So, 18 months and 10,000 man-hours of design and engineering later, on 4 November 2020, we, Paddon Rallysport, finally showed the world our Hyundai Kona EV rally car — one of the first EV rally cars in the world. The end result is something of which we are hugely proud. While everything is designed and analyzed on sophisticated computer software, what it looks like on the computer screen and what it looks like in real life can differ, but we were relieved to see the final packaging and aesthetics looked as good as we hoped.
Despite the technological advancements of this car and the fact that, at the core, it has a completely different heart/engine to what we are used to, we were also focused on making sure the car looks good. After all, people will first judge by what they see in those first few seconds.
It was also about the car having a point of difference inside and out — that has meant some unique design ideas that incorporate a futuristic theme but are also practical for this type of car. This involved specific designs for the wing mirrors, the internal roof vent — to help the flow of air over the roof to the rear wing — and the diffuser vents in the guards, right down to the dash console design of the car; we didn’t want this to be just another car.
Sound is also a crucial part of the final packaging and, while we hoped to have the sound generator on the car for launch, it’s not quite ready. However, it is still at the top of our list of objectives and we are not far away from having it on the car.
As with any major project build, the last phase of the build was the most time-consuming: making all the body panels fit, designing and making the composite panels, final fitment, plumbing of the car, and every single bracket, bolt, and fitting that we had to design or source from scratch. It’s all the work that you can’t see beneath the skin that has been so time-consuming. When building a car like this for the first time, there are no plans or designs to refer to. We have had to design and make more than 1000 separate parts — that’s over and above what we can source from suppliers.
Since the initial raw roll-out of the car six weeks before the launch it was all hands on deck to prepare the car for final assembly. This started with a full strip-down of the car, vapour blasting the chassis, and working with our local Cromwell Collision Repairs to prepare the bodyshell and get it painted in its base colour of a dark grey with a hint of metallic. Much time was also spent on sealing the cockpit, which is super critical for a rally car — and certainly more challenging when you have a big hole in the floor for the battery. Meanwhile, in Tauranga, Southern Ocean Boat Builders was finalizing the fitment of a carbon-fibre body kit in a road-going Kona, which was then sent down and fitted to the car. This entailed the bumpers, front and rear guards, side skirts, and wings.
The easiest part of the assembly and build was actually fitting the motors and battery. Both front and rear motors, along with the battery, can be mounted to the chassis within 30 minutes. The car has been designed for quick fitment of parts, and a major plus to the EV is how quickly you can replace or exchange parts. However, all the routing of the HV and LV wire looms, cooling hoses, and fire plumbing is time-consuming. This car has more cooling than a combustion car, with three separate coolers for the battery and the two inverters.
Electrically, the water pumps, power-steering system, and auxiliary systems — such as lights — work on separate low-voltage (LV) wiring circuits that have to be integrated into the MoTeC PDM and M1 along with the HV systems of the car. While we have a base software package to get the car going and started, we have a clean sheet of paper ahead of us with regard to extracting the most from the car in terms of torque vectoring, range management, and brake regeneration.
The final touch to the car was the full vinyl wrap from Sign It Signs in Queenstown. Then the two days of filming before the launch acted as our first drive of the car on gravel. Straight out of the box, the handling and performance of the car were far greater than we expected, with the WRC-like suspension and the very low centre of gravity making for a very balanced and easy car to drive — and that’s before we have done any development work! So that excites us and gives us good reason to be very positive about the future of this project.
With the car coming in at just over 1400kg, we met our targets in all areas of the initial build. The car has been purposely built on the heavy side as we begin development. As we do more tests and events, we will start lightening parts to find the thresholds one at a time. If we had done it the other way — starting light and then making it stronger — it would be more time-consuming and put more strain on budgets. As a small team with a much smaller budget than it may appear from the outside, we have to do things in the most efficient way possible, while also making sure the car is reliable.
In the running we have done with the car to date during filming and a small demo at Jacks Ridge, we have had no mechanical teething issues at all. That is certainly the benefit of so few moving parts throughout the motors and driveline and the simplicity of the car. The sophistication comes with the software and getting all the bits in the car communicating with one another correctly. This is the next phase of the project over the coming 12 months: development — and developing a battery solution to withstand a full rally distance.
The current battery, which weighs 300kg, is purely for testing purposes, to help us simulate every condition in rallying so that we can calculate the final battery size required. The concept has been designed around a bigger battery, now we have to confirm just how big that battery needs to be. The current battery, supplied by our supplier in Austria, is also very different from an OEM battery, hence the weight. The casing is FIA crash tested for side and vertical impact, there is a thick steel bash plate underneath the cells, and significant cooling and a fire system are built within the battery.
This has been a huge project and a massive undertaking by our small team of seven people. Each and every member of Paddon Rallysport has poured heart and soul into this, with most team members spending up to 400 hours each in the past month to get the car over the finish line. A huge thank you goes to Matt Barham, Mike Pittams, Rory Callaway, Ben Fretwell, Ari Pettigrew, and Matt Bowater. A huge thanks also to all our team partners, in particular, Hyundai NZ, Meridian Energy, YHI Energy, Pirelli, Gen Less, Bar’s Bugs, Gravity Internet, Z Energy, Bailey Caravans, and Winmax Brake Pads, who have stuck behind us with this project — along with all local and national suppliers who have helped. Now: on with the development. It’s full speed ahead into 2021!