We last left Fremau and his Lego gearbox trying to convince the big men at the factory that the Lego contraption could be turned into an actual gearbox and that this gearbox will not only work in real life, but can be made at an acceptable cost.
But real life is not a series of events while everything else stays where it is. Let’s take a jump into the future, the Paris Motor Show 2014. There Renault showed the world it’s latest and greatest, like the 5th generation of the Espace.
But there was another presence there that no-one could ignore, like a shark in the koi pond. It was the EOLAB, a futuristic-looking car like so many of the concepts at that show. What attracted the attention was that the EOLAB was not a concept car, it was an ultra-refined testbed of future technologies in a road-ready car.
The part of EOLAB that attracted attention was not the pretty exterior, but what was inside it. What inside this car allowed it to travel at 1L/100km? Let’s start with the rechargeable hybrid powertrain. This consisted of a 3-cylinder petrol engine, an electric traction engine and (wait for it) an innovative, clutchless 3-speed transmission. You will deduce that not only had Fremau convinced the big men of the merits of his Lego gearbox, but his ideas had been expanded and were now at the heart of this technology driver.
Two of the three speeds in the gearbox are mated with the electric traction engine, the third with the combustion engine. Together these three can be combined into 9 operating combinations of combustion and electric traction. This was what Fremau envisaged with his Lego, so let’s jump back in time where Fremau’s ideas were used to build the first real prototype of this transmission that was to be the heart of the E-TECH hybrid system. The first prototype to match this gearbox with a hybrid engine was revealed in 12012 – the Z.E. engine, compact, adaptable and very efficient.
As we said: in real life lots of things happen separately but at the same time. Another engineering team, led by Laurent Taupin was working on a prototype of a vehicle with very low fuel consumption, called the EOLAB. Their goal was to make a car that would use at most 2L/100km. To achieve this, they had to make a car that was as light as possible, super aerodynamic and used the most economical traction possible.
They wanted to build a car the size of the Clio, 4-metres long, but lose 400kg in weight. To make it harder, this car could cost no more and have no fewer features than the Clio. The only way to do this was to place the passengers lower down and further forward, which forced them to lower the bottom of the windscreen as well. Ja well no fine, but now there was no space for the engine.
It was not just the volume, it was the shape of the volume. The EOLAB was too narrow, even for hybrid engines with a clutch. Except of course the newly, separately-developed Z.E. with its famous clutchless gearbox. Not only did this engine fit in the space allowed – it also prioritised electric mode. This made it very fuel-efficient. The battery could be installed at the back of the vehicle, which lowered the centre of gravity and improved safety and handling. Another plus was this engine and gearbox was so simple, it guaranteed reliability.
Often in technology, there are solutions waiting for just that next innovation to take the next step. In the case of the EOLAB, there were two tech solutions waiting for each other. The E.Z. drive with its innovative gearbox was waiting for a compact, light vehicle specifically designed for minimum energy usage. The EOLAB needed a compact, light hybrid drive to meet its requirements. The two, when combined, was greater than the sum of their parts. A cliché, yes, but in this case one of those touchpoints in automotive history that helped steer the shape of cars in the future. That was back in 2013 and look how far we have come, and think of how far we still have to go.