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).
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 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 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.