British automotive engineering consultancy, Lotus Engineering, has been selected by Obvio! Automotoveiculos, based in Rio de Janeiro, to develop two 'trybrid' high-performance microsports cars for markets across the globe, in a deal potentially worth over £70 million.
The lightweight urban microsports cars, designated 828 and 012, are the first products from the new Brazilian OEM.
The full engineering programme will include the development of an advanced vehicle safety structure based on aerospace technology, the integration of 'trybrid' engines that will run on gasoline, bio-ethanol or natural gas, and other powertrain variants.
Lotus boss Mike Kimberley said: "I am delighted that Lotus Engineering has been selected by Obvio! to deliver the entire design and development programme for these ground-breaking cars. Lotus Engineering has a very strong heritage in developing innovative solutions for clients and we look forward to working with Obvio! in what we believe will be a radical new approach from a dynamic new automotive player."
Lotus Engineering will work with a range of Brazilian 'supplier partners' to develop two variants of the new chassis concept which will be engineered incorporating Niess Elliptical Survival Rings, already well-proven in the aerospace industry. Providing exceptional chassis performance as well as class-leading safety, the concept also allows for very light structures - target weight for the 012 is 750kgs (1,648 lbs) and for the 828 is 600kgs (1,318 lbs). This will enable the vehicles to feature exceptionally good performance characteristics while also running with highly efficient and economical power plants.
Obvio! said it's committed to ensuring its highly distinctive and innovative new models are fun to drive and are practical for everyday use. They are configured with the driver and two passengers sitting three-abreast and also feature scissor-opening doors to aid access and parking in tight spaces.
Initially, power will come from a 1.6-litre unit produced by Brazilian engine manufacturer Tritec Motors. Lotus Engineering will develop a new engine management unit, which will give the engine "trybrid" capabilities, running automatically on natural gas, bio-ethanol or gasoline. In parallel, Lotus will develop 170hp and 250hp turbocharged variants for higher performance models in the Obvio! range. Electrically-powered variants of both cars are expected to follow shortly after the trybrid models.
Obvio! has already signed a US$700m pre-paid contract to supply a total of 50,000 units per annum, spread between the 012 and 828 models, to its exclusive North American distributor, California-based ZAP - Zero Air Pollution (OTC BB:ZAAP.OB). Distributors for other major world markets will be appointed over the next 18 months. The Brazilian firm has committed to exceeding all worldwide safety regulations for passenger cars, while exciting performance will be achieved through an impressive power-to-weight ratio and class-leading driving dynamics.
A core Obvio!-Lotus engineering management team will be based in a dedicated project centre at Lotus' Hethel headquarters. It will manage the engineering programme for the two vehicles, which will be delivered by Lotus Engineering facilities worldwide and for the first time by a group of high-profile Brazilian-based tier one suppliers who will be heavily involved from the very earliest stages. The two vehicles will be built in Brazil, with production expected to start late in 2008.
Kimberley said: "This agreement means a great deal to us - not only are we delivering a very strong technical offering but we will once again have the opportunity to 'connect' our iconic Lotus brand to Brazil. Three of the country's most famous sports personalities, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, played a major role in helping Team Lotus to win 79 Grands Prix and seven Constructors' Championships in Formula One. With this heritage behind us, we are proud to be able to play a leading role in the development of the Brazilian car industry."