Innovative ‘Afreecar’ Wins SAE’s 2021 Create the Future Design Award
The focus is on bringing electric power and mobility to 1 billion people who have no access to electricity.
His middle name doesn’t begin with “I,” but innovation is what made Dr. Chris Borroni-Bird’s reputation as one of the most creative minds in the auto industry. Best known for developing a string of remarkable advanced concept vehicles at Chrysler and General Motors in the 1990s and 2000s, including the now-ubiquitous EV ‘skateboard’ platform, Borroni-Bird has a new mission. He’s focused on bringing electric power and mobility to the roughly 1 billion people worldwide (primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and rural India) who are without electricity.
And his solution, called Afreecar, has impressed an independent panel of technically qualified judges to win – along with development partner Rich Saad – SAE’s 2021 Create the Future Design Award, in the Automotive/Transportation category. “Winning the Create the Future Award was fantastic news – I was over the moon!” he told SAE Media. “It was like a breath of fresh air, because I’ve been evangelizing Afreecar for several years now. For the idea to be recognized for the power that it has is extremely gratifying. People are finally getting it!” The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 by SAE Media’s Tech Briefs group to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The contest covers eight categories, including a Grand Award.
Borroni-Bird (right), who has spent considerable time in Africa observing and learning potential use cases, describes Afreecar as “a low-cost, briefcase-sized e-kit.” It includes a small lithium-ion battery module, electric motor and electronics and can be fitted with a solar panel. Afreecar is designed to be produced locally and easily attached to various non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles, push carts and wagons. The e-kit also serves as a power source to drive (via a power-takeoff) water pumps, corn grinders and deliver electricity for cellphones, ventilators, dialysis machines and other agricultural, healthcare and communication devices.
Borroni-Bird recently entered an advisory partnership with EVage (https://www.evage.in/), an Indian EV startup focused on small, simple and low-cost commercial vehicles for the India market. He said the relationship could extend to a manufacturing arrangement, “although I can’t say yet whether Afreecar will use a licensing model,” he noted. “I’ve always thought that this would be made in rural Africa or India. A kit is easiest to make and assemble into a complete vehicle. It would be great to share the EVage supply base for electric components and so forth.
“EVage were excited before the partnership, but the Create the Future Award reinforces it,” Borroni-Bird asserted. “It’s a third-party validation.” He added a shout-out to companies working on EVs that are open to collaboration. “I’d like to partner with an OEM that may be interested in re-using end-of-life motors, batteries and electronics and applying them to the low-cost Afreecar kit. Some companies are already looking at what to do with end-of-life EV batteries and are looking for a good second-use market. There is plenty of life left in those components for this application.”