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Nissan's revolutionary trapezoidal BladeGlider Concept defies convention

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November 8, 2013

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept is not your traditional sportscar - for starters, it has thre...

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept is not your traditional sportscar - for starters, it has three seats, it's electric, and it has a shape never before seen on the road.

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The BladeGlider concept to be shown by Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show this month will no doubt cause a stir among the general populace for its radical shape, but it just might represent a significant moment in the history of the automobile. When Ben Bowlby conceived the vehicle’s revolutionary architecture in December 2008, he envisioned a far more efficient automobile than current form factors allow.

Just five years later, the same trapezoid form factor will be the marquee unveiling at one of the most important car shows in the world. The reason it is so important, and yes, revolutionary, is that the Bladeglider (nee ZEOD RC, nee Deltawing) has such a low aerodynamic drag coefficient, that it uses considerably less energy to achieve the same performance as a conventional car using the same powerplant – maybe as little as half the energy.

It is hence a perfect choice for an electric vehicle, where energy storage is limited, range anxiety is high, and performance EVs still need all the help they can get in balancing performance with the practical considerations of the public roads.

Nissan's Deltawing Racecar Project

When the Deltawing made its debut in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, it lasted just six hours before it was involved in an accident caused by another car. It qualified a highly respectable 29th but its race pace was at the bottom end of the LMP2 class and most of the remarkable things it achieved that weekend were overlooked because it did not feature in the results.

Nissan's Deltawing Racecar Project

During the six hours it ran at Le Mans, it was using half the fuel of its competitors and running twice the distance on a set of tires. Indeed, the front tires were doing much better than the rears, but in time-honored tradition they got changed when the rears did, so we won’t know how much less wear they were experiencing until next June when hostilities resume once more.

As Road & Track magazine pointed out in its summary of the car’s efforts: “50 percent is the most prevalent figure and frame of mind with the Dan Gurney-built prototype. Bowlby's four-wheeled declaration was brought to life to prove that similar performance to that of the class-leading prototypes can be achieved with half the weight, half the power, and half the fuel and tire consumption.”

Nissan's Deltawing Racecar Project

That’s the point of the Bladeglider. It is more efficient by design, and not trying to make the traditional shape of the automobile more efficient. It represents new thought, and Nissan should be congratulated for its boldness in embracing the concept of rearranging the four wheels of the “square car.”

Unlike nearly all concept cars, which are designed to assess public opinion, the uber-radical Bladeglider already seems destined for production. Normally, radical concepts get tentatively proposed as highly futuristic, in case the post-event market research bombs.

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show

Hence, the Nissan press release carries some statements as bold as the concept itself: "More than a concept, Nissan BladeGlider is both a proposal for the future direction of Nissan electric vehicle (EV) development and an exploratory prototype of an upcoming production vehicle from the world’s leading EV manufacturer."

A new brand emerges

Just as Nismo is being developed as an automotive brand in its own right by Nissan, ZEOD will also come to be a stand-alone brand too. An acronym for “Zero Emissions On Demand,” ZEOD will wear a host of brand values such as innovative design, sustainable energy and environmentally-responsible and will be the banner name for Nissan’s electric and hybrid production cars from 2015 onwards.

Nissan's ZEOD RC Racecar Project

The car on which the name ZEOD first emerged, is the direct forebear of the Bladeglider.

When all else around it is changing rapidly, the fundamental design of the automotive industry’s products has proven to be just as stubbornly unyielding as marine architecture once was. Nissan’s fledgling ZEOD brand might become the catalyst needed to begin freeing up the tight constraints society’s brain has wrapped around the concept of the automobile as personal transport.

April 2011 - Ben Bowlby gauges the interest of Highcroft Racing's Duncan Dayton at the Lon...

The story would not be complete without acknowledgement of Ben Bowlby and Deltawing Racing for their foresight and contribution to our collective understanding of performance automobiles.

Nissan's Deltawing Racecar Project

This timeline of the remarkably short gestation cycle between concept and what appears to be the beginning of a global roll-out highlights just how fast ideas travel in the current age of global communications.

Many people have understood that light weight and good aerodynamics are the key to performance motoring, but when history judges the achievers, Bowlby and the Deltawing team may yet be elevated to the same rung as Colin Chapman (Lotus), Enzo Ferrari (Ferrari) and Bruce McLaren (McLaren).

Dan Gurney might even be President one day : )

A special nod must also go to Dan Gurney who has consistently been one of motorsport’s great innovators, from his motorsport constructors history, where he won a Formula One race driving a car of his own manufacture, through the Gurney Flap, the Alligator motorcycle design and many other innovative executions. His most endearing gift to all for those who truly love the sport, Gurney began the tradition of spraying champagne on the victor’s podium when he won the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1967. Gurney was also the first person to wear a full face helmet in Formula One. Half a century later, he’s not yet finished innovating.

Starting with a clean sheet – NOT!

The Nissan press statement yesterday stated thus: “A clean slate was the starting point for this project, led by Francois Bancon, division general manager of Product Strategy and Product Planning at Nissan. "The goal was to revolutionize the architecture of the vehicle to provoke new emotions, provide new value and make visible for consumers how Zero Emissions can help redefine our conception of vehicle basics," said Bancon.”

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show

Of course it’s not really a clean sheet because the BladeGlider is unmistakably the direct descendant of the ZEOD, Deltawing and came from the same place as the twinkle in Ben Bowlby's eyes.

A simple tape measure will confirm that much of the architecture is a direct lift from Bowlby’s original concept of a narrow front track (in this case 1.0 meter) and a wide stable rear track (1.8 meters) to enable a design which reduces aerodynamic friction and enhances maneuverability. The traditional balanced 50-50 weight distribution of the automotive design is close to 30-70 in this design, but as the stopwatch at Le Mans will attest, it goes around corners just as fast, if not faster, than a conventional layout.

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show

Instead of the convention 1.6 liter internal combustion engine originally envisaged for the Deltawing, the electric drivetrain of the Bladeglider further enhances the strengths of the design as the lithium ion battery packs can be located in the most convenient places to achieve optimal weight distribution, and the Bladeglider’s in-wheel electric motors will further free up the shape of the vehicle to help it leave the air as undisturbed as possible. The wedge-shaped frontal profile of the Bladeglider is only one factor in the total aerodynamic equation – aerodynamic efficiency is all about leaving the air behind a vehicle undisturbed, and hence it’s the back half of the Bladeglider that plays the most significant role in its streamlining.

Composite construction too is vitally important. The square shape of the automobile was dictated by the limited construction materials and techniques of 150 years ago. Now we have the benefits of carbon fiber and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic to apply to chassis and body design, the trapezoid shape can be implemented far more effectively without the performance-restricting weight that metallic construction would have mandated.

Nissan's Bladeglider Concept will debut at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show

Indeed, the Deltawing which ran at Le Mans achieved similar downforce as cars with massive rear wings, without the aerodynamic drag which the appropriately named spoilers induce.

All said, the Bladeglider might well be the start of an automotive design revolution, and I’m feeling very privileged that I’ll be in Tokyo to see it happen.

Nissan's promo video released ahead of the Tokyo debut is below.



About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
42 Comments

i want this car really really truly

Joel Trombley
8th November, 2013 @ 09:06 pm PST

its like the pink panther car from the cartoon series, looks cool, cant wait to see if any other companies start making weird shaped cars for production that are just as funky. :)

Jai Drew
9th November, 2013 @ 01:25 am PST

Everything about this car is fantastic, with one exception - the in wheel motors.

Presumably Nissan have somehow found a way to deal with the un-sprung weight issue and damage tolerance, because these motors have proven to be nightmares when tested in other cars.

Robt
9th November, 2013 @ 05:23 am PST

More wheels:

-Better ride since less unsprung weight on each wheel

-Can lower the body by using smaller wheels

-Better traction

I thought I would be seeing 6+ wheelers more frequently by 2000+, but instead we get less wheel? Even after the invention of in-wheel-hub motors? Why?

Johnny Kang
9th November, 2013 @ 03:00 pm PST

Radical, innovative, daring, & aerodynamic it is a stunning three season car.

But probably not very drivable on a snowy highway with a mere meter front track and more standard rear track.

With that wider rear end, the side mirrors visibility is also questionable, and your behind could easily be forgotten and driving habits would need to be relearned, as the front edge of typical cars is your visual cue, when cutting through corners.

Bob Flint
9th November, 2013 @ 04:28 pm PST

Ok in a straight line but the laws of physics say the width belongs up front, better have a all the weight in the rear and turn like a ZTR mower.

Heather Bowman
9th November, 2013 @ 06:34 pm PST

can anyone else say batmobile?

Isaac Mark Hanninen
10th November, 2013 @ 03:44 am PST

The delta wing design has grown on me from my initial "wth" question to "hmm, I kind of like the design". The Bladeglider, as presented here, would definitely be a strong contender for a spot in my garage if Nissan could manage to pull it off with a 150 plus mile range, and a price under $40k. Yep, I'm aware that'll never happen (the cost part), but I can dream, can't ?!

My biggest question about this design relates to cornering performance. How can a car shaped more like a dragster not understeer like there's no tomorrow?

Vince Pack
10th November, 2013 @ 09:30 am PST

I guess the Morgan Aero 3-wheeler would have been pretty innovative in its day too. I can see the benefits of using this new design to showcase technology, but really, where is the practicality ?

Martin Hone
10th November, 2013 @ 04:13 pm PST

Any questions about how well this design would perform were answered at LeMans. However, I sure would like to see a 1.0-liter or less ICE to calm my range anxiety. In that setup it would give the Elio a run for its money, and probably win, but perhaps not on price.

Bruce H. Anderson
10th November, 2013 @ 06:15 pm PST

Nice on the open road, but in traffic it will be an absolute nightmare, which is a pity because it is in traffic where electric cars come into their own. Actually, I'm not ever sure about the open road. You would have to go quite a way out into the oncoming traffic lane before you could be sure that it was safe to overtake.

As far as traffic driving is concerned, it gives no idea of how wide it is behind you relative to the gap in front of you. On top of that it suffers from the same fault that all super cars suffer from - it is too low. Asked to drive across London, for instance, I'd even prefer almost any family saloon to this - attractive as it undoubtedly is. But there again, I am of an age where I no longer have a desperate need to sell myself to the opposite sex, something this would be quite good at, I suspect.

Mel Tisdale
11th November, 2013 @ 01:57 am PST

Three seats, but no-one can call "shotgun!" any more...

Readout Noise
11th November, 2013 @ 02:11 am PST

You could save more weight by having only one wheel at the front. A wider tyre could be used. One front wheel would allow the use of a 180 degree axle, similar to a bike, so parking would be very easy.

windykites1
11th November, 2013 @ 07:13 am PST

I think the authors in the automotive section here at Gizmag need to be retrained on what they need to include when addressing electric vehicles.

Wheel motors solve so many design and maintenance issues they are the way of the future with electric vehicles, but every time they are mentioned the issue of unsprung weight comes up. Despite this fact not one of the articles here has addressed it since the Mini QED.

The only article that comes close is the article on the second generation Protean electric motor that mentions in passing that the motors weigh 66 pounds. They never mention that the 66 pounds is not "in addition to" the weight at the wheel but "in place of" much of the current unsprung mass.

As an example look up the Mini QED. Those prototypes were made by PML Flightlink which has since split the motor unit off into Protean Electric. The QED had a 6 pound per wheel increase. That was a raw conversion of a stock gas powered car not a design engineered around the wheel-motors, and prototype motors.

The current generation of these motors weigh 66 pounds, They replace the friction braking system entirely, the drive shaft, differential, and now even the wheels are integrated into that 66 pounds, as the tire mounts directly to the wheel-motor.

So all-in-all I'd say it is very likely Nissan has something comperable even though the article doesn't address it. Again, shame on Gizmag for failing to address a critical design question the readership is constantly confused about.

VirtualGathis
11th November, 2013 @ 07:28 am PST

@ Isaac Mark Hanninen: My first thought exactly. I certainly won't shell out good money for something that belongs in a comic book.

And that aside, there is no way this thing's cornering is going to be stable. Maybe they found Le Mans drivers who figured out the tricks, but in the hands of John Public this is going to be a nightmare - In the UK a horrible vehicle called the Reliant Robin proved that if you are going to have a three-wheeler or near enough, it has to have the wider track in front otherwise it tips over at the sight of a bend in the road.

Chris Bedford
11th November, 2013 @ 08:19 am PST

And it's crash friendly too ? wounder if it has the Nissan gas pedal sticking feature.

Jay Finke
11th November, 2013 @ 08:20 am PST

I asked a question on a previous article dealing with this delta configuration, and I have never seen it addressed before or since.

How is brake cooling accomplished in this vehicle, and I ask with particular emphasis on the front axle??? Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach, California.

rseifer
11th November, 2013 @ 08:21 am PST

Many have tried the system of three wheels, after the horse charrete, or as a Trotter Derby, which had both the traction as the steering centered on horse.

My question is about the rear-wheel drive versus the low stability in the front wheels, practically "pushed" by the strength of the super stable rear composition.

Morgan three-wheeled tried to stabilize its assembly with rear traction. Anyway was not approved.

I believe that the Delta Wing system is innovative by bringing to the roads the aerodynamics of a BladeGlider, or of a fighter jet, if preferred, and its low coefficient of drag, but I imagine it's difficult to stay on the ground, even using the ingenious and practical solution of the "in wheel" electric motor...

Sergius
11th November, 2013 @ 09:54 am PST

The Bladeglider bears a passing resemblance to the ill -fated 1948 Davis.

http://www.hemmings.com/hcc/stories/2005/04/01/hmn_feature10.html

SeaSong
11th November, 2013 @ 10:07 am PST

very intriguing design it does limit front seating but the design is worth further development especially for racing

Harold Peters
11th November, 2013 @ 11:06 am PST

I believe that the resistance moment to overturning is the weight of the car at its center of gravity times its distance to the line drawn from the rear wheel to the front wheel. Bring either wheel in towards the centerline and you will have greater tendency to roll over the "square car".

Drag of a vehicle is proportional to the frontal area times the drag coefficient. The frontal area doesn't look much reduced over the "square car" and I would be surprised if the drag coefficient were much lower so I'm not sure where the purported improvements in aerodynamics would come from. A documented drag coefficent would be of interest.

If the vehicle's performance is great I'd be surprised if it were related to the delta shape and, styling aside, there is a high price paid to the utility of the car by cutting so much away.

Steve Bailey
11th November, 2013 @ 11:42 am PST

In wheel motors?? Mercedes was gonna use them in their electric AMG, but decided against it in order get the power plant away from the road stresses… I drove a Tesla Model S last week, and the weight distribution was awesome, due to the battery tray/frame mindset…

I'll take 3 please…..

jason david steel
11th November, 2013 @ 12:37 pm PST

This is essentially a 3 wheeled vehicle.

All 3 wheeled vehicles are inherently unstable.

Lewis M. Dickens III
11th November, 2013 @ 12:43 pm PST

Sweet !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TJ Morris
11th November, 2013 @ 02:15 pm PST

The old farm tractors had a similar wheel set up and they could flip quite easily. Of course,they sat much higher with a different center of gravity.

Would anyone buy a 3 seater for practical use in the real world? Dream on.

chidrbmt
11th November, 2013 @ 02:25 pm PST

To all automotive/mechanical/aerodynamic engineers above who have made their comments about stability and cornering ability based on their years of design and development experience...oh wait, you are basing your comments on the photos you looked at and the examples of 50 year old designs.

I'd like to think that the combined knowledge and design/development program of one of the worlds largest automotive companies would have a better idea of whether this design is stable, usable and safe before they even thought about putting it on sale for the general public, regardless of whether they had already proven its ability in one of the worlds greatest motorsport events.

Why don't you all go back to your "4 on the corners" Mini - i'm looking forward to seeing what the automotive world brings us in the coming 10 years.

Seanish
11th November, 2013 @ 03:10 pm PST

This is just a pipe-dream until I see the two fundamental platform specs: drag & weight. Is the undercarriage sealed? The doors open too far out.

I like the motor-in-wheel very much.

Don Duncan
11th November, 2013 @ 04:19 pm PST

I love this design. Essentially it is a melding of a trike design with a car design and the benefits are obvious.

Jim Sadler
11th November, 2013 @ 05:51 pm PST

I think that is way cool.

BigWarpGuy
11th November, 2013 @ 06:35 pm PST

It's stable due to low centre of gravity.

Dawar Saify
11th November, 2013 @ 06:42 pm PST

Is something I would be interested in . However price is no dought beyond it's value in this world economy today .

David Walker
11th November, 2013 @ 06:57 pm PST

Designed to hit every pothole in the road. Aside from that it's really cool.

marty@bozeman
11th November, 2013 @ 08:06 pm PST

This is a very original ground unit for fighter pilots. There is a familiar position at the center of a bird. But seriously, it seems to me that to operate a vehicle from its center is much more natural for human. Suffice it to recall cycling. A slight handle bar's deviation causes considerable discomfort.

Rafael Kireyev
11th November, 2013 @ 09:53 pm PST

I've been driving a similar - production ! - electromobile for 16 years now : a TWIKE. And it is much more energy-efficient than this prototype. But it seems that large car manufacturers are finally planning to catch up. Unless it is window dressing as usual...

Bart Viaene
12th November, 2013 @ 12:23 am PST

I love this vehicle, EXCEPT why is Nissan using expensive carbon fiber when hemp plastic is just as strong, lightweight and can be 3D printed? Lotus already uses hemp plastic in the Elise roof and body panels.

Maybe Nissan should get together with the Urbee people and Georgia Tech and 3D print the whole car, including the electronics? Also, why stick us with a hot roadster with a likely limited range and expensive Lithium Ion battery pack when Nissan could incorporate supercapacitors in the body panels and offer gasoline, diesel and hybrid variants?

Robert Fallin
12th November, 2013 @ 12:37 am PST

"a shape never before seen on the road."

Ahem. Robert Q. Riley's Trimuter, February 1980. Also all the other 3-wheeled cars ever made with a single wheel in front. Might have been some with two wheels close together in front.

Turn it around and several license built versions of the Isetta had two rear wheels close together due to various governing bodies not allowing for fully enclosed motorcycles or requiring drivers to wear helmets in the three wheel versions due to them being "motorcycles". (In some States that craziness persists with enclosed three wheelers, even to requiring a centrally mounted, always on headlight.)

Several land speed record vehicles have had two wheels in front, close side by side. IIRC one had the front wheels almost in tandem, slightly offset because the outfit what makes the LSR rules says to be a "car" instead of a "motorcycle" it must have four wheels. The one had them slightly offset because the rules nitpickers would've classed it as a "motorcycle" with two front wheels if they were directly in-line.

Gregg Eshelman
12th November, 2013 @ 12:55 am PST

I can't believe there are so many luddites on this site.

They seem to be condemning anything that isn't shaped like the cars they've seen before. There were plenty of people saying the new horseless carriages were too unsafe and would never be practical.

Mike Kling
12th November, 2013 @ 07:02 am PST

Unveiling at the same tame a self-driving car (which, although carrying the prime minister, doesn't show anything near to evidence of autonomous driving even on a preset test ground, being merely a hoax to make us believe the current-type motorcar has a brilliant future), and the Bladeglider which "might well be the start of an automotive design revolution", whereas in fact it prefigures the cockpit of an ultra-light electric tilt-rotor aircraft which, after landing at the urban periphery, detaches from the airframe to become an ultra-light EV for driving downtown.

Several features of the Bladeglider are premonitory, i.e. the term 'glider' in it's name, the narrow front axle, and, last but not least, the electric drive which, once mass-produced, will offer an affordable power plant for ultralight rotary-wing aircraft builders.

So Nissan, with its self-driving Leaf on the one hand makes us believe the traditional motorcar has a brilliant future, yet unconsciously, with its Bladeglider, announces on the other hand the dawn of airborne intercity individual mobility -- with the mini city EV as the sole survivor of the automobile era...

euroflycars
12th November, 2013 @ 09:35 am PST

Ultra-aerodynamic cars have been around in one-off prototypes for the last 90 years or so. Trike and reverse-trike layouts have been around just as long, so there is very little new here, except for the application of modern technology in the platform.

If this car EVER makes it into even limited production, I am sure that it will be priced well beyond the access of mainstream America - much like the VW XL1 has become.

A much more affordable reverse trike solution is the ELIO from Elio Motors, which is scheduled to enter production in 2014, and already has almost 5,000 advance cash deposits taken.

Fred Smith
12th November, 2013 @ 10:16 am PST

Great looking car, but what does it look like with a roof? It needs a roof. Also, is such a design stable in ice and snow? Is this vehilal only meant for warm rainless climates? If so, it's useless.

Albert Feyen
12th November, 2013 @ 10:16 am PST

The concept might work in a race car where the chassis is light and the driver and drivetrain are a higher percentage of the weight. In that case the center of gravity is pulled back towards the rear wheels and the “four in the corners” vs “tricycle” effect is much less. Taken to the extreme, if the center of gravity is over the rear wheels there is little difference in resistance to rolling. The low wear rate on the front wheels is not an indication of efficiency but an indication of what little contribution of effort is being expected of them. But with a real vehicle, the chassis and passenger/payload weight percentage will be a greater and the powertrain less; therefore, the center of gravity will be pulled forward. Now your “car of the future” delta shape effect on roll stability is getting worse, not better. Other than wow effect, you still have to ask why? The vehicle fuel burn rate may be half, but the delta shape can only be part of the reason when compared to the other technologies being applied.

Steve Bailey
12th November, 2013 @ 02:20 pm PST

If this is a good design, why are we not seeing any smaller versions based on gokarts, even long low and wide go karts? If the physics are there, do they apply to smaller and lighter gas motored platforms?

I tried Googling deltawing go kart and though not an exhaustive search, I found nothing resembling a home built go kart.

toller
21st November, 2013 @ 09:34 am PST
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