with long reinforcing fibres, as strong or stronger.
The doors are made of carbon fibre - 50 percent lighter than steel and 30 percent lighter than aluminium - using a special quick-curing epoxy resin from BASF that will shorten production times in volume production.
The lightweight, self-supporting plastic seat shells are padded with a special foam, lighter than ordinary foam and of varying density, and upholstered with “e-textiles” - thin fabrics with custom-tailored conductive coatings.
Research shows the body only absorbs heat most efficiently through the middle and lower back and lower arms, so that's where the e-textiles warm you up! The superabsorbent, fleecy fabric is also self ventilating and wicks sweat away from the body to keep you cool and dry in hot weather without using any power for mechanical ventilation.
DON'T COOL THE CAR - KEEP THE HEAT OUT
Air-conditioning uses huge amounts of power, so the Smart guys concentrated on passive temperature management, starting with an infrared-reflective film from BASF applied on the windscreen and side windows. The body panels are also lined with high-performance foams that keep the car pleasantly cool in summer and also insulate it against the cold in winter.
The concept is finished in a white special-effect coating with glass flakes that give it a gleaming metallic look, while reflecting the sun's heat - but the car's darker surfaces also keep their cool thanks to special colour pigments that radiate rather than absorb heat.
The signature Smart tridion safety cell is coated with a copper-coloured liquid metal paint with aluminium flakes that change from light to dark depending on the viewer's perspective - and the whole car is finished with a new, extremely scratch-resistant clear coat.
The faceted design of the side doors lends stiffness so a thinner moulding can be used - and their built-in handles reduce the number of components required, just as the separate grille has been replaced by small hexagonal openings moulded into the front panel
The rear lights look like small aircraft turbines - but they're also the ducts for the ventilating fans, while transparent rings around the light show the charge status of the battery during charging.
The inside is all cool white as well, with signature hexagonal white rubber nubs on a white floor, accentuated by a copper-coloured instrument panel.
The inside door panel are also faceted, with moulded-in armrests and stowage compartments and animated, colour LEDS to remind you to close the doors and then change to unobtrusive ambient lighting.
The instrument panel is semi-transparent when switched off, with the display projected on to the transparent surface when the car is running. The driver uses a touchscreen to switch between operating menus.
The Smart Forvision, says Winkler, shows that nanotechnology can increase the range of a battery-powered car by as much as 20 percent, both by making it lighter and by reducing the power needed to run ancillary systems such as air conditioning and infotainment.