Saving The World, Volvo Style

Forty years ago Gothenburg tried its hand at an eco-car. It didn’t catch on. 

(c) Popularmechanics

Large scale manufacturers have the ability to try new technologies, regardless of their commercial non-success. On these pages we have read of countless millions budgeted for a non-starting project or concept, at the time heralding new automotive beginnings, only to forever reside within the confines of a museum. A historical artefact from a less well informed period.

One such previously unsung example being Volvo’s LCP2000 project. The Light Component Project for the year 2000 started life in 1979. After an exemplary twenty five career with fellow Scandinavian carmaker, SAAB, where he had input with the Sonnet, in addition to rally-driving and engine development (tied with being an executive), the ever genial engineer, Rolf Mellde sought a new challenge at Volvo.

The simple brief being to conjure up a vehicle for the future. One made from modern, lightweight materials, being ultra fuel efficient with typical Volvo traits – safety, and everyday usability. No science fiction here: more science fact. Limitations were set at a maximum weight of 700 Kg, using no more than four litres of fuel per 100 Km with accommodation for at least two people, preferably four. Difficult in 2020, unheard of forty years ago. Mellde drafted his team together, taking nearly four years for their hard work to come to fruition. 

A distinct wedge form, three door hatchback was taken to the 1983 Stockholm environmental seminar. In total, four cars were made. Wheelbase measured exactly one hundred inches (2540 mm) within an overall length of 156.7” (3980mm). The scales tipped at 707 Kg, impressively close to the stipulated maximum. 

Power came from two variants of three cylinder Diesel engines; the first being co-developed by British company Ricardo and made from magnesium. Rated at 1.3 litres, this 98 Kg block produced 50hp. The alternative being an iron block, 1.4 litre 130 Kg mill which could run on anything oil-based. One experiment used rapeseed oil, entrancing anyone downwind of the exhaust to a sudden desire for fish and chips. With no cylinder head cooling jacket and using the engine oil to act as coolant, this model developed ninety horsepower.

Both engines could see the LCP reach sixty two KMH in around eleven seconds and record excellent fuel figures of 56 mpg. Acceptable then but hardly ground breaking today. Top speed was a nicely rounded 110mph. All varieties were front wheel drive whereas the gearbox was either that of a traditional, manual Volvo five speeder or, slightly later into the project, a DAF derived CVT unit was installed.

Body wise, materials used featured aluminium, plastic and magnesium along with the almost (then) mythical use of carbon fibre for the door frames. Volvo claimed only 150Kg of standard material such as steel was used in the entire construction, substantially helping toward the 700 Kg goal; the floor being a single piece of plastic that the aluminium or magnesium parts could be glued to. The lightweight wheels were co-developed with Italian bicycle componentry supremo, Campagnolo. 

Remaining with the body, we can see the unusual passenger set up. Driver and front passenger were presented with the status quo. Those consigned to the rear on the other hand were forced to endure the view of the road travelled. Deemed a safety feature, the rearward facing seats defined the rather sharply squared off end – the plastic tailgate being your means of in – and egress with some room for luggage.

Whether your Heinz beans tins or golf paraphernalia tickled your toes is unknown but I for one would not relish a journey of any length facing oncoming idiots. Especially when a common or garden hatchback from any other given manufacturer could handle that remit without question.

And that dilemma heaves the inevitable weight behind such an otherwise exceptionally conceived engineering task, the baying hoards of potential customers not only unconvinced when shown such science, they ignored it. Power and performance were (as now) far more saleable than anything concerned with the environment. The project certainly caused interest and helped inspire the shape of the 480 three years hence. 

(c) Volvocars.media

Of more benefit to the manufacturer concerned with whole-life costs was the study of not only the used materials but their recyclability when the car’s serviceable life ends. A modern Volvo can recycle some 90% of its parts, broadly attributable to the LCP project of some forty years past. 

This is by no way of criticism toward Mellde and his team, who created a whole new vision, using (in the car business at that moment in time) unheard of materials, producing an admittedly odd looking although perfectly functional car, that given better circumstances may have caught the imagination of the public. For their labours they deserved more than just a museum piece, though realistically a museum piece the LCP2000 has to be.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

8 thoughts on “Saving The World, Volvo Style”

  1. “sixty two KMH in around eleven seconds”. A glitch? 100kph seems more likely.
    Oh, and hordes, not hoards.
    Sorry, sleepless hot nights inflate my pedantic streak.

  2. Good morning Andrew. A worthy effort, especially at a time when environmental concerns were pretty low on most people’s list of priorities. The idea of rearward facing rear seats is a non-starter, however. It hugely compromises the packaging, creating dead space under the front seats (where normally the rear seat passengers’ feet would go) and between the front and rear seats. It also means the car has effectively no boot space when travelling with a full complement of passengers. Entry and egress would be something of an undignified scramble too, especially for passengers with impaired mobility.

    Rearward facing passenger seats are often resisted by passengers, who mainly prefer to be facing in the direction of travel. The airline industry is a prime example of this. It has been proven that survivability in an air-crash would be significantly improved if the passengers were all seated in a rearward facing position, but passenger resistance makes this unviable, according to the industry. That seems pretty perverse, when there’s nothing to see out the windows other than blue sky for virtually the whole flight.

    I have always enjoyed traditional rail travel, where passengers sit facing each other across a table, and don’t mind in which direction I face. The sense of space is very pleasant, as is the expansive view out. It’s a great shame that, to increase capacity, trains have increasingly adopted the ‘airline style’ seating. Because the relationship between the seats and windows is lost with this format, you can often find yourself sitting in a seat with a restricted or no view out, which is very claustrophobic. I suppose this style of seating makes sense on commuter trains but I would hate to travel a long distance on such trains.

    On another subject, oil-cooling sounds interesting. I suppose there must be significant drawbacks, otherwise it might have been adopted elsewhere?

  3. Yeah, I remember that concept. What caught the eye of the 9-year old me was the incredibly futuristic keyless entry with an electronic keypad mounted on the B-pillar. In a world where computers just began to take hold in people’s homes it made promises of a glorious and optimistic future where everything was possible.

  4. When I saw the first image, I thought the article would be about the design of the 480. The 480 obviously took some cues from it. Rear facing seats aren’t new for occasional seating, a-la Volvo, Mercedes and even the Montego, but to be intended to be used all the time, I wouldn’t be keen. Another great and informative article Andrew, thank you.

  5. A little elaboration from my side: LCP stands for Light Component Project. The project started as a theoretical study of things such as new materials, alternative drive technology and new production methods, but in addition to knowledge, gaining experience also played a role. The central theme is finding the optimal energy use from the moment the car is built until it is recycled.

    The project focused on four sub-areas: defining the type of vehicle, engine and drivetrain, new materials and the cost of weight reduction.

    From analysis, Volvo engineers concluded 80% of all car journeys are made with a maximum of two people on board and 50% with only the driver. It was expected that in the future (no time schedule mentioned here) the fleet would consist of approximately 25% two-seater, approximately 50% four and five-seater and the remaining 25% six- or more-seater cars. Based on these figures, it was decided the LCP 2000 should become a two-seater and be able to carry 500 liters of luggage or one or two extra passengers in the trunk. An entirely logical conclusion if you ask me. And by looking at today’s traffic, even before the unmentionable pandemic, I’d say that even more than 80% of car journeys are with a maximum of two people on board, yet most people seem to want 4 or 5 seats. I’ve yet to figure out why.

    Existing and planned Volvo engines had been looked at during the development, but in addition to conventional piston engines, gas turbines, electric motors, hybrid combinations and steam and sterling engines were also reviewed. The favourite was a hybrid solution with a gas turbine as the engine and a flywheel to store energy mated to a mechanical or hydraulic CVT. Mellde and his team however decided this setup could not be made operational within a reasonable period of time.

    The third research area, materials, not only looked at what at traditional materials, but also at what could become fashionable in the next ten to fifteen years. This showed that, for example, magnesium, aluminium, carbon fiber and various types of plastics would be used much more often, not least because the raw materials for these materials are widely available.

    Naturally, the use of these materials also played a role in the fourth point of attention: the costs of the weight reduction. The central question here was: ‘What are the costs of a kilogram of weight reduction and how important is low fuel consumption for the consumer?’ There had to be a reasonable relationship between weight savings and costs, in other words, where is the point after which it is no longer interesting from an economic point of view to continue with weight reduction. Throughout the LCP 2000 project, all the factors that determine the cost of producing and operating a car were continuously monitored and analysed.

    Although the emphasis is on lightweight, future safety requirements were already taken into account as far as possible. In the first instance, mainly strength calculations were carried out with the new materials. After that, crash tests were performed with the different subsystems (in varying shapes and material compositions), depending on their contribution to the overall safety of the car at scale or in life size. Finally, models of the load-bearing structure (half-scale) were subjected to crash tests at a speed of 50 km/h.
    Incidentally, side impact protection was also considered. Directly behind the front seats, between the B-pillars, the transverse tunnel containing the diesel tank and the battery (accessible via a hatch just behind the door) acted as protection in the event of a side impact. However, it meant that the rear passengers had to sit backwards, which one could consider a small price to pay, given the fact this car was considered a two-seater with either luggage space or two extra seats. By the way this setup also used in the Zundapp Janus, the wonderful but stillborn Loremo and also in the graduation project of Thijs van Dijk and Edwin Otten, but in these cases the engine was placed between front and back seats.

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