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Tandem Volvo

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CAMARILLO, California, USA -- Volvo Cars has seen the future -- and the future looks narrow.

The Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center here has developed a concept car in response to congested roads.

The concept, called the Tandem, is a two-passenger vehicle in which the passenger sits behind the driver. It's similar to a tandem bicycle or a two-person fighter jet.

Volvo has designed two styling concept versions and a drivable test mule. The concepts range from 51 to 57 inches wide. The latest versions are the narrowest. A Volvo S80, by contrast, is 72 inches wide.

The Tandem is designed so that two of them can travel side-by-side in a traffic lane built for one normal-sized car.

"I was trying to go no wider than the Honda Goldwing motorcycle," says Douglas Frasher, strategic design chief at VMCC and designer of one of the dummy Tandems.

The Tandem concept is a little reminiscent of DaimlerChrysler's Smart, which offers a different approach to deal with urban congestion.

Volvo has designed its concepts to be "future proof," says Frasher. That means the Tandem isn't designed for any specific powertrain, but could work with a fuel cell, an electric motor or a conventional internal-combustion engine.

The test mule is powered by a battery-powered electric motor and is capable of only 32kph. Driver and passenger are low to the ground, but the mule feels very nimble and is fun to drive. Although the mule doesn't have it, Volvo is considering four-wheel steering.

Safety is crucial when occupants are sitting so low to the ground in such a narrow vehicle.

Kolita Mendis, in charge of structures and safety engineering, says: "If we design a lightweight car, it has to offer a superior level of safety. We have to reduce the vulnerability of small cars by designing deformation zones that withstand the effect of crashes with heavier vehicles."

Volvo officials are aware that these vehicles won't have much impact unless there are lots of them on the road.

Ideally, if the use of these narrow vehicles reached a critical mass, lawmakers would subdivide traffic lanes to allow two of the cars to drive side by side in one lane or allow them to use carpool lanes.

Whether such a car will ever be made is open to speculation.

Volvo VMCC Design Director Geza Loczi calls the Tandem "a real product still in its infancy that needs a lot of molding and tweaking to grow into a full-fledged, finished product."


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