Cars were much more adventurous up until the 1920s and 1930s. Then they settled into a format that is known to this day. The engine sits at the front, in its own compartment, and the rest of the car is built around it. Only limited deviations with mid-engine sports cars and Porsche 911s persist. But electric cars do not have a large engine in the same way as those that use internal combustion engines. So why does EV design follow the same rules? This was the theory behind AEHRA’s rethinking of car layouts. I spoke with founder Hazim Nada about what makes the company’s vehicles different.
“I’m a pilot and a skydiver,” says Nada. “From these hobbies I developed a vertical wind tunnel in Italy which for many years was the largest in the world. It is still the largest in Europe.” Nada had worked in finance with energy products, but wanted to build something with more lasting impact. His experience with aerodynamics led him to question existing car designs. “The key question was why electric vehicles still had such long hoods, sacrificing cabin space and aerodynamics for a front that is rarely used. Some electric cars have a frunk, but in general the architecture is the same that was developed for the optimization of the internal combustion engine. This is not an architecture designed to optimize electric vehicles.”
“We thought this had to change,” Nada continues. “That’s why we started this project. Our focus is not on performance, but on the design side – the shape and all the elements that come out of it. We are close to the point where all electric vehicles coming out will match the range and power requirements of any potential use case. So the question remains as to what else the customer will search for. We think it’s all the elements we focus on – an emotional design, a cabin that is more spacious within the same vehicle dimensions, driving dynamics, materials, the weight of the vehicle.”
The first product launched out of this approach is AEHRA’s SUV, which doesn’t really look like a member of this genre at all. It bears a much greater family resemblance to a “cab-forward” supercar that’s a bit taller than it should be. It also comes with a six-figure price tag. “We are a European company, and European brands represent ultra-premium,” explains Nada. He argues that incumbent European luxury carmakers are lagging behind in the EV market, leaving a gap that his company intends to fill. “The shape we’re using also addresses the shortcomings of a boxy SUV more than other types of vehicles. We wanted to start with the SUV because it has the most striking contrast to existing designs.”
“This is a big vehicle, but it doesn’t look like a big vehicle,” Nada continues. “It has an interior cabin space that is greater than any vehicle with comparable exterior dimensions. We can easily fit four full size NBA players in our car. It is less than 5.1 meters long, similar to an Audi e-tron or other standard SUV and slightly shorter than a Lamborghini Urus, but with significantly more cabin space.”
Another innovation will be in weight. “We will be the first to build a vehicle of this size entirely with SMC (sheet molding compound), where carbon fibers are stamped with presses similar to metal,” says Nada. “The result is a vehicle that can be scaled up to large production, but which also carries over the advantages of carbon fibre. This gives us between 15 and 20% of weight savings compared to a traditional vehicle, an increase in stiffness and in structural strength, and allows us to create the shapes we focus on.” This allows AEHRA to target a vehicle weight of 2 tonnes, where comparable SUVs, even non-electric ones, can be 2.5-3 tonnes. This will be even more impressive considering AEHRA’s intention to fit 120kWh batteries. “We’re pushing the envelope away from aluminum and onto composites,” says Nada. “We will only use aluminum for the crash elements.” This weight saving is one of the secrets behind AEHRA’s claim that the SUV will achieve 500 miles from its 120 kWh battery and a similar 0.21 Cd coefficient of drag to a Tesla Model S.
From early March, AEHRA’s engineering team will be led by Ferrari veteran and former Lotus chief engineer Franco Cimatti, who has extensive experience in creating exotic vehicles from combinations of available components. AEHRA does not aim to innovate significantly for motor or battery, choosing best-in-breed alternatives from third-party suppliers for both, although the company will focus on local suppliers, especially for its batteries. “We aim to source 100% of the powertrain components from suppliers based in European countries,” says Nada. Much of this will be off-the-shelf, although the company will develop its huge full-width infotainment screen in-house, because it will be so unique. This is another feature enabled by the short nose, which provides a very deep dashboard.
This huge screen indicates a different direction for the automotive industry, towards vehicles that provide entertainment while the car drives itself. However, AEHRA aims for level 4 autonomy, rather than level 5 full self-driving. The cars come with the necessary sensors, but buyers must specify an option with the necessary processing power for a future Level 4 software update. However, AEHRA still wants the vehicles to have pleasant driving dynamics. The aim is to provide the interior space and luxury of SUVs such as the Bentley Bentayga, but with much greater agility thanks to lower weight and balanced chassis distribution.
AEHRA hopes to reach 25,000 units a year by 2027 across its three models, which will include a sedan and a future 2+2 grand tourer. The latter will further develop AEHRA’s philosophy, providing the cabin space of a BMW 3 Series, but in the form of a supercar, and with greater affordability. Nevertheless, AEHRA is not going to challenge the mass market for electric cars. The target of 25,000 units is a long way from the 1.3 million cars Tesla delivered in 2022. But the company’s innovations can have consequences beyond those who directly buy the products. By rethinking car design around the type of powertrain that looks set to dominate the automotive industry from now on – electrification – AEHRA can help usher in a new era. After all, that’s where the name comes from – a combination of era and aerodynamics. It is yet another example of how electric cars are radically disrupting the automotive world.