Romania is best known for vampires, Bela Lugosi and its plentiful castles and palaces. It is not known for its motoring heritage, let alone futuristic hybrid concept cars with a hint more Frankenstein than Dracula.
The SCI hyMod (a contraction of 'hybrid' and 'modular') is a new proposal by automotive journalist Dan Scarlat, designer Marian Cilibeanu, and engineer Cristian Ionescu for a six-seater mono-space car featuring a slot-in rear modular unit containing either a battery pack or a conventional turbocharged direct injection petrol engine, transmission and fuel tank. This offers the driver a choice: either full electric or petrol/electric hybrid. With seating arranged in a 3+3 configuration, the front of the car holds the electric motor with luggage space provided above, the fixed batteries are below the passenger compartment and the swappable module sits at the back where the boot would normally be found.
To swap the module, one drives to the nearest hyMod STATION where the car is reversed up to an automatic extractor device. A display on the dashboard tells the driver when to stop, whilst the lasers on the module align with sensors on the extractor and extraction bars extend into the module. It detaches and can then be removed and replaced with another module. The method of attaching the transmission isn't fully explained, but makes use of two fixed planetary drive shafts either side.
In terms of design the hyMod has a certain charm. It possesses a distinctly Pixar, and mask-like, DRG, seemingly inspired by Monsters Inc’s Roz with the addition of a moustache from Cars’ Chick Hicks. Tunnel-LED headlights draw the eye, too. The profile is bold with a heavily pronounced bone-line beneath the windows and wide, powerful wheel arches. The five-spoke wheels and signature tyres look fantastic but wouldn’t make it to production due to the virtually zero-profile tyres. Attractively integrated chrome door handles hint at the rear suicide doors. The door mirrors are sculpted and attractive when viewed at a certain angle but are uncomfortably square when seen straight on.The windscreen curves back into a glass roof edged by silver panels which converge towards the rear where the Pixar theme is again to be found with something from Finding Nemo. Beneath an octagonal window, the rear end - which would normally form the tailgate - protrudes slightly from the back of the car and is presented in a contrasting satin grey to emphasise its importance as the swappable module (and presumably complement any choice of colour). Despite the Pixar hints, the design as a whole could certainly be taken seriously, the only concern being what it would lose to reach production, not least the wheels.
The luggage configuration is far from ideal, however. The front area above the electric motor is the main luggage space, with additional space being available by lowering one or both parts of the back seat. Provision has been made to prevent 'unwanted entrance of objects inside the passenger compartment' but from the images it’s simply an insubstantial net which wouldn’t help much round a tight corner. And one would imagine that when transporting six people, there would normally be a fair amount of associated luggage, certainly more than the limited front bonnet space could swallow.
Initially the facility to adapt one’s car seems an interesting idea, perhaps offering the best of both worlds, but on further consideration there are several significant drawbacks. A petrol engine and a battery pack are fundamentally different units and consequently demand significantly different architectures, in fact, apart from positive, negative and data power connections and cooling, which in itself would have different requirements for each option, there's no commonality whatsoever. Furthermore, the ideal situation for batteries in a car is along the floor beneath the passenger compartment, arranged to optimise front/rear weight distribution and offer a low centre of gravity. An engine can't be squeezed into a long flat space so requires different packaging. Attempting to shoehorn an engine or a battery pack into the same socket is a huge compromise. Added to this, having to make extra journeys to render the car fit for purpose is a further drawback. Finally, attempting to roll out a sufficient infrastructure of ‘hyMod STATIONS’ to be maintained around the clock would be an enormous expense unless it was supported by other manufacturers.
So the ultimate question: would we buy one if it were built? No. This configuration offers barely anything over and above a plug in hybrid other than added inconvenience. There's no denying that the hyMod is bold - right from its styling to its brave technology approach - but whether it makes practical sense remains doubtful. We're currently in a transition phase where commercially available battery technology isn't yet sufficient to match internal combustion in terms of range and flexibility and this car is a sort of solution to the requirements of this phase. Unfortunately it’s compromised by its very reason for being. At a cost of around £20,700 plus taxes and additional fees for module hire and swapping we’d opt for a Renault Zoe (just under £14,000) and a Fiat 500 (just under £10,000).
TECHNICAL DATA (ESTIMATED FIGURES):
L/w/h: 4100/1840/1680 mm
Wheelbase: 2740 mm
Kerb weight with module: 1400 kg
Kerb weight of module: 250 kg
Fuel tank capacity: 35 litres
Internal battery power output: 5 kWh
Battery-Pack power output: 17 kWh
Electric motor power and torque: 48 kW (65 HP); 200 Nm
Combustion engine power and torque: 62 kW (85 HP)/5500 rpm, 145 Nm/1900 rpm
Performance (electric mode):
0-62mph: 18 seconds
Top speed: 81mph
Range: 112 miles (87+25)
Performance (hybrid mode):
0-62 mph: < 10 seconds
Range: 385 miles (360+25)
Top speed: 106 mph
Combined fuel consumption: 47mpg
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