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1999 Pininfarina Metrocubo

Pininfarina designers were not prepared to answer a most obvious question: what is the actual inside volume of their latest concept car: Metrocubo. Italian for cubic meters. They might tell us one day, but it is clear that with the vehicle taking up to five passengers, it is much bigger than its name, even though its length is just a tiny bit over the 2.5-meter length.

The name did not come out from a long series of crowded committees but reflects a definition used by Lorenzo Ramaciotti, general manager of Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche when referring to the project. President Sergio Pininfarina heard it over a conversation. He decided the name was perfect for the show-car unveiled at the Frankfort Motor Show last September and demonstrated to several motoring writers the day before it started its journey to Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show there. The Pininfarina traveled to the Far East onboard a transcontinental airplane, not on its own. Otherwise, it would have reached Tokyo on time for the next edition in two years. You can't call the Metrocubo a fast car. After all, it is a city car powered by a hybrid light system and is not made to cross the Urals or drive hundreds of miles day after day.

A Hybrid Car

The Metrocubo is happy to serve a family of four (and even five on occasions) wishing to travel to or inside the city. Its top speed is reported to be slightly above the 100-kph barrier, and when operating exclusively on its electric motor, it produces no emission at all. In this case, the range is limited to 40 km. Outside the city where a modest consumption of gasoline and emission is tolerated, Metrocubo may drive up to some 300 km on ten liters of gasoline. In this case, the four strokes, 505 cc., two-cylinder gasoline Lombardini engine works as a generator charging the batteries at the rate of 6.3 kW per hour. Enough for steady, smooth driving but critical when driving in extreme conditions, at higher speed, or on gradients. The electric motor has a potential capacity of 35 kW, absorbing nearly six times the energy the gasoline engine can produce.

In their turn, the battery pack is made of conventional lead even though, according to the latest technology, add some 480 KGs to the car's weight that would otherwise show on 818 kg on the scale. The total is accounted: 1298 kg for a city. Positively too many. For these reasons, politicians are currently considering banning thermal combustion engines from letting only E.V. in the cities think twice. What will we do with this new generation of E.V. will they no longer be able to provide us with their service? Even the latest Pininfarina study does not introduce any real innovative solutions to the accumulation, management, and use of electric energy despite presenting state-of-the-art, which is illuminating. In comparison to the milk delivery trucks of the early century, some step forward has been made. Not that much, though, and we must concede that we are still in a pioneering phase on this front. A lot more needs to be achieved.

A City Car For The Family

The scene is radically different when it comes to the architecture of the Metrocubo, of its flexible use potential, and convenience. With Metrocubo, Pininfarina designers have further stretched the envelope and made the best possible use of space in a city car. Much like the MCC Smart, they also set for themselves the limit of a 2.5-meter long automobile (actually moving, with the Italian sense of flexibility to 2580 mm.). Still, they added the goal of granting convenient accommodation to four, maybe five, adults rather than just 2. Why a city car with accommodation for four to five when most cars in the city are driven by one person? We questioned. The answer is simple: "We wanted to offer a car that can serve the entire family when required, thus making a second, large car, an option rather than a must," said Ken Okuyama, the Japanese chief designer in charge of "educational relationship." His team - Lowie Vermeersch (exterior) and Bruno Gho (interior) - design is credited for the Metrocubo design. Hence, a car as wide as the Fiat Multipla, 1780 mm., to take three people on the front row and tall enough to grant enough room, good visibility, and a pleasant cabin to travel in. A fourth and fifth seat can be transversally, positioned behind the front row, to obtain a completely modular cabin. The good point about them and all other passengers' seats is that they can be mainly moved or completely removed. The only fixed point is the driving area. All other seats are mounted on rails integrated into the floor so that they can be slid along the entire length of the cabin or indeed be taken out completely to make for quite a convenient cargo to move stuff around.

One of the most interesting aspects of the interior arrangement is that it is entirely modular and can be organized to suit all sorts of needs according to the number of passengers or the sort of goods being transported and the very nature of the journey. Indeed, the users have a choice (like in a large minivan) with this small and potentially inexpensive "city car." The design of a car that aims to maximize space use must have flat surfaces, not precisely what you need when aiming at a good, "dynamic" look. Nevertheless, one can't but concede that Pininfarina's designers demonstrate with Metrocubo that even a squared box can be made attractive through good design.

It makes a rather good impression to see the Pininfarina's "cubic meter," moving silently along the asphalt strip contouring the modern buildings hosting the "Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche" at Cambiano, in the outskirts of Torino. No matter from which perspective you look, the vehicle always shows the same design theme featuring a well-balanced combination of geometrical surfaces, gently harmonized to form a solid three-dimensional shape. Dimensions and proportions change from side to side but without any contrast. Apart from the underfloor, the only side that is not related to the other is the roof. It is hare to see from the floor level, but this consists mainly of the lamella sunroof developed by Webasto. The roof also makes use of as much glazing material (polycarbonate provided by Isoclima Aerospace extensively used for the entire body to grant the best visibility and feeling of airiness inside the relatively small cabin.

Inspired by Michelins New “Pax System” Tires

Also, the innovative Michelin "Pax System" tires that have inspired and motivated this design research are different front and rear. They play a key role in the design and look of the car. Lorenzo Ramaciotti said such tires allow the investigation of new architectural solutions for the automobile and point to just one entertaining detail. With the front tires being smaller than those at the rear, they help understand the direction Metrocubo is meant to go. The understanding is supported by different front and rear screen rake, even though the difference is not that big. Despite the minimal dimensions of the vehicle, access to the front seats is rather convenient, and this is for two reasons: the height of the car -and hence of the door, actually a real gate - and the fact the gate slides rearward on the driver's side. On the other side, there is a wide opening, conventional door. One finds the third sort of opening at the back: the rear gate, open wide but in two folding parts to limit the space required to open it. Combined with the flat floor, it provides access for passengers and any loading operations required. Rear passenger access is fun for a couple of boys but rather inconvenient for two adults.

Interior design is simple and rational, well organized yet colorful and pretty, with a strong "product design" character. As for all components used for the car, new materials and technologies have been investigated and used. The seats consist of a simple tubular frame in aluminum covered in fabric with gel padding on all those areas that come into contact with the occupant's body. The result is a light, see-through look and also means that the seats take up very little space when not occupied. The facia design echoes the look of the body, including the color. Every information is organized around a central multifunctional display, visible not just to the driver but to all the car's occupants. Most functions are operated by a remote control system so that the passengers have access to entertainment facilities like the stereo and the satellite navigator, telephone, and climate control. All the main controls are within easy reach of the driver, to his left or on the steering column. A series of containers of all sorts have been carved out on the facia to store small items. Although Metrocubo is purely a research vehicle, it is reported that several leading carmakers have paid the greatest attention to Pininfarina's latest show car and are talking to the Italian design house on this subject. The interest for E.V. City Car is reportedly growing at high speed among European makers. There are chances that the European Union will issue new rules making these sorts of vehicles nearly mandatory in many European cities.

Image Source: pininfarina spa.