With the ECV - Experimental Composite Vehicle, Fiat made another step forward in the applied research of Composite materials for automotive construction..:: EXPERIMENTATION WITH INNOVATIVE MATERIALS IN VEHICLE BODY-STRUCTURES ::.
The ECV followed on from the VSS (Experimental Spaceframe Vehicle) presented in 1981, which explored the use of a spaceframe and ease of vehicle body construction. The vehicle non-structural body-panels were produced in plastic material, and served only as a cover for the steel safety-frame.
The ECV project focused on using composite materials for the load-bearing vehicle structure and some components such as the drive-shaft to the front wheels and the wheel-rims.
For the development of these solutions, Fiat researchers, in collaboration with I.d.C – Composite Engineering Company, specialists in design and production of composite materials, chose the 4WD Lancia Delta S4 as their test-bench, since it provided a vehicle with a mission and performance-level that allowed dynamic testing at a sufficiently high level to allow complete material research and validation.
Additionally, the ECV used an engine with a cyl-head design that was termed "Triflux" and offered an innovative solution for turbo-charged engines, which was patented by Fiat.
High Corrosion Resistance, required the use of increased quality steel-alloys and/or surface treatment with expensive protective coatings (eg. hot zinc).
Extensive Vehicle Weight reduction, to reduce fuel-consumption.
Small series vehicles required different manufacturing scenarios (tooling investments).
The Fiat material research was focused in two areas:
a short-term objective of improving the production and construction methods, and a longer goal of following the industry trends and society's mobility requirements.
Special materials, other than metals, were the subject of this research, as applied to the vehicle body. Although metals, in particular sheet-steel construction, had been predominantly used for many years for all mass-production vehicles, other factors were considered.
In particular :
In these particular instances, the sheet-steel that was so attractive for mass-vehicle manufacture, due to its low-cost, became less appealing.
The 1981 VSS vehicle explored alternative vehicle construction technologies with a steel cage used as a body-frame, on which the covering Plastic body-panels were applied. All mechanical components (engine etc) where attached to the space-frame, which took the form of pre-formed welded sheet-steel box-sections.
Five years later, the ECV took a further look at the evolving trends of construction technology, using composite materials as the load-bearing structure of the vehicle, and also as the body-panels.
This research vehicle showed the vast progress that had been made in the space of a few years, which would see practical applications in the coming years on other vehicles.