They don’t normally grow orchids in Oxfordshire, but here’s the exception. It’s a genus of the exotic plant from Singapore called Dendrobium. And it’ll do 200mph. Now that’s what you call flower power…
APR 13th 2017
Ian Cluett of Williams Advanced Engineering on their 200mph Dendrobium EV hypercar
After Jaguar C-X75, Nissan Bladeglider, Jaguar i-Pace – and an awful lot more besides – Williams Advanced Engineering based in Grove, Oxon, can now count Dendrobium, the car, among its most high-profile of projects after a debut at the Geneva show last month.
The Singaporean battery and electric vehicle company Vanda Electrics long wanted to showcase its electric vehicle technology with a hypercar – and Williams Advanced Engineering was the perfect partner to take the seed of an idea to full-bloom. With synchronised opening of doors and roof like the petals of the eponymous flower opening up to the Singaporean sunshine, the name of the car chose itself…
You will be able to judge that for yourself, as the world’s newest all-electric 200mph hypercar gets ready to meet its public at a variety of summer motoring events – starting at Top Marques in Monaco later in April and then coming to Sussex for the Festival of Speed (June 29th to July 2nd). It might not be demonstrating its maximum speed, or its targeted 0-62mph time of 2.7 seconds, but with such a dramatic body you sure won’t be able to miss it.
At Geneva, we had a chance to catch up with the man in charge of making the Dendrobium, Williams Advanced Engineering’s head of programmes, Ian Cluett…
Ian, how did this project burst into bloom?
Vanda came to us a year ago and asked if we could help them make it. They showed us a lot of sketches from their designers in Singapore. Singapore is not known for its car industry. The designers were industrial product designers.
Were you impressed?
My eyes went wide when I saw the doors and roof opening up. We were amazed and also a bit sceptical to begin with. But what came across was a huge passion for what they wanted to achieve. And at the heart of it was an exciting electric transport vision.
Did it have to change much from the sketches?
It was longer and wider when we first saw it. We said, “it won’t go round corners” so we redesigned it but keeping the teardrop shape and the opening roof. We did try to persuade them not to have an opening roof but they wanted to keep that. The challenge for us was in the shape of the car, the electric powertrain is relatively conventional.
What’s it like to drive?
I haven’t driven it yet but this car is driveable, up to about 50mph. It is a moving show car, not an engineering prototype – that was our brief. Making a prototype is another leap up in time and money.
Where it does go from here?
The intention is that it will be on the road in limited production form by 2020, and that’s doable from where we are today. It’s a concept but it does have production feasibility built into it. I know Vanda would love to make it. (Larissa Tan, Vanda Electrics CEO, has said: “We have every intention of putting it into production…as a fitting showcase for the best in design and e-technology.”)
Is there a wider purpose to building cars like this?
Yes there is, to provide a message that electric cars are cool. How many children will see this and want an electric car? The Dendrobium is a car that people will want to drive.
The Advanced Engineering side of Williams has achieved a lot, especially with battery power…
That’s true, and we have only been going five years. We supply all the battery systems for the 42 cars in the FIA Formula E championship. We made the electric BladeGlider racer for Nissan, and the hybrid C-X75 (the bad guy’s car in the last Bond movie) for Jaguar, as well as the electric Jaguar i-Pace concept. Plus we have worked with other companies on projects I can’t talk about. The Dendrobium is, in fact, the first all-electric supercar we have done.
Is it just electric performance that turns you on?
No. We focus on three areas: aerodynamic and thermal dynamics, lightweight structures and electrification. Well over half of all our work now is electrification.
What’s the future for the electric car?
Hybrids and electric cars are still a bit specialised but they will move into the mainstream over the next five years. Some cars will be pure electric, others plug-in hybrid as we get different products for different uses and range needs. I can’t tell you more today but we are trying to find a way to scale up the technology from Formula E into higher volume manufacturing.
And finally…Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren all have F1-inspired hypercars coming, so why not a Williams own-label hypercar?
There are no plans for that. It would become political and make it difficult for us to work for other manufacturers.
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