Since its launch in 2007, Bombardier Recreational Products’ (BRP) Can-Am Spyder roadster has carved a unique place for itself with its distinctive Y-architecture – two wheels in the front and one in the back – which gives the vehicle the open-air exhilaration of a motorbike combined with the stability of a four-wheeled vehicle. We were duly impressed by our first test ride on the three-wheeler back in 2008, but now a new take on the Spyder is on the horizon. As part of the Canadian government’s efforts to boost that country’s automotive research and development, a project is underway to develop a hybrid version which aims to equal the performance of the current Rotax 998cc V-Twin powered model.

With the Spyder being the only mass-production, on-road vehicle that is entirely designed and manufactured in Canada, the Centre de technologies avancées BRP – Université de Sherbrooke (CTA) – a non profit organization founded by BRP and Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS) to research and develop technologies for motorized recreational products – will receive US$6.2 million from the Automotive Partnership Canada program and US$5.1 million from BRP, making for a total of US$11.3 million in financial support to develop new hybrid engine technology for the roadster.

According to the CTA, the Spyder’s unique Y-architecture creates its own unique challenges in meeting the project’s goals of developing completely new electric hybrid technology that uses 50 percent less fuel and cuts CO2 emissions by 50 percent, while maintaining the vehicles speed, power and performance. The team also aims to give the vehicle a total range of 600 km (375 miles) and a range of 30 km (20 miles) in electric mode.

Out with the old…

The team recognizes that the roadster’s size alone poses major challenges for integrating two forms of motorization on the same chassis, not to mention the hybrid elements including batteries, control module and regenerative braking system.

Additionally, to retain the fast starts and acceleration of the current Can-Am Spyder, the project researchers have been given the task of designing a transmission and control strategy which allows electric and internal combustion engines to combine their strength to offer, on command, performances that are similar to BRP's current Spyder 990 RS roadster.

To meet these criteria, the project’s research team says it will have to design an entirely new propulsion system, rather than modifying existing hybrid technology. This will include reducing the weight of the current parts to compensate for the addition of the hybrid elements. The team will also take the opportunity to optimize the shape of the vehicle’s body to minimize aerodynamic drag, while providing adequate cooling of the brakes and radiator.

“Creating a three-wheel vehicle as opposed to a hybrid car poses significant design challenges that require a very high degree of innovation," said Professor Alain Desrochers from the Université de Sherbrooke’s Mechanical Engineering Department who leads the research team. "These challenges include the lack of space to accommodate hybrid motorization, cooling problems, aerodynamics, vehicle weight, and noise. Everything must be studied and modified.”

The project also hopes to position Quebec as a hub of expertise in hybrid electric vehicle technology with any technological innovations it develops also potentially transferable to other types of vehicles.

The CTA says it aims to produce three generations of prototypes and their components over the next four years, with the final product needing to pass the test in terms of performance, reliability, durability, and economic mass production.

We’ll be watching the development of the hybrid version of the Can-Am Spyder roadster with interest and will keep you updated with details as we get them.