LUCERNE, Switzerland – A visitor doesn’t expect to find two vehicle-size glass showcases in the beautiful garden of an imposing Swiss villa overlooking Lake Lucerne, but that’s how Mindset AG, a start-up car company, recently chose to display its innovative electric car that, if all goes well, is set for production in early 2010.
Mindset has no assembly plant, no massive research and development center nor, at the moment, the E170 million ($243 million) necessary to fund the project to production.
Sounds like a fantasy, but the venture gains credibility when it’s explained Mindset was established in July 2007 by formerAG design boss Murat Gunak.
Turkish-born Gunak was educated at London’s Royal College of Art and became one of the new breed of youthful car designers to lead Europe’s major automotive studios in the late 1990s. At age 37, he styled the first-generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
In 1994, Gunak joinedPeugeot Citroen for a 4-year stint as design director, before returning to Mercedes, where he was expected to succeed Peter Pfeiffer. Instead, in 2003, he was sought out by to become design boss for all VW Group’s brands.
However, when Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wolfgang Bernhard lost out in a boardroom power struggle in 2007, Gunak knew his future at VW was limited and chose to resign. He was replaced by Walter Maria de Silva.
Today, Gunak’s financial backing comes from Lorenzo Schmid, a multi-millionaire Swiss entrepreneur who owns SpirtAvert AG, a Swiss investment company previously involved with the Twike, a 3-wheeled Swiss electric car.
Mindset presently employs just 10 people, including three engineers, and is relying on various suppliers for R&D, major components and final assembly.
Schmid declines to reveal which European engineering company is supplying the basic development. Nor does he say what auto maker will assemble the car from a short list of potential German, French and Italian companies.
While there are many unanswered questions, Mindset is convinced there is no better time to launch a new car maker dedicated not only to energy-efficient transportation but also to producing a handsome electric car that’s fun to drive.
In a Europe, where gas-guzzling Porsche Cayennes regularly are torched by environmentalists, the demand for politically correct cars never has been higher.
The Mindset is a 2-plus-2 electric coupe designed specifically for commuter driving. The 70 kW (94-hp), 162 lb.-ft. (220 Nm) electric motor is powered by plug-in lithium-ion batteries that offer a range of 62 miles (100 km) when cruising at 75 mph (120 km/h).
Zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) is reached in only 7 seconds, with 87 mph (140 km/h) the top speed.
Mindset’s market research claims that globally 85% of daily commutes are less than 16 miles (26 km). For those who demand a longer range, an optional 19-hp gasoline engine stretches the distance between refills and recharging to 498 miles (800 km).
Optional roof-mounted solar panels provide the batteries enough oomph to add another 6 miles (10 km) to the range.
“It’s just not intelligent to have one person in a car weighing 2 tonnes (2.2 tons),” says Schmid, who claims 90% of global mileage is done with one person in the car.
Central to the Mindset’s efficiency is the estimated 1,764 to 1,874-lb. (800 to 850-kg) weight, made possible by the vehicle’s aluminum spaceframe construction with reinforced plastic panels and alloy suspension.
Originally, Mindset called the car “Six50”, a name that hints at what proved to be an unachievable weight target, but that’s now been dropped in favor of just Mindset.
In profile, the car is shaped like a slim teardrop for aerodynamic efficiency. It is 13.9 ft. (4.2 m) long, 5.9 ft. (1.8 m) wide and 4.6 ft. (1.4 m) high and built on a 106.3-in. (27-cm) wheelbase.
Despite low-resistance and bespoke 22-in. tires, the Mindset still needs power steering. The huge rear wheels are separate from the body and housed under cycle guards, with a diffuser to prevent excessive turbulence between the wheels and batteries that hang down from the center of the floor pan to lower the centre of gravity.
“People are bored by ever-wider tires,” says Murat. “We wanted to make a signature feature of the innovation and our minimalist ideas. Most electric cars are small city models that look cheap and reduced.
“We know from research that there is a new generation of enthusiasts who love cars, but who want to drive a zero-emissions car that has all the sporty elements. We are convinced we are moving to something sustainable.”
In profile, there are hints of the Porsche 928, especially in the door design. Gunak is happy with the comparison. “Our car is intended as a long-lasting object. There is no unnecessary chrome or decoration. With round lights and no grille, our face is smooth, without aggression.”
The body is asymmetrical with de Tomaso Mangusta-style gullwing windows.
The interior, designed by Dave Wilkie, head of Bertone SPA design who is working under contract to Mindset, features a simple sprung, padded (Citroen 2CV-like) bench frontseat and minimalist instrumentation: a digital speedometer, distance-to-empty gauge and battery charger.
“To help reduce the weight, we have taken the excess out of the interior to create an open space,” says Wilkie. “We wanted to reduce the amount of plastic and achieve quality and luxury in a different way.
“The interior has been designed like a quality handbag in natural leather; with a flat floor and doors; carpet rugs in three colors; and other materials, like pleated 3D-like fabrics that wouldn’t make it on any other cars.”
Gunak, argues that most cars are, “too big, too heavy, too expensive.”
Initially, Mindset plans to build 10,000 cars annually and offer them only in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Northern Italy for E45,000 ($75,000).
But conversion to right-hand drive is simple.
Gunak already is talking about a convertible. Long-term, Mindset knows that higher volumes will bring lower prices. A final, definitive prototype will be ready for testing in October. Despite acknowledging that many obvious challenges remain, Mindset is optimistic.
Says Wilkie: “To be involved in something that can change cars is a fantastic opportunity.”
“I wanted something new,” Gunak says. “Something that was not contaminated by the auto industry, which lives from day to day. And where everything is based on the way they did the last car, where it’s virtually impossible to find creative engineering. I wanted the freedom to look into the future.
“I am a realist. We know there will be problems. But we are smiling, like the car.”