700HP, 2.2s 2015 Divergent BLADE Concept – The Tesla of Small-Batch Supercars?

Verrrry interesting new supercar concept to share! Meet the 2015 Divergent Microfactories Blade.

The product of a Palo Alto-based tech startup, the Blade highlights the rapidly falling barriers to entering the automotive business. One-time giant fixed costs like factories and industrial presses are on the outs thanks to innovations in material science. While billed by many as the 3D-printed supercar, that does not strictly seem to be the case. Yes, many components in the Blade are produced in an unconventional fashion — but are the truly 3D printed pieces on display, or mostly hidden details?

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The main chassis evolves from a tubular racecar frame method, but replaces steel or high-strength alloys for carbon-fiber in the tubes. These carbon-fiber tubes can be produced on a standardized fashion, joined by a proprietary ‘Node’ of aluminum connector piece.

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Once bonded and stiff as a board, the resulting chassis weighs just 120 pounds as the sole structural element of the car. Like the Corvette for seven decades, a stiff frame below lets the panels relax as unstressed members of the vehicle. Not a unibody, then, where the metal fenders of a Honda Civic, etc, are part of the overall structure of stamped metal panels below.

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The Blade uses a variety of CFRP polymers for its wild and sci-fi bodywork. The Blade’s design is gorgeous and exceptionally unique. The in-board passenger compartment and scissor doors provide natural wings, scoops and aero that feel at home with the latest hypercar crop from Pagani and Ferrari. The front fender vents are giant rectangles of mesh area that are seriously cool and sexy.

 

Seating the driver and passenger in tandem, the ultra slim cockpit recalls the Lambo Egoista and a few Vision Gran Turismo prototypes for single seaters. While the back seat will not be hugely roomy, it is great to find it there in general. We initially thought it was a single-seater — which is cool but not as fun as sharing the ride with a pal. Additionally, the seat arrangement might make the Blade a quad-bike by federal standards — and therefore road legal sans airbags etc. More on this below.

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LED headlamps from the Cadillac Escalade and a tuned Lancer Evo engine are just two of the recycled component sets in the Blade. The performance and exceptionally low weight are both approximates at this time — but are impressive nonetheless. 1400-pounds and a sprint to 60-mph of 2.0-seconds are slightly dubious, as is the 700HP output of the Evo’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Running either natural gas or gasoline, the four-cylinder is mid-mounted with giant air scoops all around to feed its turbo intercooler and intakes.

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ANALYSIS

As the first concept from DM, it is not instantly clear if the company is selling its ideas and intellectual property as a supplier/manufacturing partner to OEMs, or if this car is actually the product to be sold to consumers.

Divergent helps clarify this in their convincing business case/whitepaper below — where they describe the goal of producing the Blade for sale to a limited number of buyers.

We’d ballpark a price of $550,000 to order one today.

The overall benefits of the low-volume exotic materials do seem to be a perfect match for the hypercar business — where newness and rarity are just as important as outright performance or brand legacies.

With a Corvette-like assembly process of bodywork lowered atop a complete chassis/frame below, in theory Divergent could swap out the design to a different one easily. This could be annual product refreshes, bespoke elements for a roadster, or a totally different type of ‘topskin.’

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One issue we’d like to see addressed, however, is the actual labor of assembling the vehicle. Many of the benefits of traditional industrial manufacturing is that it can achieve sky-high volume and be extensively automated. On the contrary, Divergent (at first) will be hand-assembling these from start to finish.

The second is the viability of CFRP panels. TVR loved these types of molded panels for their fiberglass bodywork — with the molds almost all that is left at their Blackpool HQ these days.

It is not immediately clear that these are actually 3D-printed, versus ordered from a giant factory somewhere far, far away. Ordering out would make big scale viable — printing in Palo Alto would, by contrast, drastically limit overall volume. Panels this size might take days or weeks to actually print from nothing — via thousands of mini layers of polymers. Think of it like printing a 200,000-page document to a clunky Epson inkjet. It would take a while to complete.

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But overall, the Divergent Microfactories BLADE is a very promising development in the supercar business. Bringing startup ingenuity of Silicon Valley — plus VC investors nearby who are frequent supercar owners — to the small-batch supercar game seems like a very exciting development for the industry as a whole.

The production values and design quality of the Blade prototype definitely seem up to the task of challenging supercar legends. Just look at the gorgeously avant-garde mesh for the air intakes, the center-lock alloys and the clear-cased spike of brake light elements. Or look at the incredibly sexy details of the fuselage canopy and well-resolved aero detailing.

If the Blade’s performance and road legality questions can be resolved, the Blade might be just the first of a new range of infinitely customizable exotic cars. Source: Car-revs-daily

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