The All-Wheel-Drive Electric aCar Is Designed for Rural Mobility in the Developing World

©. TUM Mitarbeiter

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich have built and tested a modular electric vehicle designed for the mobility needs of rural populations, including carrying heavy loads and off-road driving.

The transportation and mobility needs in modern cities are radically different from those in rural regions, especially in the developing world, which means that cleaner transport solutions will need to come in all stripes.

Although the average US citizen may be willing and able to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an electric passenger car, most of those eking out a living in the backcountry of poor nations are not. And yet in those developing countries, with large rural populations that often don't have a means of transporting themselves and their goods to market, the need for mobility options is greater, and solutions can have more of an impact, than in the developed world with its public transit, paved roads, and large numbers of personal vehicles.

Unsurprisingly, the electric vehicle movement has by and large been focused on markets in the developed world, which does have access to the capital and infrastructure to support electric mobility, as opposed to the needs of those in rural regions and lower income countries.

However, one initiative, led by researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), has spent the last four years designing, building, and testing a prototype electric vehicle meant to cater to the needs and constraints of rural populations in the developing world. The resulting vehicle, called the aCar, was recently sent to Ghana, where the region's unpaved and uneven roads, coupled with high humidity and high temperatures, put the electric truck to the real-world test, which it passed "with flying colors."

TUM aCar electric vehicle

© TUM Mitarbeiter

"It spent six weeks in a container on its way there, we unloaded it, switched it on and it functioned perfectly all the way to the last day of testing.
"We gathered a lot of data which we now have to evaluate, but we can already say that the aCar fulfills all the necessary requirements and has even exceeded our expectations." - Sascha Koberstaedt, TUM
TUM aCar illustration

TUM Mitarbeiter/Screen capture

The aCar is meant to be a workhorse, carrying passengers and up to 2,200 pounds (1000kg) of cargo for up to 50 miles (80 km) per charge at speeds up to 37 mph (60 kph) across all sorts of terrain. The cargo bed is designed with modular components in mind, with available options ranging from a basic flatbed to a covered passenger bay to "a mobile physician's office or a water treatment station," depending on the intended end use. The truck is driven by a pair of 8kW electric motors, which are powered by a 48V 20 kWh battery system, which can also be tapped as a power source for other on-site applications.

TUM aCar electric vehicle

© TUM Mitarbeiter

Charging of the aCar from a 220V household electrical socket takes about 7 hours, and the vehicle has solar modules mounted on the roof to generate some electricity for the vehicle during daylight hours, with the option of adding more solar cells "to significantly increase the amount of solar energy produced for self-contained battery charging."

"The challenge was to develop an appealing, functional and high-quality vehicle, while at the same time maintaining simple production methods and low manufacturing costs. Reducing everything to the essentials resulted in a modern and thus long-lasting design." - Prof. Fritz Frenkler, TUM Chair of Industrial Design

The utility vehicle is all-wheel-drive and off-road capable, making it a good fit for the driving conditions in much of rural Africa, and the intent is to bring the cost for an aCar down to €10,000 (US$11,800), making the purchase of one a feasible financial option in its intended markets. Although the manufacture of the aCar is planned to eventually happen locally in Africa, an initial "model factory" in Europe will produce the first of the vehicles under a newly-founded company, Evum Motors GmbH.

TUM aCar electric vehicle rendering

© TUM Chair of Industrial Design
The plan is also to manufacture as many of the aCar's components as possible on location, with the production of both components and vehicles helping to support stronger local economies, and the emphasis of simplicity and reliability in the design is meant to enable manufacturing "with very low investment costs." The aCar prototype will debut next month at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, where it is predicted to attract interest for applications not only in the developing world, but also in the European market, where low- and zero-emissions transport solutions are in demand.