Singapore-made electric race car taking shape

13 May 2023

13 May 2023, The Straits Times, Singapore-made electric race car taking shape

One of a kind: A computer rendition of the Neptinium electric sports car.

Car manufacturing is taking place in its rawest form on the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) campus in Changi.

In a project started in late 2020, a group of 15 engineering product development, computer science and design students fabricated an aluminium alloy spaceframe for an open-top tandem two-seater.

The lightweight structure houses a quad-motor electric powertrain (a hub motor at each wheel), a 25kWh lithium-ion battery, two carbon-fibre seats with four-point harnesses, double-wishbone suspension all around, and 18-inch wheels regulated by disc brakes.

Total output is merely 32kW, but torque is a respectable 628Nm, with a two-second burst which takes it to 1,000Nm, enabling the 650kg vehicle to reach 100kmh in about five seconds, and an estimated top speed of close to 200kmh.

Unique elements of the Electric Vehicle by Additive Manufacturing (Evam) project include artificial intelligence-aided design, and 46 3D-printed joints for the spaceframe – similar to joints used in the Czinger 21C supercar.

The body will be fabricated using 3D-printed renewable biopolymer, while floorboards are to be made from carbon-fibre. Design work is undertaken by SUTD’s Design and Artificial Intelligence students working with another group from the Lasalle College of the Arts.

Despite delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the bare-bodied electric race car had its maiden test run in December 2022. The Straits Times was invited to drive the car in April, and first impressions are fairly favourable.

The lightness of the vehicle comes through in the way it rides and handles, while power and control are akin to what you will experience in a go-kart.

The seats are not adjustable, so I have difficulty reaching the throttle. Despite that, the performance and refinement of the car exceed expectations of a students’ project.

The project is helmed by two senior SUTD academics – Professor Lim Seh Chun, the project lead, and the co-lead, Professor Chua Chee Kai, who is an expert in additive manufacturing (a manufacturing process that makes use of computer-aided design and 3D printing).

Naked but ready: The Neptinium in its body-less form has been undergoing test runs since December 2022. ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

Prof Lim has initiated similar projects when he was with the National University of Singapore.

“Getting undergraduates to work on real-life projects of considerable complexity is probably the best way to train and nurture designers and engineers,” he says.

“It has been argued that if undergraduates can translate what they learnt in the classroom into designing and building such full-sized complex systems, they can design and build almost anything.”

It was Prof Lim who proposed that the SUTD electric car – named Neptinium – be a tandem two-seater, so that those who cannot drive can still feel the power and exhilaration of an electric vehicle (EV).

ST senior correspondent Christopher Tan at the wheel of the Neptinium, with SUTD Fabrication Laboratory senior specialist Liew Zhen Hui riding behind.  PHOTO: LIM SEH CHUN

Prof Lim says the project teams have so far spent close to $150,000. “These are costs for materials, parts, machining and 3D-printing. We estimate that we will have to spend another $10,000 to complete the exterior body and interior of the EV.”

The funds are from sponsors, including SLM Solutions, UBS, Shopee, DSO National Laboratories and Autodesk. “We are therefore most grateful to our sponsors whose support made this EV a reality,” he adds.

Prof Lim is also proud to share that two of his former students have landed jobs in the automotive industry.

One is Mr He Fulin, who went on to study automotive design in Turin and stayed on to work at Fiat in 2014. He is now leading a team of designers in Beijing Automotive Industry Corp, a major automotive group in China.

Another is Mr Reuben Seah, who works for Nissan, where he is project managing sports car programmes, including the 2024 GT-R.