The innovative automotive company ZAP featured two Brazilian-made Obvio mini-car models among the fleet of innovative and efficient vehicles they showcased at the San Francisco International Auto Show this week. The Obvio 828 and the sportier Obvio 012 (pictured here) feature three seats (side by side) and are both powered by a Tritec 1.6 litre four cylinder motor (the same used in the MINI) that is flexible fuel capable, enabling the cars to run on any blend of ethanol and gasoline (probably up to E85).
GizMag also reports that the two models also feature an additional electric drive. This would effectively make these the world’s first “trybrid” automobiles, or flex-fuel hybrids, that can utilize three energy sources: biofuels, electricity and traditional gasoline.
However, this may turn out to be rumor as I am unable to confirm from another source that the Obvio 012 and 828 feature a hybrid drivetrain as GizMag Reports. GreenCarCongress featured the two models in October and mentioned nothing about an additional electric motor, although they do confirm flex-fuel capability. Obvio's specs for the two models do not mention a hybrid drive. It is possible that the hybrid versions are only concept versions of the for-sale models for the auto show. (Can anyone confirm or deny? I apologize if this turns out to be untrue as I am dependent upon the accuracy GizMag's report for this info.)
Both models also feature a '6-speed' continuous variable transmissions (CVT) from ZF. CVT has no defined gear-ratios like traditional transmissions and operates at very near the point of maximum efficiency at all times. This results in a transmission that more responsive and sportier to drive, allows for a 10-15% improvement in fuel efficiency and offers 10% quicker acceleration than a conventional automatic transmission, according to Obvio. [Previous post on CVT here. There's a lot of good info on CVT at the Obvio spec sheet too, see bottom of the page]
Graphic: ZF's stepless belt drive CVT
The Obvio models allows you to control the transmission with two driving modes – a stepless automatic or six-speed electronic "manual" with paddle shift levers on the steering wheel. This paddle set-up is used in Formula One race cars, and make it easier to change gear on bends and in tricky situations, without having to adjust the revs or taking your hands off the wheel.
The engines are available in either a 150 horsepower (hp) 'low consumption' option or a beefy 250 hp 'high power' option. The 150 hp version gets 29.4 MPG (2.5 Km/Liter) city and 40.69 MPG (17,3 Km/Liter on the highway according to Obvio (no fuel economy stats on the 250 hp version).
ZAP announced this October that it had negotiated to become the liscenced North American distributer of both Obvio models. GreenCarCongress reports that unlike ZAP's approach to selling the Americanized version of the SMART car where they take responsibility for converting imported smarts to meet US requirements, ZAP has taken a 20% stake in Obvio and will work closely with the Brazilian company to ensure the vehicles are fully ready for sale in the U.S. when they leave the plant.
Graphic: Cut-away of the Obvio 828
According to Obvio, the target price for the 828 will be $14,000 (USD) and the sportier 012 will ring in at the heaftier price of $28,000. The 828 should be avialable in the U.S. (at least for pre-registration) in the third quarter of 2006 and the 012 will be available fourth quarter '07, accoring to ZAP and Obvio.
Graphic: The Obvio 828
Well, I'm a bit skeptical of the hybrid claim made by GizMag. If it is true, that would be excellent. Hybrid and flex-fuel have just been asking to be paired for some time now. It is only a matter of time before someone pairs these two 'green' auto technologies in one car.
Even without the hybrid drive, these two cars are sure innovative. While the 828 is best classified as 'cute', the 012 is pretty sporty and both look very fun to drive: zippy and responsive (thanks to that CVT).
The engines in these cars are quite big for their size (even the 150 hp version) and Obvio clearly opted for a trade-off between fuel efficiency and performance. The 29/40 MPG fuel economy isn't particularly impressive (especially when compared to other mini-cars like the SMART) and it could have been significanlty improved, I'm sure, if they had downsized the engine a bit.