Australia may not leap to mind when you think about automotive manufacturing. It's not that they don't make cars in Australia. There is GM's Holden operations, which not only produces but designs and engineers cars. There's Ford Australia, which also designs and builds cars. Toyota is building Camrys in Australia. The Mitsubishi Diamantes that you may see on the roads around here are actually manufactured in Australia.
But chances are, many people in the U.S. think in the context of Crocodile Dundee, Olivia Newton-John, and koala bears when it comes to Australia, not autos. Which is undoubtedly one reason why the country's Dept. of Industry, Science and Tourism; Market Australia; the Energy Research & Development Corp.; and the state governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, as well as some 130 component manufacturers in Australia, used the SAE Congress & Exposition in Detroit last February as the venue for the launch of the aXcess australia concept car.
Typically, concept cars are produced by automakers in order to show consumers what could be. In the case of aXcess australia, the motives were much the same. However, instead of trying to provide people with a view of what they could see in their driveways, the consortium of companies and organizations is trying to show just what components and capabilities can be sourced by the world's automakers from Australia. Repeatedly, the statement "There are no plans to build this vehicle" was voiced during the introduction of the car.
Here's a look at some of the clever design and engineering used to produce this driveable operating concept car.
Instrument cluster: VDO Australia (West Heidelberg, Victoria) came up with a package that's just 58-mm thick and weighs less than 1 kg.
Chassis: Spot welding gives way to a riveting process developed by Henrob (Virginia, Queensland). It is self-piercing, thereby eliminating the need for pre-drilling.
Brakes: PBR Automotive (East Bentleigh, Victoria) devised a parking brake that automatically locks all four wheels when the transmission is placed in park. The brake has 60% fewer parts than a conventional unit.
Engine: A 2.0-liter two-stroke, six-cylinder power plant from Orbital Engine Corp. (Balcatta). It has a dry weight of 120-kg, which is estimated to be 25% lighter than a conventional six. It features an aluminum block and head. The cylinder bores are coated with Nikasil (a nickel-silicon carbide material).
Body panels: 2-mm carbon fiber panels by Venture Asia Pacific (Melbourne, Victoria). Each is one piece so they can be taken off as needed.
Touchpads: Used instead of such things as the gear shift lever and indicator stalk. The touchpad membrane switches are provided by Luna Nameplate Industries (Bayswater, Victoria).
Propeller shaft: It's a single-piece aluminum metal-matrix composite component fitted with constant velocity joints rather than yolks and bearings. The shaft, produced by BTR Automotive Asia Pacific (Fairfield, New South Wales) weighs just 7.2 kg.
Seats: Front seats have a magnesium backframe and magnesium cushion pan. Steel is used for the back seats. The frames are produced by Hendersons Automotive (South Melbourne, Victoria).
Frame: Typically, a frame is covered up. Not so here. It is something of an exoskeleton onto which the doors and body panels are attached. It is bolted and adhesively bonded to a metal chassis. The X-frame design (it forms an X on top of the roof) was developed and produced by Melbourne-based Millard Design Australia. It is a hollow-carbon fiber construction that weighs just 68-kg. Not only is it visible on the exterior, but on the interior, too.
Transverse rear leaf spring: Composite, not steel. Manufactured by SP Products (Sydney, New South Wales), which is also the supplier of the frame material.
Wheels: Magnesium, not aluminum. Produced by Castalloy Ltd. (North Plympton, South Australia). With the color and plastic trim added, each wheel weighs 8.54 kg. That can be contrasted with the weight for a comparable aluminum wheel: 12 kg.