'Mute' aims to revolutionise e-mobility

Sep 19, 2011

Mute – the prototype displayed at the electromobility exhibition in IAA Frankfurt 2011 Enlarge image Mute – the prototype displayed at the electromobility exhibition in IAA Frankfurt 2011 (© Florian Lehmann/TU München) Two hundred scientists have transformed a lecture hall at the Technical University of Munich into a car factory. The university team is building a car of the future. A prototype was put on display at the IAA in Frankfurt.

The lecture hall of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), with its ultra-modern architecture and long hallways lined with sculptures, doesn't look like the ideal place to design cars. But it is. The mechanical engineering faculty is home to a group of people building what they believe will be the car of the future.

For the past two years, professors, scientists, doctoral students and undergraduates at TUM have been working together to construct a completely new electric car. Its name – reflecting its tranquil surrounding – is Mute.

200 scientists, 20 faculties, one goal

Stephan Fuchs has no easy task. As one of three project managers, he has to bundle the creative energy of all 200 scientists working on the project. On top of that, he has faced a tough deadline: delivering a Mute prototype on 15 September as part of the electromobility exhibition at the 64th International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt.

Fuchs says Mute differs significantly from the other electric cars  that auto giants such as Daimler, Opel, Renault and Mitsubish are  showcasing. "To make an electric car, you can't just take a conventional car, remove the combustion engine and put an electric motor there instead," he told Deutsche Welle. Fuchs argues that electric cars on the market today have not been adapted sufficiently to an electrically-mobile world, claiming they have many of the same disadvantages as their predecessors: too expensive, too inefficient and too unreliable.

Know your customer

Mute – interiors of the prototype displayed at IAA Frankfurt Enlarge image Mute – interiors of the prototype displayed at IAA Frankfurt (© Florian Lehmann/TU München) A key strength of Mute, according to Fuchs, is that the car is designed to meet specific customer needs instead of many. "People often don't take advantage of cars that can travel long distances and have plenty of seats and luggage capacity," he said. Fuchs firmly believes that Mute could become the 'Volkswagen'  of electromobility by focusing on city and regional trips. He cites market research showing that 98 percent of car trips in Germany are shorter than 100 kilometres. "We've reduced the parameters to what a car like this really needs," he said. But that doesn't mean that Mute drivers have to accept large compromises: Two people and two large suitcases fit comfortably into the car. That positions Mute in the small car segment of the conventional car market.

Mute's small size doesn't make it unsafe, according to doctoral student Stephan Matz. "With electric cars, weight is even more important that with normal cars," he said. The right materials need to be put into the right places to construct a stable car, according to Matz. The frame of the car needs to be aluminium, for instance, while the body work has to be reinforced plastic. Special synthetic materials are put in parts that are subject to the greatest forces and pressures in accidents. The seats are also trimmed down to save weight, offering a comfortable ride for at least two hours but not for five.

The results are eye-catching. At just 500 kilos, Mute is believed to be the lightest electric car in its class. Its light weight offers significant advantages, according to Fuchs. "With such a light car, we can use a much lighter battery, which is the most expense part of an electric car," he said.

Range-Extender

Mute is equipped with a lithium-ion cell battery and an electro-chemical battery, called the "range extender." The extender, developed  by the department of automotive engineering, can add 50 kilometers to a trip, if required. "With Mute, we want to show that electric vehicles don't always have to be really expensive cars," Fuchs said.

Matz believes that the new electric-car technology is now ready to roll after two years of construction and improvements but cautions that consumers will need to accept certain limitations with electromobility. "In the future, cars won't need to be able to do everything," he said. "People will split up their mobility needs – conventional cars will be used for long distances, while short distances will be covered by public transport and cars like Mute."

Author: Richard Fuchs

© Deutsche Welle