"Born From Jets" may be the slogan of recently-saved-from-death Swedish Saab, but one day it may prove more appropriate for British carmaker Jaguar.
The company has been awarded funding from the U.K. government to develop a small jet turbine as a range extender for a future hybrid luxury car.
Its just-launched new 2011 Jaguar XJ full-size luxury sedan could gain an extended-range electric model within a few years that might provide a platform for the innovative jet-powered range extender.
Rover JET1 turbine-powered car concept
Bladon Jets micro turbine
1963 Chrysler Turbine concept car, photographed by Wikipedia user Karmann
Capstone Turbine CMT-380 concept car
JET1: World's first turbine car
Rover Cars, which developed JET1, the first-ever jet-powered turbine car, is one of the predecessor companies of Jaguar Land Rover, now owned by India's Tata Motors.
That car, now housed in London's Science Museum, ran on gasoline, diesel, or kerosene at speeds up to 88 miles per hour. It also spawned a Le Mans racer developed with BRM Formula One that averaged more than 100 mph and topped out at 142 mph.
Smaller, lighter, less CO2
The British government awarded $1.8 million in development funds to develop the turbine-based range extender for electric vehicles to a consortium of Jaguar-Land Rover, Bladon Jets, and SR Drives.
The group says a modern micro-turbine saves more than 200 pounds over a gasoline engine for onboard power generation to recharge an electric car's battery pack, while slightly reducing CO2 emissions.
The Bladon Jets turbine has just 5 percent of the weight and parts count of a typical four-cylinder engine.
Not so good for direct drive
As Chrysler learned a decade later, when it released 56 prototypes of its elegant Chrysler Turbine coupe for real-world tests by roughly 200 drivers, turbine technology proved too inefficient and expensive for production-car use.
Chrysler's test cars suffered from throttle lag, lack of low-end torque, very high exhaust temperatures, and mediocre fuel economy (17 mpg) from their 97-kilowatt (130-horsepower) turbine engines, which powered the car through a standard automatic transmission.
Turbines also aren't particularly suited to the rapid acceleration cycles of varied driving. Using a turbine as a steady-speed source to generate electric power, on the other hand, lets it operate most efficiently and at close to its maximum output.
Jaguar-Lotus "LimoGreen" project
We've covered the Jaguar "LimoGreen" research project before, a 2008 research project also funded by the U.K. to develop a full-size executive luxury sedan with CO2 emissions of just 120 grams per kilometer, or roughly the level of a European diesel subcompact.
That vehicle was expected to use a series hybrid powertrain, along the same principles as the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, made up of a lithium-ion battery pack, an advanced electric motor, and a compact "auxiliary power unit" (an engine that drives a generator) to be provided by Lotus.
Turbine vs. tiny engine
In September, Lotus unveiled a tiny three-cylinder, 1.2-liter Range Extender engine-and-generator set at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The Limo-Green project is covered (briefly, on pp 9-10) in a recent Lotus Engineering newsletter, covering the new dedicated hybrid and electric vehicle group within the Lotus Engineering consultancy.
But a turbine range extender adds another facet to the notion of a future electric-drive Jaguar. Compared to any combustion engine, a turbine is smoother and quieter--both prized qualities for the British brand's luxury cars.
It's not the very first extended-range electric vehicle with a turbine; that honor may belong to the Capstone Turbine CMT-380 concept, a supercar prototype shown at last month's Los Angeles Auto Show.