Nathan James Armstrong is president of Motive Industries Inc., an automotive design firm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that is developing bio-composite-bodied electric cars using industrial hemp fiber in the manufacturing process. The company unveiled the Kestrel—Canada’s first bio-composite electric vehicle design, at the September EV 2010 VÉ Conference and Trade Show in Vancouver, British Columbia.
How does Motive Industries fit into the automotive industry?
Our history is that we offer design services to automobile manufacturers: clean-sheet, modeling, tooling, testing, niche marketing of vehicles or components for production of vehicles and accessories like grills, cup holders. A few companies specialize in certain areas of engineering, but none in Canada and only a handful of larger companies in the States can handle a project from clean-sheet design of a vehicle through to finished product—that’s our advantage.
What is your background in prototype vehicle development?
From 1995 to 2004, I worked in California building concept and advanced prototype vehicles for the major OEMs. In 2004, I got the idea to take the composite materials, tooling techniques, engineering techniques and assembly techniques and move it out of the concept world and take those materials into the production arena.
Where do you see potential for green composites in automotive?
We’re looking at natural resins. Currently we’re doing R&D on using the center core of the plant stems to make natural foams with use as filler. However, the challenge is to be 100-percent natural. With a natural-based material, low performance is an issue, but it will perform as well as chopper-gun glass mat. Hybridization of natural fiber is the first place to go. We’re working on growing the research program in Alberta with Alberta Innovates—Technology Futures, and Alberta Agriculture now. The University of Alberta has been doing research into this area for several years, also.
Do you think Canada offers a unique opportunity for automotive innovation?
Most automakers are OEM, Tier 1 or Tier 2 setup, or vertically integrated. In Canada, a consortium exists that is ideally suited for Canada, where 85 percent of the economy is provided by SMEs (small/medium enterprises) and there is a high degree of trust within the industry. By fostering a horizontally integrated company, we can have a very diverse set of technology, because it has multiple source points and can be carried to a good degree of completion by the inventors themselves with support from the group. We also have the opportunity to speed up the development process, allowing new technologies to reach the market faster.