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Uniqueco working on rugged 4x4 and MPV built from plastic

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October 23, 2013

According to its spec sheet, the electric eFROOG will travel up to 115 mi per charge © eFR...

According to its spec sheet, the electric eFROOG will travel up to 115 mi per charge © eFROOG.DE

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Imagine a full-blown, desert-tromping 4x4 built with a plastic body – sounds kind of crazy to us. To German auto consultant Uniqueco, it sounds like the future. The company has designed two different models that use lightweight construction centered around plastic shells.

Upon first glance, Uniqueco's eFROOG multipurpose vehicle (MPV) looks like a jeep or a smaller, two-seat OHV. What that rugged look conceals is the fact that the vehicle is made from plastic. The plastic body panels are secured to an extruded aluminum passenger safety cell and zinc-coated steel frame.

The idea of a "plastic" vehicle brings images of crushing and shattering under the lightest of fender benders. However, the company insists that the eFROOG is designed up to the same crash standards as traditional German passenger cars, claiming the combination of aluminum safety shell and front and side crash elements will protect occupants, even in the event of a rollover.

The plastic offers a number of advantages over more traditional vehicle materials, the primary of which is weight savings. Uniqueco claims that the plastic saves as much as 50 percent of the weight of steel construction, resulting in an empty weight (not including the batteries on the EV model) of 1,213 lb (550 kg). The pickup model measures 3536 x 1823 x 1635 mm (139 x 72 x 64 in).

The plastic is pre-colored in several options and coated in PMMA. It doesn't require painting, and Uniqueco says that it's scratch and fade resistant. The plastic used consists of up to 72 percent recycled material, giving the eFROOG a little extra environmental cred. Uniqueco also claims the plastic construction allows for cost-effective manufacturing and simplified body style development.

Because of its low weight, the eFROOG is able to make use of small powertrain options. The current options listed are a 70-hp 1.2-liter gas engine and a 20-hp electric-drive powered by choice of 15-, 18- or 20-kWh battery pack. The smallest battery promises up to 115 miles (185 km) of range, with speeds limited to 50 mph (80 km/h).

The eFROOG Open Top © eFROOG.DE

Uniqueco has designed several different eFROOG body types. The Pickup has an enclosed cabin and a payload of 2,161 lb (980 kg). The Open Top is essentially an open-cabin version of the Pickup, adding loading flexibility and an airy ride. The Kube Box cargo truck comes in several heights.

While Uniqueco shows the eFROOG dressed up for surfing and cycling, its tiny powertrain, limited speed and flexible body platform lead us to believe that it's best suited for commercial applications. A more consumer-oriented model that employs the same construction concepts as the eFROOG can be found in the KITESH.

The KITESH Station has a full cabin

The KITESH shows that Uniqueco is confident enough in its plastic-metal construction to send it off road, or at least design a vehicle theoretically capable of going off road. The model is based around the same plastic-on-steel/aluminum as the eFROOG but designed to blend some of the comforts of an everyday SUV with the unflappable navigational capabilities of a recreational off-roader. The company envisions the four-seat 4x4 serving both civilian and military duties. Not only does Uniqueco reckon that the plastic build cuts up to 60 percent of the vehicle's weight versus other SUV body constructions, it reckons it can hold up to the rigors of the off road for 25 years or more.

The KITESH has a powertrain built around a 125-hp common-rail diesel supplied by Opel. That engine sends torque through a six-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive system. A high clearance and aggressive approach and departure angles allow it to navigate steep, rocky terrain comfortably. It has an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential and a number of safety features, such as front airbags, anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability program.

Like the eFROOG, the KITESH can be built in a number of styles, including an open cabrio pickup, a closed-cabin pickup and a full-cabin 4x4. Uniqueco also envisions custom building job-specific models and mentions the possibility of mixing the ABS plastic with other materials to fortify the body.

The KITESH is a four-seat 4x4

The KITESH looks an awful lot like the TECDRAH plastic 4x4 displayed a couple years ago by TRAVEC, another German company. We reached out to Uniqueco to clarify the relationship.

"The TECDRAH vehicle was a spin-off from the KITESH vehicle family as 2-door small budget vehicle," Markus Noeske, Uniqueco CEO of Vehicle Development, said in an email. "[It] was failing in customers recognition and demand and so the project was closed with TRAVEC in 2011."

When Uniqueco detailed the eFROOG earlier this year, it said it planned to get it to market this year. However, Noeske said that it has been delayed due to ongoing discussions with investors. He said that the KITESH will launch next year for a starting price of €35,000 (approx. US$48,000). The electric-powered eFROOG L7e was originally listed with a €17,900 base price, but with its fate up in the air, we're not sure if that price will stick.

Call us cynical, but cool, crazy designs + projects cancelled due to lack of demand + investor delays seems like a classic recipe for "interesting design that will never see the road (or dirt)." We'll maintain a healthy skepticism until one of the two models starts rolling off production lines.

Source: Uniqueco

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
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11 Comments

Well, one thing with plastic body that is for sure is, no more body rust issues in high humidity coastal areas.

Vehicle body damage is one issue, but a more serious issue is cuts and similar injuries caused by rusty metal in poorly maintained vehicles.

Yashodhan Pise
23rd October, 2013 @ 09:12 pm PDT

Well, with the relatively primitive Land Rover Defender destined for retirement very soon, something along the lines of this concept might well fill a small portion of the hole left in the off-road market. But, of course, Land Rover will be bringing in their own replacement too, so who knows what the future might hold.

Grunt
24th October, 2013 @ 06:02 am PDT

I think it is really cool. I hope it does get made and is able to import it to the USA.

It looks like something Lego would make.

Perhaps the plastic panels would be like the ones on the Smart car and easily changed so one can have one color one month and another color another month?

Perhaps it could be sold by Smart and called a ForOffRoad? :)

BigWarpGuy
24th October, 2013 @ 06:29 am PDT

Step in the right direction.

Bruce Miller
24th October, 2013 @ 07:50 am PDT

Have you ever heard about "Mehari" french Citroen jeep?

Purely the same.

45 years ago...

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=mehari+4x4&qpvt=mehari+4x4&FORM=IGRE

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_M%C3%A9hari

Cocorico! :-)

Ariel Dahan
24th October, 2013 @ 09:43 am PDT

If the plastic panels are modified to be a thick outside skin with polyurethane foam backed up by a thinner inside panel such a design could tolerate an enormous impact and still protect the occupants better than any other vehicle on the road. A foam reinforced panel body on frame design could be far below the weight of any other vehicle, take far harder hits & crashes, and still have a far longer service life than conventional vehicles. The body components would be moldable with molds that would be far less expensive than metal panels require and have a reasonable production life. And, No, the vehicles do Not have to look like Lego toys.

StWils
24th October, 2013 @ 10:25 am PDT

Over twenty years ago RMI published specs on the "hypercar", made from theromplastic-composites four times stronger than steel. It's easily moldable with no loss (reusable scraps).

Don Duncan
24th October, 2013 @ 11:13 am PDT

As the world's finance market comes to terms with the forthcoming collapse caused by ever rising oil prices, the Kitesh model, or something like it, might just be the best choice of transport.

Let's face it, roads and bridges are already showing marked signs of neglect. Heaven knows what they will be like as the situation gets ever worse.

Mel Tisdale
24th October, 2013 @ 12:15 pm PDT

Unless they are trying to appeal to the "macho" crowd, it would be nice if they were to include something more aerodynamic than a plastic brick body design! I'm sure not all driving will be off road at slow speeds, so aerodynamics would improve the relatively poor electric range. Other than that, a great idea that is poorly executed.

Jerry Peavy
24th October, 2013 @ 02:13 pm PDT

I was almost excited for a rust free winter 4x4...then i noticed the price. You'd think with a plastic body and no paint required it would be pretty cheap.

John Hemingway Parkes
24th October, 2013 @ 08:59 pm PDT

It should be known that plastic, designed well and with gradual tension, stress and torsion properties can be a very strong substance, strength is not an issue, perhaps improving fire safety is.

Dawar Saify
26th October, 2013 @ 03:06 am PDT
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