The 2005 summer internship program run by DaimlerChrysler's Product Design Office in Auburn Hills, MI, was meant to give a small group of design and engineering students a 13-week taste of what it's like to develop a vehicle, and give company executives a chance to scout new talent and design trends. And that was enough until Shim Imai dropped a bomb with his design for a Jeep for Hong Kong.
"It wasn't the design as much as it was the research behind it that forced us to sit up and take notice," says Dan Zimmermann, senior product designer, Jeep, and the design coordinator for this program. Imai, a student at the Academy of Art University (San Francisco, CA), followed the rules and researched the current market conditions in Hong Kong and extrapolated how they would change by 2015. From that he evaluated the market needs for an indigenous Jeep (minimum volume: 100,000 units), choose a current DCX vehicle from which to draw platform hard points and build occupant space, and worked with an engineering student to create a feasible product. The research Imai unearthed, analyzed, and interpreted showed there was real potential for an actual Jeep vehicle in Hong Kong by 2015. "The business case he created is being scrutinized by our management for action," says Zimmermann. "It was a real shock."
The vehicle Imai and his engineer, Michigan State University student Matt Winkley, created is based on the dimensions of the Mercedes A-Class. The fuel cell-powered vehicle is predominantly rear-drive, though an optional 40-hp/106 lb-ft electric motor can supplement the larger 134-hp/406 lb-ft unit used to drive the rear wheels. Each wheel is independently sprung, and electronic four-wheel steering provides exceptional maneuverability in the tight confines of Hong Kong's crowded cities. With twin 10,000-psi hydrogen storage tanks—students were told to expect that batteries and electric motors would be 30% smaller and more powerful by 2015, and technologies like high-pressure storage tanks would be production ready—the five-passenger Hong Kong Jeep should return the equivalent of 55 mpg in the city, 65 mpg on the highway, and accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 12 seconds. Driving range is calculated at 280 miles.
"We crammed what normally takes a year to accomplish into 13 weeks, and got a number of fresh, interesting and—in some cases—very feasible vehicle concepts out of the process," says Zimmermann. And, perhaps, a Jeep nobody thought of before.—CAS