The DeltaWing racer created quite a stir at Le Mans last year. Although it managed just 75 laps before being barged off by a rival, and despite having competed in other racing with mixed results subsequently, the unusual needle-nosed design certainly attracted attention.
Clearly Nissan saw some potential, because having become involved in the DeltaWing project early on, the company has now continued its collaboration with designer Ben Bowlby to create a roadgoing equivalent in the form of the BladeGlider concept.
Nissan says the three-seater BladeGlider, unveiled at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, will challenge conventional thinking on sports car performance handling, braking and weight distribution. Like the DeltaWing, the BladeGlider forms a V shape when viewed from above. At just 1,0 metres, its front track is significantly narrower than the rear.
There will be doubters, concedes Bowlby, now the company’s head of innovation: “When you see the narrow front track layout for the first time, everyone is sceptical about how the car will handle,” he says. But, he points out, “The concept has proved itself on the race track running as fast as the overall contenders. And I’m sure the BladeGlider will meet with the same initial scepticism, but we know, after extensive testing on the racetrack with race drivers behind the wheel, the Nissan BladeGlider has the potential to be the best-handling production car in the world.”
Them’s fighting words.
But what are the performance advantages of the BladeGlider’s narrow front-track/wide rear-track design?
Most importantly, its weight distribution is great for acceleration. Rear tyres that are much wider than the fronts, with much of the weight concentrated over them, allow better traction. Because the BladeGlider has such as wide rear track, almost all of the car’s heavier components (including the two inboard motors, lithium-ion batteries and passengers) sit between the rear tyres. The result: as much as 70 per cent of the car’s weight is concentrated over the two driven wheels. Overall weight is much lower than that of conventional equivalents, too, thanks to the smaller componentry needed.
Aerodynamics is another plus point. The narrow front and tyres help create a low-drag set-up – Nissan says the BladeGlider has one of the lowest drag coefficients ever for a concept road car. Yet, although slippery through the air, the BladeGlider uses a rigid, lightweight carbon fibre underbody to create substantial downforce.
Handling, almost counterintuitively, benefits as well. In the designer’s view, the lack of rubber up front is a distinct advantage in handling. It’s said to allow lighter, more precise steering with less of a tendency towards understeer. The narrower front track translates into less of a lateral weight transfer effect through corners, with both front tyres remaining in good contact with the road and sharing the cornering load. The wide rear track and tyres aid stability. Torque vectoring can be programmed into the in-wheel motors to further assist cornering precision.
Speaking of weight transfer, here’s a particular unusual characteristic: you know how, under braking, there’s an apparent weight transfer forward, which is why front brakes are bigger than the rears? Well, in the BladeGlider, the rear brakes do most of the work. According to Nissan, that means that the front tyres do almost entirely what they’re intended to – which is steer – and the rear tyres propel and stop the car. A spin-off (if you’ll pardon the expression) benefit: more even tyre wear.
Nissan believes that the BladeGlider is both a proposal for the future direction of Nissan electric vehicle (EV) development and an exploratory prototype of an upcoming production vehicle. In this role, the BladeGlider is helping to pioneer the company’s use of in-wheel motors. The benefits of in-wheel motors include the ability to provide independent motor management and to make design and space-efficient packaging easier.
Overall, the BladeGlider design goal is to revolutionise vehicle architecture with the aim of bringing back excitement and fun to driving. “I think that the excitement of the racing car should be mirrored in the excitement of driving the road car,” says Bowlby. “There are elements we can bring from the race track to make these future road cars more exciting, more fulfilling and give greater driving pleasure.”