Sustainability Shines in Asahi Kasei Electric Shuttle Concept

Asahi Kasei’s AKXY2 concept showcases the supplier’s innovations in materials and electronics.

Concept AKXY2 is shown with open door (revealing entry/exit step) and upward extended canopy. (Asahi Kasei)

Asahi Kasei’s latest concept vehicle is a rolling showcase of the supplier’s materials and electronics innovations, with a strong focus on sustainability. Dubbed the AKXY2, it is “a complete vehicle design – exterior and interior,” Michael Franchy, director of North American Mobility at Asahi Kasei America, told SAE Media in Detroit.

Front-interior view of the concept AKXY2 shows openness and a solitary stool. (Asahi Kasei)

The AKXY2 showcases 18 technologies, including two collaborations with startup companies identified by Asahi Kasei’s corporate venture-capital arm. Fifteen of the Asahi Kasei technologies either are in production or production-ready. “Everything visible, touchable and interactable is made from Asahi Kasei original or collaborative technology,” Franchy said. The concept emphasizes three overlapping themes: sustainability, satisfaction and society.

The vehicle’s seats address aspects of both sustainability and satisfaction. The ‘summer’ seat uses the company’s trademarked Cubit, a 3D honeycomb material that allows for ventilation. This material reduces the amount of polyurethane foam used in a seat without sacrificing comfort. Cubit has front and back surfaces made of polyester fiber (recycled polyester thread, which can be recycled again) and a connecting filament made of PTT (polytrimethylene terephthalate) using 37% plant-derived propanediol.

“Fully autonomous vehicles will become our third living space, said Asahi Kasei’s Michael Franchy, shown next to the AKXY2 at the 2022 Detroit auto show. (Kami Buchholz)
The winter seat and summer seat are focal points of this rear view of the concept AKXY2 interior. (Asahi Kasei)

AKXY2’s ‘winter’ seat uses a flexible electronic circuit from startup Loomia. “It’s a soft, electronic circuit that’s located underneath the seat fabric to provide nearly instantaneous heat to the seat,” Franchy said. The suede-resembling seat fabric (Dinamica Pure) is from Sage Automotive Interiors, an Asahi Kasei company. This microfiber is produced using partially recycled polyester through a water-based process.

Occupants have a sense of inclusion with the outdoors without direct exposure to rain, snow and other weather conditions. “The canopy is a transparent bubble above the body-in-white. And since it is made from polycarbonate that was coated with our water-based hard-coating technology, we were able to design it with a very high curvature that would be impossible with glass,” Franchy said. Asahi Kasei’s coating agent, which is in the final development stage, prevents the polycarbonate from acquiring scratches and UV light discoloration, enabling the canopy to retain clear transparency over time.

The water-based coating also eliminates emission of toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds). And using polycarbonate in lieu of glass can reduce vehicle body weight, according to the company.

From a functional perspective, the canopy rises upward as the cabin’s access panel drops like a drawbridge for easy entry and exit. “The access panel becomes the vehicle’s interior wall, and this wall has the same fabric underneath as the removable floor mat,” Franchy explained. Operation of the canopy and access to and from the cabin is activated by an exterior touch-sensitive switch from startup UltraSense Systems.

The bubble-canopied AKXY2 under the stars. (Asahi Kasei)

AKXY2’s tires use S-SBR (solution-polymerized styrene-butadiene). The butadiene is derived from plastic waste and biomass. The S-SBR functions at the tire/road contact, providing low rolling resistance and high-performance on slippery roads. Asahi Kasei began producing sustainable S-SBR at its Singapore plant in late 2021.

The concept shuttle’s showcase of technologies is intended as a conversation point for what’s possible today and in the future.

“OEMs and consumers around the world are demanding environmentally friendly mobility and materials,” Franchy said. AKXY2 also depicts how people can travel from place to place in an interior much different from today’s light-duty passenger vehicles. “Cars are becoming a third living space and as autonomous vehicles evolve and become mainstream, they will become extensions of our home,” Franchy said.