Over the last 20 years, Neil Yates has become an experienced sports car and niche vehicle development engineer, building rally cars for international clientele and providing consultancy and specialist project support through JSC Automotive.
However, in the last decade, his work has shifted to playing major roles in the development of a wide range of niche vehicle projects, including a growing number of electric vehicles. Pairing his motorsport and EV experience, he managed Ariel’s gas turbine range-extended ultra-high performance battery-electric HIPERCAR project, which he was awarded with the prestigious Simms Medal for an “Outstanding contribution to Automotive Innovation,”
“Working with so many niche brands has given me a unique insight into their upcoming challenges – and one of those is around electrification,” he tells Auto Futures. “The niche vehicle industry faces considerable hurdles in the transition to an electric future. There is no sophisticated, yet cost-effective electric vehicle platform available ‘off-the-shelf’, so low-to-medium volume manufacturers of cars and commercial vehicles who want to go electric face a significant cost burden of investing in their own specific chassis technology.”
This birthed what is now Watt Electric Vehicle Company, which is supporting these companies with a unique cost-effective state-of-the-art platform, which is not only hugely flexible but meets all safety standards and comes with a ready-developed supply chain.
On a personal note, Yates has dreamed of building his own electric sports car and will debut the new platform in its very own WEVC Coupe, which will launch this year with first customer deliveries in 2022.
With unrivaled experience in building niche performance vehicles, Yates is providing the key to small manufacturers who want to get into the EV game, as well as adding a new exciting product to his already incredibly impressive portfolio.
All-electric vehicles require ‘skateboards,’ which act as the foundation of an EV and house the battery, motor and suspension, allowing a body to be placed on top. Over the last few years, global automakers have spent billions developing in-house skateboards, as they will be a driving factor to success in the EV market. In time, they will completely replace internal combustion engine vehicles.
For example, the Volkswagen Group has developed an MEB platform, which will support most brands under its umbrella to produce EVs. However, what do smaller automakers with far less money do to transition into electrification?
“Niche makers have had to deal with COVID recently and their sales will be low even in normal years, leaving not much in the bank to invest in platform technology that will allow them to electrify and meet the 2030 target,” explains Yates. “WEVC’s Passenger And Commercial EV Skateboard (PACES) can support a broad range of future niche EVs. It is flexible, scalable, lightweight and cost-effective, and adaptable bonded aluminium platform specifically designed for low-volume manufacture. It can be applied to almost any EV and complies with all ISO regulations and European Small Series Type Approval crash standards.”
The flexibility of these applications is key. And that is exactly what the PACES structure system provides, composed of innovative lightweight extrusions that interlock and bond together, instead of bespoke complex castings which come at a very high cost.
“In this manner, PACES forms chassis that are low cost, extremely rigid and accurate, delivered to within 1mm of variability across the whole platform, requiring little upfront investment in expensive tooling or post-assembly machining, further cutting manufacturing cost,” says Yates.
PACES also has an integrated battery enclosure built into the primary chassis rather than a separate battery case, that allows the entire platform to be lightweight and structurally efficient. Furthermore, the platform is capable of meeting ISO regulations and European Small Series Type Approval crash standards.
“This critical technical innovation separates our offering from those of the high-volume OEMs, while the low-cost aluminum and bespoke manufacturing methods allow us to design and manufacture flexible platforms cost-effectively.”
An Off-The-Shelf Solution
Like many ICE vehicles, EVs will vary in different shapes and sizes. This means that it is important for Yates and his team to operate as agile as possible, tailoring the platform to multiple use cases.
PACES can accommodate any size or shape of EV, from sports cars to commercial vehicles to buses, across front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive layouts. Quite simply, the platform is capable of being applied to an enormous range of vehicle applications.
“The business model is that niche vehicle companies come to WEVC with a brief and we work with them to create a bespoke PACES platform derivative that meets their specific needs, significantly reducing the timescale, technological risk and capital investment that is required to reach market-ready status whatever the product,” explains Yates.
“I’ve spent the last two decades working very closely with niche vehicle makers in the UK and it’s why we had to launch WEVC. In the UK, there are many low volume manufacturers, from brands who build high-performance rear-wheel-drive sports cars to large commercial vehicles and everything in between.”
Although the initial phase will focus on supporting businesses in the UK, WEVC’s technology has global applications. Yates is keen to support European manufacturers and even those further afield, such as the US, as the company ramps up its manufacturing capacities and introduces local production facilities in international markets.
But for now, Yates will be incredibly busy in the UK, which has a long history of being highly innovative and adaptable in the automotive space, from global automakers to leading motorsport companies.
“There are some very talented engineers in this country and I think our industry, in general, has a major role to play in the transition towards an electric future. Within that, I would like to think WEVC has an important role in supporting established niche manufacturers and even new entrants to the market. We can really accelerate their product plans and get them to market quickly,” says Yates.
“There are many ‘mainstream’ volume EVs arriving on the market this year, and while we as a nation still have challenges to solve around our charging infrastructure, I believe the tipping point is a lot closer than many people think. Our PACES platform is aimed at supporting the low-volume brands as we countdown to 2030, allowing them to call on WEVC’s expertise to get them ahead of the curve – and ultimately secure the future of their businesses. I also believe there will be significant demand from consumers who want, for example, a specialist electric sports car or electric last-mile delivery van, so there will be an ever-growing consumer ‘pull’ alongside the Governmental legislative ‘push’.”
It is a very exciting time for both WEVC and the automotive industry as a whole, with EVs presenting new opportunities to automotive design and development, getting to working with a blank canvas.
We are also seeing a flurry of new suppliers coming into the market, from battery gigafactories to expert manufacturers of electric motors, power electronics and control systems, supporting this change. The future is bright.
“The whole landscape is changing very quickly and due to the constantly evolving picture it is very hard to predict the future!” adds Yates. “We have a well-developed platform that is ready to meet the enormous challenges vehicle manufacturers face in the next two decades – and it is ready now. One thing is for sure, our headquarters will always be in Cornwall – it’s been our home for 23 years, and always will be.”