The motor industry is transforming, futures cars based on wood?

One of today’s newest concept vehicles in the motor industry in Japan is the Nano Cellulose Vehicle (NCV). It was presented and shown for the first time to the public at the Tokyo Motor Show 2019 (TMS) Future Expo and is the first NCV to be presented in the world. The automobile’s is partly made of cellulose nanofiber (CNF) composites, bio-based, light-weight and high-strength materials from chemically processed wood. The car consists of around 20 percent wood-based material in total, which gives the car a weight reduction of more than 10 percent in comparison with a standard car.

The NCV.
The NCV.
The NCV.
The NCV.

Due to the lower weight, but also due to that CNF is bio-based, the car will produce lower CO2 emission from both its driving activities and its life cycle. CNF is also contributing to improved features of the car, CNF is a more durable material and has five times the strength of steel. Several parts in the car consist of 10-20 percent CNF, and there are parts made of 100 percent CNF composite; the hood/bonnet of the car, and the roof side rail. Further, since the size of cellulose nanofibers are smaller than the wavelength of visible light, the composite can also be made transparent, which was showcased with a sun-roof in the vehicle.

The logo of the NCV was of the Ministry of the Environment. The project has been funded by the Ministry and brought forward through a collaboration between the Japanese government, researchers, carmakers and a series of more than 20 companies who have supplied different components. The manufacturing process of the CNF in the NCV is called the Kyoto Process, and has been developed by Prof. Yano’s group at Kyoto University in collaboration with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), under the Ministry of Economy, Trad, and Industry (METI). It was nice to meet Prof. Yano at the fair site and get a presentation of the car, after visiting his lab a few weeks earlier with Minister Ernkrans. He also explained the intricate Japanese influenced design details, such as the samurai sword handle pattern on the steering wheel and the Japanese sensu-fan inspired rims on the wheels.

Featuring details of the car and when Dr. Yano is greeting and showing the NCV for the Minister of Environment, Mr Koizumi.
Featuring details of the car and when Dr. Yano is greeting and showing the NCV for the Minister of Environment, Mr Koizumi.
Featuring details of the car and when Dr. Yano is greeting and showing the NCV for the Minister of Environment, Mr Koizumi.
Featuring details of the car and when Dr. Yano is greeting and showing the NCV for the Minister of Environment, Mr Koizumi.

The aim is for CNF to become a new important manufacturing material for vehicles, since it has a lower impact on the environment than other materials, and at the same time a high-performance. Broad implementation is of course challenging for traditional industries, but with a broad uptake of the novel material comes future cost reductions in production methods. Compared to carbon fiber materials with similar performance, the CNF also has an advantage in being recyclable, since the cellulose nanofibers are so small that they are not destroyed mechanically during a recycling process.

At the TMS Future Expo, one trend was to question the traditional way by presenting possibilities that new technology can offer. The function of a car tomorrow will be different from what it is today. Cars have been constructed and used in a quite similar way for the last 100 years, the change in design and its function has mainly been to improve the transportation capability. Thanks to new technology like electrification and artificial intelligence, engine systems will take less space and in the future there will be reduced need of a driver seat, or a driver, since the cars can be driven autonomously. This removes restrictions on how to design cars and opens up new possibilities for their function. At the fair, you could find cars that were more like movable rooms, where you could exercise or have a meeting while traveling from point A to point B. Examples of this were HINO’s FlatFormer, SUZUKI’s Hanare, and Volvo Group’s Vera.

Vera.
e-Palette.
A movable room.

At the fair, and especially the Future Expo area, many vehicles were focused on sustainable technologies, like Hybrid, Fuel Cell (Hydrogen) and full Electrical cars. To decrease the CO2 emission and be able to reach the SDG goals, more environmentally friendly cars will be needed, which was showcased broadly, including trucks. For example, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus presented a new F-cell truck, UD trucks a hybrid truck, Toyota their MIRAI Concept that is a fuel cell car, and ISUZU presented trucks driven by natural gas. This is an important and necessary change in the sector, since the distribution and transport industry stand for 70 percent of all the CO2 emissions, and of those, almost three quarters are from the road activities.

Autonomous Vehicles (AV) will clearly have an impact in the future motor market. There were several AVs at TMS. For example, Toyota presented its e-Palette, a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) that will be used in the Athletes’ Village during the games in Tokyo 2020, the IcoIco and Nipote duo from Daihatsu that will serve as an AV resp. a robot that can interact with passengers and take care of mobility-related needs, and SUZUKI’s Hanare, which is more like a movable room.

At this year’s fair, a new focus was on making the TMS interesting and available for a broader audience by introduced a new concept, KidZania. Since a decreasing number of young Japanese people take driving license today, and to raise the interest in technology and motors among young ones, and invest in the future market, TMS collaborated with the organization KidZania to create an area at the fair where kids could try to work with car related jobs, such as to be a mechanic, car designer, and professional racer. Interesting statistics related to this, today about 65 percent of the population in Japan have a driving license, which is at the same level as Sweden, and 22 percent of them are 65 years or older, compared to 27 percent in Sweden.

There were only a few non-Japanese auto manufacturers at the TMS, but still you could find three Swedish companies. As earlier mentioned, Vera from Volvo Group was presented in UD Truck’s booth, and Smart Eye, working with eye monitoring in vehicles, and Öhlins, making suspension systems for the motor industry, had their own booths at the fair.

The Tokyo Motor Show gave interesting insights in the future developments of vehicles, with the clearest trends being, autonomous vehicles, the shift from fossil fuels, new sustainable production materials, and that vehicles will have a broader future use than mere transportation.