WikiSpeed is building cars obtaining 100 MPG and costing $25,000. They also are fast and have been designed for safety. What follows is an interview with Joe Justice, who is a founder of the organization.
What prompted you to begin building your cars in the first place?
I was passionate about efficiency and safety, and had a deep curiosity if safe, reliable, quick cars could be inexpensive. It seemed to me that some very high end sports cars had about the same amount of similar materials, or even less, than some very inexpensive commuter cars, and people might be paying more for just putting the material in a different place. I wanted to know if that was true.
Because of the modular design, and the self-directed nature of your work, it seems a person who bought one of your cars would be someone with a mechanical interest and enough mechanical knowledge to work on the vehicle themselves.
We aim to make the cars self-explanatory. If our web browsers, or even smart phones now, come with a manual that is considered a usability failure. Our car modules are designed to be switchable by anyone who is comfortable changing a tire; allowing them to choose a gasoline or electric drive train, or a pick-up-truck or a convertible, and switch their WIKISPEED car between all of those things in about the time it would take for them to put snow tires on their car.
Did you design the vehicle with a do-it-yourself audience in mind, or did the modular design result from something else?
The modular design resulted from needing to test many ideas quickly at a low cost; we needed to be able to test many different engine types without building the rest of the car each time and many different safety systems without building the rest of the car each time. I had an aspiration of enabling do-it-yourself folks through usability, but that was secondary to the driver of needing to compete with teams wielding multimillion dollar research budgets.
How are you able to achieve such high gas mileage, when the average car on the street does so poorly?
Light weight and minimal aerodynamic drag half of the fuel efficiency formula. We developed very light weight safety structures to reduce weight while aiming for top safety ratings and performance, hundreds of pounds lighter than typical street cars. Almost half of the fuel efficiency formula again is the efficiency of the combustion event itself and drive train. We developed many small enhancements to the drive train which, in aggregate, create a meaningful increase in fuel efficiency. The remainder are many small enhancements to the way the car delivers its energy to the road, which we develop much of with our modular suspension.