Flying cars, electric cars - what next?

By Liz Dobson

The Nissan LEAF. Photo / Supplied
The Nissan LEAF. Photo / Supplied

The plane-like Aptera 2e is a three-wheeled car that makes the most of airflow.

It's Auckland 2031 and you're on your way to work. Will you step into your flying car like George Jetson, or unplug your electric car like the baddies drove in the 1970s television series Logan's Run?

Already in the past decade the evolution of cars has been outstanding - hybrids are as common as hatchbacks, cars can park themselves and safety features such as curtain airbags are standard in even the cheapest of new cars.

So just imagine what new technology will be in our cars in the decades to come.

Cars that never crash? Cars that drive themselves?

Cars that will make the commute to work easy?

Cars that fly, like Jetson's? Yip, they are already around.

There is the Terrafugia Transition, which the American manufacturer says "is a roadable light-sport aircraft that will be able to land at the airport, fold up its wings, and drive on the road".

That would help on a rainy morning in Auckland when the motorway is at a standstill.

There's also the plane-like car Aptera 2e, designed by American Steve Fambro, who was frustrated by being landlocked and dreamed of cruising past the masses in a vehicle that was safe yet cheap.

A few years later his dream came true and hitting the streets of California was the three-wheeled vehicle that's been designed to flow through the air, not push through it like other cars do.

The Aptera (Greek for "wingless") achieves this by recessed windshield wipers, low rolling resistance tires and a plane-like nose.

To help the airflow it also uses an eyes-forward rear-view camera system instead of side-view mirrors, which create a large amount of drag.

While the car's design is a look of the future - and more carmakers will be looking at its shape to help boost fuel efficiency - the two-seater Aptera 2e is stuck in the future.

In August its maker began refunding its 2500 customers who put a deposit on the two-seater car - priced from US$20,000 ($25,000) to US$40,000 - as the company couldn't fund the production and realised it would take longer than expected to hit the road.

When the Aptera 2e will enter production is still up in the air but there is an upside to the quirky car - it's a movie star, having made an appearance in the 2009 film Star Trek.

Another sci-fi car with movie credits is the Audi RSQ sports coupe which starred in 2004's I, Robot and made as big an impact as star Will Smith thanks to it's envisioned spherical "wheels".

While some manufacturers look towards the cylinder shape of the Aptera2 or the smooth lines of the RSQ, others aren't looking beyond the square - literally.

A prime example is Renault's concept car the Captur and it's leading the way with the French company's new design strategy for the future. It is a sporty crossover with a flowing and athletic body language. The company says it "conjures up visions of two people exploring the world". So it's not really the new family wagon. But to help future generations, it will have the company's 160 twin-turbo engine-concept and produce low CO2 emissions.

And it is fuels of the future - and fighting emissions - that are important aspects for car companies. A variety of alternative-fuel vehicles have been made or proposed, including electric cars, hydrogen cars, compressed-air cars and liquid nitrogen cars.

Electric is leading the way with work on a battery that's easily removed and recharged by a generator or by removing the battery's cassettes so that they can be recharged off-board in the home.

While the hybrid is popular in New Zealand, Nissan's all-electric LEAF hits our roads in January and is ready to woo Kiwi drivers away from fossil fuel.

Nissan New Zealand says the first dealership here to have the new electric LEAF will be Wellington's GT Nissan.

The dealership will have only three LEAFs for sale due to international demand for the car but according to Nissan New Zealand managing director John Manley the response from Kiwis to the car has been "outstanding".

While fleet sale is an obvious choice for the company, Manley says that the plan is to also sell the electric car to private buyers.

"We want to dispel the myth that electric cars are only for greenies - this is a futuristic car," he says.

The LEAF is the first electric vehicle that can match conventional cars for distance and function.

It has features such as regenerating braking, air-conditioning, satellite navigation, parking camera and advanced on-board IT and telematics systems.

Innovative connectivity will allow an owner - via mobile phone or computer - to monitor the car's state of charge and the remaining battery capacity, as well as to heat or cool the interior of the car.

- NZ Herald

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