Today, we’ll get a glimpse of Canada’s home-built Project Arrow electric vehicle when the wrap is raised on a couple of corners of the car in Windsor. That’ll be it though, at the annual conference of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA). It will just be a tease for the cameras, and a showcase for the Canadian manufacturers whose parts make up the car.
The powertrain and electronics are not quite ready, but the final car is on schedule to be ready for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, says APMA President Flavio Volpe. It will then make the rounds of consumer shows and events across Canada in 2023.
“Every single item on the car was chosen with an eye to (being) commercially ready technology that you could sell to Toyota tomorrow, or Tesla tomorrow, or Mercedes-Benz,” he said. “It will be, I think, the most creative business card that we could have built for any of the companies that we represent.”
The APMA decided in 2019 to build a one-off electric car as a showcase for Canadian technology and expertise. The vehicle could not be too exotic – it had to represent an EV that might produce 50,000 vehicles a year, and would cost no more than $60,000.
A competition for the car’s design was won by a team from Carleton University’s School of Industrial Design in Ottawa. The APMA then invited Canadian companies to contribute their technology and from the 535 bids received, 58 were chosen for the vehicle.
One of those companies is Toronto-based Xaba, a startup that’s developed a composite polymer chassis, which can be created entirely with a 3D printer. Instead of the usual steel-and-aluminum chassis that underpins conventional vehicles and can include hundreds of parts, the Xaba chassis is made from a blend of ABS plastic and chopped carbon-fibre. Where needed for additional strength or support, a metal such as aluminum can be embedded into the plastic of the chassis that’s then printed around it. It’s produced in three parts – top, middle and bottom – that are simply bolted and glued together with a variance no more than a millimetre.
“We proposed to them that if you want to make an innovative car, it shouldn’t be done using metal,” said Max Moruzzi, chief executive officer of Xaba. “It should be done using a material that is much more sustainable in different aspects, not just from a cost point of view, because it doesn’t require any mining, but as well from a fabrication point of view, and as well from its functionality and performance.”
ABS plastic is similar to the plastic used for building Lego bricks, and it is considered a sustainable material because it can be chopped and ground up and reused for similar applications. It’s strengthened with about 20-per-cent carbon fibre, though not the same expensive material that’s used in exotic vehicles, so its cost is similar to a conventional metal alternative. Its total weight is about 300 kilograms, compared to around 500 kilograms for a metal chassis.
The Project Arrow chassis was printed in four days by a 3D printer in Italy using Xaba’s patented technology. The speed of printing can be increased with scale, and Moruzzi said the printer also uses a fraction of the energy needed to create a conventional chassis – about 33 kilowatts per hour, compared to at least 500 kilowatts for the metallic version.
“I worked with the rest of the APMA team, and some of the individuals they hired for this project are professionals from Aston Martin and McLaren,” Moruzzi said. “When I had to tell them that they had to redesign completely how they make the chassis, because a metallic chassis cannot work with a polymer, that was an interesting discussion, I can tell you.”
The Project Arrow EV will not be crash-tested to prove the strength of its build, but Volpe says that is unnecessary at this stage.
“The intelligent modelling now is so incredibly accurate that you don’t have to crash test, physically,” he said – it’s only when the vehicle is completely designed and ready for production that prototypes would be built for actual crashing, to prove the engineers correct.
“The two levels of government would like to see an automotive startup culture here – we have all the components, but we also have to be a little creative. You can’t ask an entrepreneur to take their first $20-million and throw it against the wall.”
The APMA received $5-million in federal funding for the development of the Project Arrow EV, as well as $1.8-million from the Ontario government and $1.4-million from the Quebec government. Volpe estimates that the cost of research provided by the various companies chosen to contribute to the car makes it a $20-million investment.
Moruzzi considers Xaba’s involvement to be time and money well spent. The company is already working on providing plastic printed materials for a flying car that’s being developed in Boston.