Why the name? Because we reckoned ‘Share’ went straight to the heart of the car’s role – and, as a bonus, it would allow us to redesign the familiar ‘share’ computer symbol as an attractive nose badge. And ‘42’ because, in early discussions about the car’s broad remit, Envisage CEO Chris Devane prophetically remarked that the car should be dubbed ‘42’ – in honour of author Douglas Adams’ famous answer to the conundrum of “life, the universe and everything” in his immortal comic science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
We’re looking at an advanced frontwheel-drive electric car, as roomy as a rectangular prism inside yet sleek and advanced on the outside. To maximise the space needed for flexible seating and allow best cabin access, the P42 is being proposed with a ‘clap hands’ system of very large doors that eliminates a centre pillar. The rigidity contribution made by this normally vital member is provided instead by an innovative floor, roof and sill structure.
The P42’s monocoque is made mostly of aluminium and carbonfibre for weight control, but the exact proportion of each is still under discussion. Walsh believes recycling will become a very big deal by the time we reach the hard design phase, and large quantities of carbonfibre will be costly, slow to produce and border on the undesirable from the recycling point of view. Were we doing this for real, we’d be hoping one of a range of more sustainable, biodegradable fibres currently under development might emerge over the next decade.
The electric drive motor is carried transversely in the nose, its power provided by a sled-like battery in a well-protected position under the flat floor. Front suspension is by short double wishbones to save space and the proposed rear set-up is independent by compact trailing arms, to provide a high standard of ride comfort while allowing a wide and low tailgate to take advantage of the flat floor.
One early decision has driven many others: Envisage’s confidence that designers of volume cars in 2025 will be able to depend on active, affordable, self-deploying front and side crash protection to meet forthcoming regulations. The P42 assumes both systems, and together they dramatically reduce the car’s overall length and control its width while protecting both occupants and battery in a severe side impact. The upshot is that they have allowed our design team to configure a front-drive electric car at a Golf-like length of 4.3m, while providing flexible cabin accommodation for five or even seven people.
The other major space-saving ruse is the P42’s complete absence of a classic, looming dashboard to contain its HVAC system (heater and air-con to us laymen), instruments and airbags, among other gadgetry. The HVAC fits into space liberated by the comparatively small size of the drive motor – versus a petrol or diesel engine – and by the radical proposal (for now) that much of the P42’s electrical control software will be carried outside the car, in the cloud.