The hybrid model uses a new Wankel rotary engine, developed by Westfield and built nearby by Advanced Innovative Engineering. It’s a single-rotor unit that displaces 650cc and develops some 130bhp. The engine weighs just 28kg, making it ideal alongside an electric motor in a lightweight sports car. Turner hopes to sell 1000 GTMs each year by 2022. Eventually, the GTM could be fully autonomous too. “You could use a GTM for an hour to have a bit of fun, then somebody else can,” he says. “We’re going to turn into the Boeing or Airbus of the automotive world, selling these vehicles to fleet operators more and more.”
Westfield’s expansion has been rapid. Its head count has doubled to 46 in the past 12 months and Turner reckons it will double again in the next year. His workforce will need to grow if the company is to hit his target of building 100 autonomous pods in 2018. Manufactured in the same factory as the sports cars, the pods are tall, narrow, closed-wheel machines that can seat six. They travel at speeds of up to 20mph and run for eight hours on a single charge.
Why self-driving pods? Aside from the sheer size of the market, the technology crossover between lightweight sports cars and autonomous pods is actually quite striking. Turner points out that both use spaceframe chassis with double wishbone suspension and plastic bodies, all of which his company is very well versed in. And the same autonomous and battery technologies could soon work across both types of vehicle. Using autonomous systems developed by Bristol-based Fusion Processing, Westfield’s pods are on trial across the country. They’re being used in Greenwich to connect the train station to the water taxi and on the University of the West of England campus.
“We’ve already done five million miles with this vehicle and taken 3.5 million commercial passengers,” says Turner. “We are ahead of a lot of people, including Google, with this technology. We’re a market leader.”
So far, the pods are only licensed for use in controlled environments, but Westfield is working with the British government to write a new classification for such vehicles to allow them on public roads. “Right now, the pod is for connecting different modes of transport – it’s for last-mile transportation, moving goods around, doing stuff airside at airports and so on,” explains Turner. “But look at the fines Transport for London is getting because air pollution is 40 times over the legal limit. Birmingham [City Council] is being threatened with a £60m fine because [the city is] so far over the limit.” For cities to meet air-quality targets, he says, they’re going to have to restrict combustion engine vehicles and that’s when the pods could come into their own. “The British sports car scene is in a good state,” he says, “but there are a hell of a lot of concerns at the moment: concerns about future legislation on traction control, airbags, emissions and so on, and concerns about Brexit too.