Start-Up Looking to Use 3D Printing to Make Ultra-Efficient, Lightweight Car

By Jacob Brown | February 28, 2013
There's an automaker out there promising a hybrid with nearly a 300-mpg performance, and it's not Volkswagen. Its construction will be made from new lightweight technologies, but not carbon fiber. And it's nearing production, or so the company says. The Urbee, a tube-framed, lightweight car, looks to be the first vehicle to have its body panels made by 3D printing. "What's that?" you ask. It's a process where little beads of ABS plastic are shaped by a modeling "printer" that can make any number of shapes with which it's programmed, heating them into a spray and shaping them into a panel. You want a new bumper? Program the computer, press the print button, and wait a few hours. Simple as that. Best of all, Jim Kor, the man who created the Urbee, says that its panels are both lighter and stronger than steel. Making all the body panels for the Urbee is said to take a printer 2,500 hours, which really isn't too bad considering that they're made of a cheap, durable material for a limited-production vehicle. The Urbee is a three-wheeler, which will help the company skirt automotive crash safety laws. But even then, Kor says he wants to build the car to LeMans-quality crash safety standards. In many cases, LeMans cars crash at over 200 mph, so he's got his work cut out for him.
The body is made of 50 plastic pieces, helping its weight stay at a feather-like 1,200 pounds, about 500 pounds less than the 2014 Volkswagen XL1 that will have a similar mission. Powering it will be two electric motors with a seven-horsepower ethanol-powered engine serving as a generator. Kor says he already has 14 orders, mostly from people who worked with him. It is estimated to cost around $50,000. Three-dimensional printing holds a lot of promise, as it will allow people to make more specialized parts. Already, it's being used to make guns and household items out of the ABS plastic, using CAD plans online. Kor, ultimately, plans to make an impact. His first goal when the latest prototype is ready to go: Drive from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of fuel.

Sources: Wired Autopia, Urbee