R&D boss Dr Wolfgang Epple believes that there are lots of aspects of nature and non-automotive engineering that can be drawn upon for the development of more efficient structures. "Cars have been developed for just over 100 years, but nature has been evolving over millions of years," he says.
Epple cites the wall construction methods used on some centuries-old English buildings as an interesting structural study. The walls of these homes are constructed from wood, straw, mud and other materials, and have inspired investigations into reducing the mass of alloy engine blocks, which may eventually feature weight-saving voids of the sort found in these buildings.
Speaking at a media dinner, Epple said that his research and development team were also intrigued by the structure of trees, noting the substantial difference in weight carried by branches in summer when the tree has leafed, and in winter when it is bare.
More conventionally, Epple also revealed that JLR is investigating composite reinforcement for its aluminum body structures, methods of making engines more compact, improving the fuel-injection systems of its gasoline engines to enhance economy, reducing the friction in gearboxes and finding ways to harness more of the energy lost to the car’s exhaust and cooling systems. Epple believes that plenty of development potential remains in the internal combustion engine.
Applying nano technology to batteries is another research avenue for potential efficiency improvements that might benefit Land Rover’s hybrid model programme, which includes the Range Rover Hybrid.
Epple’s research studies operate in a time frame between three-and-a-half and ten years into the future, so we can expect to see a number of these enhancements appearing in the medium-term. Much of this forward research will be carried out at the new National Automotive Innovation Campus to be built on the Warwick University campus in 2014, where JLR will eventually house its R&D team.
JLR needs to compensate for its small size when compared with its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals, says Epple, and working in tandem with universities is one way of doing this. JLR is not alone in studying nature to improve its cars – Mercedes produced a 2005 aerodynamic design concept called the Bionic that was closely modelled on the tropical yellow boxfish.