Morgan Motor Co., the tiny British automaker so old-fashioned it still uses wood frames, is stepping well into the future with LifeCar, a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid it says will prove “a zero-emission vehicle can be fun to drive.”
Morgan will unveil the hand-built aluminum-bodied coupe next month at the Geneva Auto Show, and although there’s no word on whether LifeCar will ever be more than a one-off concept, the company hopes to show hydrogen is a viable – if distant – alternative to fossil fuels. Morgan has spent more than two years working with a British defense firm, two universities and a hydrogen supplier to develop a car it promises will “minimize the fuel cell cost and provide the fuel economy for a 200 mile range.”
As impressive as the LifeCar is, what makes it truly remarkable is a company so small as Morgan built it. The company, founded in 1912, employs 156 people who built 650 cars last year – all of them by hand in a small factory in rural England. Yet it is standing alongside Honda, General Motors and BMW with a hydrogen-fueled vehicle that works.
Morgan’s cars look like they were designed in the 1930s, and LifeCar draws on that decade’s streamlined art deco aesthetic. LifeCar is based on Morgan’s Aero Eight and uses a fuel cell built by British defense contractor QuentiQ. Charles Morgan, the founder’s grandson, said the challenge was to build “a proper sports car,” and meeting it required a novel approach.
“The use of ultracapacitors to store the surplus energy and then use this for acceleration and braking does promise a dynamic ride, especially when combined with our ultra light chassis,” Morgan told Business Week. “The paring of weight to a minimum is our strength and allows a much smaller fuel cell than conventionally though necessary. This gives energy and yet more weight savings.”
Britain’s Department for Trade and Industry helped finance the project, which reportedly cost 1.9 million British pounds (about $3.7 million at today’s exchange rate). The collaborative effort included Cranfield University, which developed the on-board computer and control systems, and Oxford University’s work on the regenerative electric motors.
We called Morgan and were told quite politely the company had nothing to say about LifeCar right now but will provide more information next week. Meanwhile, here are some conceptual renderings of the car and pictures of it under construction.