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Artist's impressions of the Dendrobium’s sleek curves inspired by Singaporean orchids.

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LUIGI MEMOLA, Head of Design, EPTA Design Ltd, London. Consultant to Vanda Electric, Singapore

WITH THE ARRIVAL OF Dendrobium—the WORLD’S first electric hypercar—VISIONARY DESIGN IS RAPIDLY MOVING FROM THE COMPUTER SCREEN TO THE highway. GIVEN the right combination of investment, innovation and enthusiasm, what was once far-fetched futurism can now be brought to life
Today’s rapidly evolving electric-car technology heralds huge changes ahead for the automotive industry, and a shimmering new frontier for hypercar designers. Presently, the top examples of these ultra-high-performance machines—flagship products of the leading sports car makers: Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Porsche et al—all include a degree of hybrid-assisted boost to maximize their speed, just as the current generation of F1 cars does. But technology moves on, and iconic models such as Porsche’s 918, McLaren’s P1 and Ferrari’s LaFerrari, are all in danger of being outrun by what comes next. Designers and engineers are looking to pure EVs (electric vehicles) to deliver performance like nothing else seen or felt before, and some surprising newcomers appear to be inching their noses ahead in the race.

The industry-wide challenge is to build an EV hypercar that harnesses the power of electricity while staying within the realms of day-to-day usability. Today’s batteries are swiftly depleted if you’re too heavy on the throttle, which is dangerously tempting when you’re behind the wheel of a hypercar. Use the Tesla Model S’s much-vaunted ‘Ludicrous Mode’ over and over again and you’ll quickly drain the range as you launch the car to 60mph faster than most Ferraris. Clean, instant power is a tantalizing prospect, and notoriously hard for civilian drivers to resist.

Vanda Electric believes its first hypercar, the Dendrobium, embodies this very fast-moving future. The new Singaporean manufacturer emerged from the research and development labs set up by heavy-engineering outfit Wong Fong, with plans to develop the ultimate in automotive exhilaration. London-based designer Luigi Memola previously worked for Wong Fong’s Research and Innovation Centre (WFRIC), a post that earned him the invitation to create an ‘extreme vehicle’ for Vanda Electric’s display at the Shenzhen International Industrial Design Fair (SIIDF) in 2015. The striking, low-slung vehicle he designed as a result has made waves in the car industry, far beyond that of your average eye-catching concept vehicle.

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Memola’s EPTA Design studio in London is dedicated to cutting-edge transportation design, with current projects including two bicycle designs for an Italian manufacturer and a 115-foot motor yacht with Italian architecture studio Kemistry of Style. Even though the scope of Vanda Electric’s hypercar was by its very definition boundary-pushing, Memola found technical discipline and not just creative vision at the heart of his design brief: “Even modeling for this category you have to comply with the rules of beauty and function,” he explains. “Everything has to be buildable.”

Memola set out to create a form that evoked two feelings: ‘advance’ and ‘extreme’. The former built on the forms and proportions already established in the supercar market, while the latter added new touches that took the proposed road car in a racing direction. “The racing architecture is closer to a Le Mans car than a regular road car,” says Memola. A mood board of ‘emotional images’ was conjured up to give the Dendrobium its character (the name is derived from a genus of orchids found in the Singaporean region). “The client’s ideals for a ‘spectacular vehicle’ include a mix of technological blooms, Japanese robots and the female body — sinuous elements that contrast with violent changes in surface”, he explains.

 

CLEAN, INSTANT POWER IS A DANGEROUSLY TANTALIzING PROSPECT AND NOTORIOUSLY HARD FOR DRIVERS TO RESIST.


The Dendrobium certainly fulfils the brief. The design is angular and expressive, with Memola using each view—side, front, top and back—as an independent visual statement. “At the side, the car is sharp and light, while the front view is geometric, precise and linear — it’s reminiscent of the form used by legends like the Lamborghini Countach.” At the rear, Memola describes the appearance as “very technical”, with exposed carbon-fibre suspension pylons and active aerodynamics; a bare mechanical aesthetic that’s strongly associated with power and dynamism. Memola suggests the body and structure will be ultra-lightweight, combining titanium, magnesium and aluminum — “perhaps even a mix of all these materials, called ‘Dendrobium’”.

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What’s perhaps even more intriguing than its Batmobile-like good looks are the impressive performance claims being made by Vanda Electric for its new release. Projected performance figures cite a 249m range and a top speed of 249m/h; figures which sound nicely symmetrical but also represent a lofty technical mountain to climb.

All this means that when it exhibited at SIIDF 2015, the Dendrobium caught the world’s attention. Once upon a time, such an extraordinarily styled machine would have been dismissed as little more than a fantasy. But given the rapid pace of innovation, a model like Dendrobium is no longer quite so improbable.

Vanda isn’t the only company on a quest for the ultimate EV. In early 2016, Faraday Future chose a hypothetical hypercar, the FFZERO1, as a way of putting its brand on the map. There’s also the TREV, a turbine-assisted electric hypercar from new Chinese manufacturer Techrules. Aston Martin is honing the design for a next-generation hypercar in collaboration with Red Bull Racing—a vehicle that will almost certainly include some kind of hybrid power system—and you can be sure the other big players are readying their challengers as well.

So will this vision translate from model to fully running machine? Memola is hopeful. Current plans suggest that just 10 Dendrobiums will be built, at a price yet-to-be-confirmed by the as-yet relatively unknown manufacturer. Whether or not Vanda realizes the dream is yet to be seen, but people watching the progress of this technology know that what was impossible just a few years ago is now well within grasp. So right now, the Dendrobium’s dramatic design represents the near future of the world’s first hypercar, fast accelerating towards the present day.

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