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A visionary partnership heavily involving Deakin University is set to make Australia a leader in the design of new lightweight, environmentally friendly cars.
The $3.1 million program funded by the Auto CRC Visionary Projects program will allow researchers to go back to the drawing board in car design.
"Rather than tackling the problem of mass reduction at component or subsystem level we will begin the design process at vehicle level," said Dr Matthew Dingle, one of the project leaders.
"In contrast to traditional vehicle programs there are few imposed design constraints with this project.
"The design space is open to the innovative application of existing and emerging materials, forming, moulding and joining technologies.
"It is anticipated that final concepts will employ a mix of material and joining alternatives.
"Design, material and manufacturing process decisions will be based on holistic life cycle and sustainability assessments and the potential for new technologies to make a significant contribution to reducing the impact of climate change and the use of resources within a five year development period."
One of the aims of the project is to build a full-size, operational prototype and also look at putting together a business and marketing plan.
"The car will be designed for Australia but with a view to overseas markets," Dr Dingle said.
"There will be a lot of opportunities for commercialisation with both existing motor manufacturers and with new players."
Another component of the project is that there will be a matching program with Hefei University of Technology in China.
Deakin recently established a collaborative automotive research centre with the Chinese university.
The other Australian partners in this national partnership are Swinburne, RMIT, ANU, VPAC and the CAST CRC.
"It is a fairly large collaborative project," Dr Dingle said. "It is also a very exciting one.
"It certainly allows Deakin to build on the momentum achieved when we won the Ford Global Challenge to design a Model T for the 21st Century.
"At the same time, we are pooling a lot of the expertise available all over Australia.
"Swinburne has expertise in joining technologies, ANU and RMIT specialise in composite materials and VPAC offers us exceptional Computer Aided Engineering support and will also be responsible for developing the product development platform for the program.
"We will look at a number of designs for gas and electric cars but also at designing cars that run more efficiently on fossil fuel but can later be changed to run on other technologies."
Dr Dingle said he hoped the first prototype would be ready within three years.
Professor Lee Astheimer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) welcomed the news of the partnership.
"This is a fantastic outcome for Deakin and the Auto CRC. Congratulations to every one involved," Professor Astheimer said.
Professor Peter Hodgson, Director of Deakin's Institute for Research Technology and Innovation (ITRI) also congratulated Dr Dingle and his colleague Dr Tim Hilditch for their work in pulling the submission together.
"This is a great outcome for Deakin and provides a major substantive project that builds on our strengths in materials and design," he said.