Pininfarina designers where not prepared to answer a most obvious question: what is the actual inside volume of their latest concept-car: Metrocubo. Italian for cubic metre. They might tell us one day but it is sharp clear that with the car taking up to five passengers, it is much bigger than its name, even though its length is just a tiny bit over the 2.5 metre length.

The name did not come out from a long series of crowded committees but reflects a definition used by Lorenzo Ramaciotti, general manager of Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche, when referring to the project. President Sergio Pininfarina heard it over a conversation and decided the name was perfect for the show-car unveiled at the Frankfort Motor Show last September and demonstrated to a number of motoring writers the day before it started its journey to Japan for the Tokyo Motor Show there.

The Pininfarina travelled to the Far East on board a transcontinental aeroplane, not on its own. Otherwise it would have reached Tokyo on time for the next edition, in two years. You can't call the Metrocubo a fast car. After all it is a city car powered by a light hybrid system and is not made to cross the Urals or drive hundreds miles day after day.

__________A HYBRID CAR

She, the Metrocubo, is happy to serve a family of four (and even five on occasions) wishing to travel to or inside the city. Its top speed is reported to be slightly above the 100-kph barrier and when operating exclusively on its electric motor it produces no emission at all. In this case the range is limited to 40 km.

Outside the city where a modest consumption of gasoline and emission is tolerated, Metrocubo may drive up to some 300 km on ten litres of gasoline.
In this case the four strokes, 505 cc., two cylinder gasoline Lombardini engine works as a generator charging the batteries at the rate of 6.3 kW per hour. Enough for steady, smooth driving but critical when the car is driven in extreme conditions, at higher speed or on gradients. The electric motor has a potential capacity of 35 kW, absorbing nearly six times the energy the gasoline engine can produce.

On their turn, the battery pack made of conventional lead even though according to the latest technology, add some 480 KGs to the weight of the car that would otherwise show on 818 kg on the scale. The total is simply accounted: 1298 kg for a city. Positively too many. For these reason politicians currently considering to ban thermal combustion engine to let only E.V. in the cities should think twice. What will we do with these new generation of E.V. will they will no longer be able to provide us with their service?

The fact than even the latest Pininfarina study does not introduce any real innovative solutions as to the accumulation, management and use of electric energy despite presenting the state of the art, is illuminating. In comparison to the milk delivery trucks of the early century some step forward has been made. Not that much though and we must concede that on this front we are still in a pioneering phase. A lot more needs to be achieved.


The scene is radically different when it comes to the architecture of the Metrocubo, of its flexible use potential and convenience.
With Metrocubo, Pininfarina designers have further stretched the envelope and made the best possible use of space in a city car.
Much like the MCC Smart, they also set for themselves the limit of a 2.5 metre long automobile (actually moving, with the Italian sense of flexibility to 2580 mm.) but added the goal of granting convenient accommodation to four, may be five, adults rather than just 2.

Why a city car with accommodation for four to five when most cars in the city are driven by one person? We questioned. The answer is simple: "we wanted to offer a car that can serve the entire family when required, thus making a second, large car, an option rather than a must", said Ken Okuyama, the Japanese chief designer in charge of "educational relationship". His team - that included Lowie Vermeersch (exterior) and Bruno Gho (interior) - design is to be credited for the Metrocubo design.

Hence a car that is as wide as the Fiat Multipla, 1780 mm., to take three people on the front row and tall enough to grant enough room, good visibility and a pleasant cabin to travel in. A fourth and fifth seat can be transversally, positioned behind the front row, to obtain a completely modular cabin. The good point about them, as well as to all other passengers seats is that they cam be moved to a large extent, or completely removed.
In fact the only fixed point is the driving area. All other seats are mounted on rails integrated into the floor so that they can be slid along the entire length of the cabin or indeed be taken out completely to make for quite a convenient cargo to move stuff around.
These seats can be easily folded up and packed way.

One of the most interesting aspect of the interior arrangement is that it is entirely modular and can be organised to suit all sort of needs according to the number of passengers or the sort of goods being transported and the very nature of the journey. Indeed, the users have a choice (much like in large minivan) also with this small and potentially inexpensive "city car".

Obviously the design of a car that aims at maximising the use of space must have flat surfaces, not precisely what you need when aiming at a good, "dynamic", look.
Nevertheless one can't but concede that Pininfarina's designers are demonstrating with Metrocubo that even a squared box can be made attractive through good design.

It makes a rather good impression to see it, the Pininfarina's "cubic metre", moving silently along the asphalt strip contouring the modern buildings hosting the "Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche" at Cambiano, in the outskirts of Torino. No matter from which perspective you look at it, the vehicle always show the same design theme featuring a well balanced combination of geometrical surfaces, gently harmonised to form a solid three dimensional shape. Dimensions and proportions changing from side to side but without any contrast.

Apart from the underfloor, the only side that is not related with the other ones is the roof. It is hare to see from the floor level but this consists mostly of the lamella sunroof developed by Webasto. The roof too make use of as much glazing material (polycarbonate provided by Isoclima Aerospace extensively use for the entire body as to grant the best visibility and feeling of airiness inside the relatively small cabin.


Also the innovative Michelin "Pax System" tires, that have actually inspired and motivated this design research, are different front and rear. They play a key role in the design and look of the car.
Lorenzo Ramaciotti said the use of such tires allows to investigate new architectural solution for the automobile and points to just one entertaining detail.

With the front tires being smaller than those at the rear, they help understanding the direction Metrocubo is meant to go. Obviously the understanding is also supported by different the rake of front and rear screen, even though the difference is not that big.

Despite the minimal dimensions of the vehicle access to the front seats is rather convenient and this for two reasons: the height of the car -and hence of the door, actually a real gate - and the fact the gate slides rearward on the driver's side.

On the other side there is a wide opening, conventional door. At the back one finds a third sort of opening: the rear gate, open wide but in two folding parts to limit to space required to open it. Combined with the flat floor, it provides access for passengers as well as for any loading operations required. Rear passenger access is fun for a couple of boys but rather inconvenient for two adults.

Interior design is simple and rational, well organised yet colourful and pretty; with a strong "product design" character. As for all components used for the car, new materials and technologies have been investigated and used.

The seats consist of a simple tubular frame in aluminium covered in fabric with gel padding on all those areas that come into contact with the occupant's body. The result is a light, see-through look and also means that the seats take up very little space when not occupied.

The facia design echoes the look of the body including the colour. Every information is organised around a central multifunctional display, visible not just to the driver but to all the car's occupants. Most functions are operated by a remote control system so that the passengers have access to entertainment facilities like the stereo, as well as the satellite navigator, telephone and climate control. All the main controls are within easy reach of the driver, to his left or on the steering column. A series of containers of all sorts have been carved out on the facia for the storage of small items.

Although Metrocubo is purely a research vehicle it is reported that several leading carmakers have paid the greatest attention to Pininfarina latest show car and are actually talking to the Italian design house on this subjects. The interest for E.V. City Car is reportedly growing at high speed among European makers as there are chances that the European Union issue new rules making these sort of vehicle nearly mandatory in many European cities.