Lightning goes electric

When an established gas-guzzling sports car goes electric, it involves more than simply putting a new engine under the bonnet. Lou Reade reports

When Lightning, the Peterborough-based sports car firm, decided it was going to develop an electric version of its sports car, it was sure of one thing – the prototype had to be ready in time for the forthcoming British Motor Show.
“From day one of the project, it was agreed that we needed to hit this deadline,” says Dan Durrant, a designer at Lightning.
Among the new technologies that would nestle within the car were new NanoSafe batteries and Hi-Pa Drive electric motors. Despite the lack of fossil fuel, the car is still expected to reach 60mph within five seconds.
It might be expected that such a radically different car would have to look completely new. But this was not the case.
“There was always a lot of fondness for the old petrol Lightning,” says Dan. “It was never our intention to make this car overtly ‘electric looking’ or quirky – purely because of the electric power train. It was quite the opposite, as we sought greater acceptance of electric cars.”
However, this did not mean that the new engine was simply dropped into the existing bodyshell – although the traditional car shape was scanned as a ‘reference model’.
“This became the underlay for the new design,” he says. “A spiritual successor to the old car, but with an entirely new surface language.”
The main job of the designers was to take the 3D body and re-shape it. While there were many similarities between ‘old’ and ‘new’, a number of individual elements – such as door and boot flanges, seal paths and hinge points and wheel arches – had to be carefully engineered.
Lightning brought in external design agency Drive to convert its 2D sketches into 3D surfaces.
“The exterior form was developed from sketches in Alias Studio,” says Mark Pritchard, senior modeller at Drive.
Ordinarily, a full sized model would be produced, but the time constraints made this impossible. Instead, the team built two models: a 10% model, which was ready within 10 days; and, after a month, a 40% foam model was created.
“This was an important step, as we knew after this point we would be committing to moulds without ever seeing a full-size model,” says Pritchard.
The full-scale prototype would not be ready until the day before the motorshow – meaning that attractive photorealistic images were needed for marketing purposes.
“As the prototype hadn’t been built, using CG images was the only way to demonstrate the project’s progress in a believable way,” says Pritchard.
The car was ready in time for the motorshow and – although it has not gone into production – Lighting stresses that it is ‘engineering ready’. It has also begun to take orders – from anybody with £120,000 to spare.

Written by Lou Reade

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