“Fortunately, places like Coventry and Birmingham have a lot of capacity for sheet-metalwork with some really good laser-cutting equipment. It would be my first choice to use them rather than manufacturing sources abroad.”
Another area where Morgan has made changes in recent months has been with the greater use of visualisation software, primarily to help accelerate time to market for new car models. Indeed, Autodesk software helped it to go from sketches of its new 3 Wheeler to first production in just five months and to meet deadlines for marketing material before the car was actually produced.
According to Jon Wells, senior designer at Morgan, the company was too reliant on the use of 2D sketches, which were interpreted by eye into panel-beaten aluminium bodies – a time-consuming process requiring high skill, while providing little margin for in-process evolution. Now the company uses Autodesk Alias software to rapidly transform concept ideas into 3D digital prototypes and then into concept cars. Visualised using Autodesk Showcase and 3ds Max software, designs can be refined until they are well-established. The surface data is then five-axis machined directly from the Alias data. Once painted and scanned, this model enables further evaluation and adjustment to be made in Alias software.
“The skills and charm of traditional coachbuilding are not lost at this point,” says Wells. The Alias model is then chopped into cross-sections and an accurate 3D wooden buck produced. Skilled panel beaters accurately replicate the surfaces in sheet metal and then paint and lower the body over one of the existing platforms. “The concept car is born and ready to be exhibited worldwide,” he adds.
Autodesk software also helps to meet tight media deadlines that precede completion of the concept car. Photo-realistic visuals are generated in Autodesk Showcase and 3ds Max software to launch the concept to the press and to build excitement.
Once the car is ready for the product development stage, the Alias surfaces are modelled to class A standard, passed to Morgan’s engineering department, and used to manufacture the tooling for the panels at production.
“Although Morgan cars are known for their retro style and quality workmanship, we also need to take the best from the latest technology to enable us to be competitive and keep up with the demand for new ideas,” says Wells.
Those new ideas are coming thick and fast. Perhaps the most ambitious is the launch of the Plus E concept, an electric sports car designed by Morgan with the support of technology specialists Zytek and Radshape. The car is based on a tailored version of Morgan’s lightweight aluminium platform chassis clothed in the revised “traditional” body from the V8-powered Plus 8. Power is delivered by a derivative of Zytek’s 70kW (94bhp), 300Nm electric engine, which is already proven with US vehicle manufacturers.
Mounted in the transmission tunnel, the Zytek unit drives the rear wheels through a conventional five-speed manual gearbox. The clutch is retained, but because the motor provides torque from zero speed the driver can choose to leave it engaged when coming to rest and pulling away, driving the car like a conventional automatic.
Morgan says that a multi-speed transmission allows the motor to spend more time operating in its sweet spot, where it uses energy more efficiently, particularly at high road speeds. It also allows the car to provide lower gearing for rapid acceleration.
The Plus E programme will deliver two engineering concept vehicles. The first, with the five-speed manual box and lithium-ion batteries, will be used for preliminary engineering assessment while the second will be closer to potential production specification, with alternative battery technologies and possibly a sequential gearbox.
“The Plus E is interesting because of the number of green zones coming into use around the world,” says Matthew Humphries, chief designer at Morgan. “If you have got to have Euro 5 or 6 to go into London, for example, then many classic cars will be instantly taken out of the equation. It will be great for us that customers will be able to buy a modern classic and will be able to use the car where they want.”
Humphries says that the Plus E will combine Morgan’s traditional look with a powertrain that delivers substantial torque instantly at any speed, making it fantastic to drive. “The manual gearbox and electric motor means drivers will get the best of both worlds: top speeds, acceleration, as well as distance, while being fun to drive. It’s a very fast car.”
Progress is also being made in the area of new materials. Morgan is running a project to develop appropriate technologies to enable magnesium alloy to be used as the primary material in the construction of a body-in-white structure to produce improved performance at reduced weight. Magnesium is the lightest structural metal available, 30% less dense than aluminium.
The use of sheet magnesium for vehicle structural applications will require hot-forming, which is increasingly being adopted by premium carmakers as it can produce larger and more complex panels. Morgan says it intends to provide the initial route to market by adopting the developed technologies on its next generation of premium sports cars, becoming the basis of a new UK manufacturing supply chain.