The Universal Car Project
The Universal Car Project’s goal is to help people (whether as individuals, or working as part of a company) to design and build their own vehicles. Our goal is to create a “universal” platform upon which our collaborators can build vehicles of their own design. This universal platform will allow a wide range of vehicles to be designed and built to meet the needs of developing countries or just to allow someone to create their dream car. Anyone with manufacturing expertise or even just an interest in automobiles can help design the basis chassis and then utilize the platform to design fully functioning vehicles.
The Universal Car Organization (UCO) will specify the basic chassis which can be mass produced at low cost. This is an “open source” design which anyone can utilize with a free license from the UCO. The UCP will specify the locations of the mounting points for the suspension, engine, and transmission along with a gross vehicle weight rating for the chassis. The basis chassis will allow changes in wheelbase and width, and allow the designer to modify the basic chassis to meet their needs. The individual or manufacturer can choose use the universal car chassis to create vehicles which can range from a small sports car, light truck or SUV to a lightweight electric car. The open concept also allows for most current and past automotive parts to attach to the chassis at the specified mounting points or by creating an attachment to the specified points so the part can properly attach.
Automobiles are one of the most complicated mass-produced items in the world. Even sophisticated economies such as China are having trouble producing an automobile which can compete in the international export market. While inexpensive computers can be built from interchangeable parts, the auto industry still designs automobiles as unique, proprietary assemblies. Parts are not interchangeable even between different years of the same model, and certainly not between manufacturers.
There are many different possible types of automobiles. There is a world of difference between “autobahn-ready” luxury sedans and the types of vehicles needed in lesser developed countries. With the change to a more sustainable economy, all-electric vehicles will soon be entering the market in large numbers. With the end of cheap oil, many of the stabilizing assumptions that allowed the automobile manufacturers to become large enterprises are also ending. The entire industry is currently being downsized, and new entrants into the automotive marketplace are emerging.
One of the constraints to other countries/companies entering the automobile market is that it requires a significant amount of capital to engineer, and build, a new automobile. Existing countries/companies are able to design and build new models cheaply because they have a significant industrial base already devoted to the production of automobiles and they are able to spread their costs over a large number of automobile sales.
However, their design and manufacturing systems are “closed” to outsiders. Existing automotive parts suppliers co-design significant sub-assemblies of existing automobiles, but non-automotive manufacturers play almost no role in designing automobiles, even when they have may have significant design and manufacturing capabilities. [For example, Ford and GM would like their cars to weigh less, which would make them more energy efficient. Boeing has a tremendous amount of design and manufacturing experience reducing weight in aircraft, but Ford and GM have no way to utilize this experience in designing their automobiles. The same could be said of General Electric in electronics and Caterpillar in drive systems, as a few more examples.]
Another problem is that most automobiles are produced for developed countries. These automobiles are fashion objects and are replaced frequently. Therefore most of the design effort goes into designing more fashionable cars, with more “features”. However, in much of the world, what is needed is a very simple, durable, vehicle with heavy load hauling capacities. It must be inexpensive, and easy to repair. It could be built in large numbers, without much change, over a long period of time. Something like a Belarus tractor, or an older Volkswagen Beetle, rather than a new Mercedes-Benz. There is a potentially an enormous market, but each individual sale will have a modest profit margin. This is a market that most of the automotive companies are ignoring.
How the UCP is Organized:
The Universal Car Project is an attempt to utilize the web to design and specify a “universal” platform upon which a wide range of functional vehicles can be designed for third world countries. The method for developing the car will be to start with a “wiki-type” organization which will develop the standards for the basic platform, including wheel-base, construction method, and standard mounting points. Once the basic platform has been standardized, the rest of the car will have an “open architecture”. Everyone who has interest and expertise could utilize the basic platform to design parts and assemblies to turn it into a complete vehicle. Individuals/companies/countries would be able to customize the platform to produce any type of vehicle that was needed or desired.
The Universal Car Organization (UCO) would design and license the basic platform, and make sure that its standards were maintained. They would certify that parts/assemblies were attachable to the basic platform. Otherwise they would allow individuals/companies/countries to design and build whatever type of vehicles that were needed in their regions. This would utilize the expertise of many more individuals and companies than is now available to the automobile industry.
By adopting the basic platform, participating individuals/companies/countries could avoid the high cost of developing a car from scratch. By allowing any user to develop any part/assembly, a wide cross-section of companies and individuals can apply their expertise to the problem of car design and manufacture. Having an open architecture will result in a large installed base of vehicles which will encourage designer and manufacturers to produce a wide variety of parts for the vehicle. By allowing customization of the basic platform, the users would be able to build the exact type of vehicle for their individual needs. This IPRO will design the process for developing the Universal Car Organization (UCO).
This is an opportunity to utilize collaborative engineering and distributed manufacturing to create valuable products and opportunities in the both the developed and developing world. It will allow individuals/companies/countries to develop design and manufacturing expertise in the automotive field, even though they may be unable to produce an entire car. It will also create markets for automotive products tailored to specific countries and regions which are underserved by the general automotive market.
Major activities and tasks:
- Set up the Universal Car Organization.
- Create a website to allow people working on this project to communicate and collaborate.
- Look at ways to encourage designers and manufacturers to participate in the development process.
- Look at the advantages and drawbacks of alternative platform designs.
- Examine ways to capture ideas and designs submitted by individuals, companies and countries.
- Research the types of alternative vehicles/functions required in the developing world.
- Develop patent strategies and licensing agreements to protect the integrity of the UCO concept.
- Decide what policies need to be put in place to vet ideas and designs as meeting the basic fit requirements.
- Strategize on how to leverage the “first to market” advantage to create the largest user base possible.
- Work with manufacturers around the world to create Universal Car Chassis factories.