The Uniti One EV started as an innovation project at Sweden’s Lund University. The company founders used crowdsourced funding to pay for development of a two-seat prototype model, which they introduced in December 2017. Production vehicles will go on sale in 2019, with four-seat models (for the European market) and five-seat vehicles (for the Indian market) available in the next phase.
Uniti Sweden is working through many design and production decisions as it prepares to bring its car to market. One is determining which carbon fiber composite formulation will provide optimum crash performance. “This is more challenging developing with composite structures as the engineering options are very varied and still developing,” Unerman notes.
Another challenge is ensuring there will be enough carbon fiber available to meet the anticipated demand for Uniti’s vehicles. The company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S.-based Zoltek to guarantee that supply of carbon fiber and expects to confirm other supplier agreements soon.
Zoltek has been supplying carbon fiber for automotive brakes and clutches for more than 15 years and more recently for lightweight structural components for the GM Cadillac hood and Audi A8 rear seat wall. “Uniti realized that Zoltek would be the most logical choice for a carbon fiber partner as they scaled up,” says David Purcell, Zoltek’s executive vice president of composite intermediates and oxidized fiber. “A question that we often get about carbon fiber is if aluminum is struggling to keep up with global automotive supply, how will carbon composites respond? Zoltek’s business model addresses that question, as our ability to rapidly expand carbon fiber capacity is designed to address demand of 200,000 or 300,000 parts a year.”
Purcell says Zoltek is unique because it produces just one type of fiber. The company can tailor the sizing for both thermoset and thermoplastic applications, and it is capable of producing various fabrics, chopped fibers and pultruded profiles from it. But they are all variations on that one base commercial grade fiber.
Uniti is currently looking at a resin transfer molding (RTM) process with carbon fiber fabric for its composite car bodies, but that could change. In addition, it is evaluating various options for producing the bio-composite parts for the vehicle’s interior. “We are targeting manufacturing processes that have a high level of maturity,” explains Unerman. The company also is getting input from its suppliers on the design of manufacturing processes in order to minimize problems later on.