Gallery: INTERVIEW: Edison2′s Chief of Design Ron Mathis

 
Innovations derived from racing enhance safety in the Very Light Car. These advances include collapsible space not available in current cars (such as wheels outside of the main body structure), a shape that detects impacts, and a lightweight but sturdy steel frame. The nimbleness of the Very Light Car aids in accident avoidance, and low mass is an advantage in single-car or auto-pedestrian accidents.
In this photo is Oliver Kuttner, owner and founder of Edison2, and Barnaby Wainfan, Director of Aerodynamics.

Ron Mathis is the Chief of Design for Edison2 and has 30 years of experience in professional racing — he’s worked for the likes of Audi, Jaguar and Dodge. Right now he’s helping to run a team of 70 highly specialized individuals in hopes of bringing home the X prize for the world’s most efficient vehicle. The Very Light Car is the foundation of their entries in the competition, and as the name implies, the vehicle is very light. Brakes, which typically weigh over a pound, only weigh a few ounces in the Very Light Car. Right now the final stages of the competition are being held in Michigan and the validation stage in August will determine the winners.

Inhabitat: Give us a rundown of the three cars left in the competition.

Ron: We have three cars in the X-Prize competition finals. Two of them are in the Mainstream class (meaning 4 seats and luggage space) and are very close to identical; the other is in the Alternative Tandem (two seats, one behind the other) class. We entered multiple cars so that simple bad luck such as a flat tire would not take us out of the competition.

Inhabitat: When did you first start building the cars?

Ron: There are lots of possible answers to that! Seriously, the cars draw so much on the accumulated experience of our team that we can almost be said to have started building them with erector sets when we were kids. The direct ancestors to the actual cars we have in the competition we started building a couple of years ago.

Inhabitat: You started off with 5 cars and are now down to 3 for the final stages. Why five different designs? Why not put more focus on less?

Ron:With finite resources of people and time, it’s a balancing act. We entered 5 cars and turned up for the first event with 4. The car we’ve lost along the way (it had a bought-in engine component fail) was an earlier generation prototype but the 3 still in the competition are mechanically very similar. This works for us when, for example, we can have a car in the emissions lab at the same time we have another in the wind tunnel.

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