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The Warsaw Voice » Other » July 9, 2008
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Cracow Students Build Electric City Car
July 9, 2008   
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Several cars stand in the lobby of the Cracow University of Technology's Department of Mechanics. Among them is a small, burgundy and silver-colored beauty, the result of the most recent collaboration between students from the university and the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts.

This small car has a translucent body that gives the impression of an aquarium. It is slightly wider than Fiat's Cinquecento model. Two people fit easily inside. The driver seats himself into a swivel chair and then turns it to face the steering wheel before driving. Behind the seats is a small baggage area. The door windows do not pull up and down but can be tilted. What's more, the car can be turned into a convertible at any time.

The car has been built by a group of students working under the guidance of Witold Grzegożek, a professor at the Cracow University of Technology. "The young people designed this car with panache and did not limit their imagination," says Grzegożek, who has worked at the Cracow University of Technology for 35 years.

The car design was developed three years ago. Students first worked on a 1:5 scale model before going on to a full-size version in which they could sit and try out all the controls. Originally the car was to be a small, city hybrid vehicle with a maximum speed of 80 kph and powered by small fuel and electric engines. This design, however, was replaced with a plug-in hybrid, similar to Volvo's ReCharge concept. The vehicle has an electric engine and a Honda power generator that charges up when the car is in motion. The idea is to have a power supply in case the battery should go flat on the road and there is nowhere to recharge it.

However, the Cracow vehicle is not meant for long-distance driving on fast roads. "It is supposed to be a typical city car: easy to park, maneuverable, comfortable, very quiet, and useful for traveling to work, taking children to school or for shopping," says Grzegożek. "We saw our car as something like a lady's handbag that needs to accommodate a lot of things but is still light and effective." This is also why the designers have proposed a "clean" electric engine with enough power to travel 60-70 kilometers. Ideally, the standard heavy lead batteries could be exchanged for lithium-polymer batteries that are six times lighter. The car would weigh even less than the present 550 kg that allows for speeds of up to 45 kph.

Degree students from the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts designed the burgundy-silver chassis and their peers from the university constructed the whole car. Grzegożek and Dr. Marek Liśkiewicz supervised the six-man team. The car's frame is made of aluminum and steel and the body of exchangeable thermo-plastic parts, which is one of the vehicle's pluses. The lighter the body, the lighter the car. The final choice of construction material will lie with a potential manufacturer.

"We have spent some zl.8,000 to build the model," says Grzegożek. "We spent whatever money was available from the university, which somewhat limited our vision. For example, we wanted to use better and ultra-light plastics and better batteries, but then costs would have risen."

The Cracow vehicle is a niche product and is unlikely to be mass-produced. How much will it eventually cost? The average price of an electric car in Europe is more than 10,000 euros. The cheapest electric car in the world, produced in India, costs $5,500. With the rising cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, the Cracow car, powered by electricity, may help lower driving costs to just a few cents per kilometer. Moreover the car is ideal for driving in a city and is free from toxic emissions.

Teresa Bętkowska
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