Loremo: Germany's Super Sedan
By Bill Moore
Could I interest you in a 1.5 liter car that can comfortably transport two adults and two children at Autobahn speeds? I am.
But for us Yanks who might not know what that means other than maybe it's the size of a new Coke bottle, 1.5 liters is the amount of fuel the German-designed Loremo technology demonstrator burns to travel 100 kilometers or just over 62 miles. Translated into a more understandable number on this side of the Atlantic, that's equivalent to approximately 155 miles per gallon. We're not talking extrapolated numbers like those used to pitch plug-in hybrids; that is, of course, if its designers and engineers in Europe are correct in their calculations, because a drivable version is still in the offing.
The last time I saw a number this low coming out of the Fatherland* was VW's Two Liter experimental sports car. So, I was clearly intrigued and decided to contact the company and learn more about the project, eventually speaking with the concept's originator, Uli Sommers. Speaking in far better English than I ever would have in German, we talked about the origins of the car and its many unique features, including its lack of doors, its innovative chassis design and aerodynamic styling, as well as its diesel, mid-engine power plants. You can listen to the interview using the MP3 players at the right.
Sommers explained that the genesis of the idea for the car began "quite a few years ago" when there was lots of talk about reducing oil consumption in Europe. It was his opinion that alternative fuel vehicles would never be successful if they didn't first pay close attention to the amount of energy they used.
He saw the evolution of his car beginning first with it being as energy efficient as possible, regardless of the power plant, be it a heat engine or electric power. With a highly-efficient platform, he could then focus on eventually incorporating various alternative fuel drive systems, including batteries.
"Loremo, at first, is a body concept. What means for us is drive is a 'black box'; drive could be anything," he spoke in somewhat broken English.
"Our thinking is, we don't want to marry two risks with each other," he said. "Developing an electrical car is a risk as an enterprise and developing an efficient car is an enterprise, too. So, we go one step."
While the prototype will be powered initially by one of two small, diesel engine options, Sommer said that he can also envision an electric-power version of the car, but that will come after the concept is proven and production well underway.
He sees this as being a financially more prudent approach, noting that whereas in "former times" it might have taken many millions of dollars or Euros to design a "from-the-ground-up" electric car, with the Loremo available someday, he sees the "enterprise" to introduce an EV-version as costing a fraction of that. He plans to make the Loremo the first commercially-produced vehicle that can be converted to run on either a heat engine or on battery power, without the compromises typically associated with EV conversions of gas-engine cars to electric.
Sommer told me that when he set out to design the car, he had only two values in mind: wind resistance and weight. That meant that unlike cars of the Th!nk city and Smart class that are short and high, the Loremo would be long and low to minimize wind resistance. But that ambitious plan would impose certain configuration changes, the most noticeable being the rear-facing child passenger seats that enabled Sommer to dramatically taper the roof line.
The Loremo also introduces a unique three-girder frame for both weight reduction and passenger safety. The beams run parallel to the long axis of the car, between which sit the passengers. He likens them to "nails".
"And like a nail, they are very robust as long as they are straight. The structure is made of very simple steel plate, very cheap. We kept the weight below one hundred kilograms (267 lbs.)."
Despite its light weight -- the completed car weighs 450 kilos (under 1000 lbs) -- Sommer says the car will be very safe. While he's not physically crashed the car -- there is only one prototype at the moment -- Loremo has run computer crash simulations to verify his claim. Besides the three "nail" frame surrounding the passengers, the car also includes large front and rear crumple/crush zones.
"[In] any kind of crash, this car provides a high degree of safety, from principle better than any other kind of car."
The aerodynamic body consists of inexpensive, light-weight, non-structural thermal plastic panels. Sommer stressed that no expensive, exotic materials such as carbon fibers or magnesium are used in the car.
"Our aim is at every point to make a common, economic car, so we don't want to use any expensive technology at any point to reach a small advantage in fuel economy."
Because the small diesel engines that will power the car are mounted between the front and rear passengers, there will be almost a perfect 50/50 distribution of the mass; and because the vehicle's strong torsional stiffness, it will hold the road well, he asserts.
The rear suspension is different, as well. Here Loremo uses double, independent trailing arms somewhat akin to a motorcycle with power from the engine delivered by either belts or chains.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the car is its lack of conventional doors. The Loremo sits very low to the ground -- much like a Ferrari, Sommers pointed out -- and getting into and out of any car like this is always difficult, especially for guys who are old enough to afford them. To solve this problem, while leaving his safety frame "nails" intact, he devised an ingenious solution: step into the car instead by lifting not just the rear hatch but also the front hood, including the steering wheel and instrument panel. [See the photo above]. In the case of the front seats, this means stepping over a height of just under 24 inches (60 cm); a comfortable distance for most people, but Sommers acknowledged that this isn't a car for older drivers. He said they are working on ideas to improve the comfort, though it may never be as comfortable as a minivan.
He is, however, confident that the Loremo will be the first vehicle of its type to be manufactured in large numbers and generate a profit for its investors, essentially because of its low production costs. Future buyers will have their choice of either a 20 hp diesel engine capable of a top speed of 160 km/hr (99.4 mph) in the LS version. But if that's not fast enough for you, the 50 hp GT version will have a top speed of 220 km/hr (136 mph) with a zero-to-100 km/hr acceleration of 10 seconds. He said that they will also consider enabling the engines to burn what he calls "bio-oil" otherwise known as vegetable oil here in North America.
With still a lot of development work and testing ahead, Loremo is currently planning to begin production of the car by 2009. Their price target for the LS model is 11,000 Euros ($13,596), and 15,000 Euros ($18,539) for the GT model. And while the car will be homologated and certified for the European market, North American sales won't come at the same time, Sommers said, because of the costs involved in bringing the car into compliance with U.S. and Canadian safety standards. The company simply hasn't the resources.
"It will be second step to reach this end," he said.
That's okay… as the Chinese say, a journey of 10,000 miles begins with the first step and Loremo is a very good first step.