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On January 20, 2009, my mother’s 80th birthday, I gave her a ride in the freshly painted Spira.
 
 
 

I would like to think that if I accidently ran over my little girl that she would live without much harm. As a driver I want to avoid injuring myself and others.

Can Spira disrupt the 1.24 million vehicle kills per year and be cool?
Safe, Soft, Sexy and hopefully Disruptive. We need a change as vehicles are the #1 killer of men 15 to 44. According to the World Health Organization, road traffic injuries caused an estimated 1.24 million deaths and 50 million injuries worldwide in the year 2010. Half of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Adults aged between 15 and 44 years account for 59% of deaths. 3 out of 4 road deaths are among men. In the USA 45,800 people died and 2.4 million were injured in 2005. We believe Spira's innovations will decrease this epidemic in half and reduce accident costs and injuries by a factor of 4. We have spent millions and we will spend lots more to develop larger and smaller vehicles. The light weight of under 500 pounds saves on production resources and reduces fuel consumption. The reduction in resources to build a 400 pound vehicle, compared to a 4000 pound car, can save enough energy to power Spira for 100,000 miles thereby helping to cool the Earth.

Lon Ballard the founder/inventor believes the he is lucky or has angels watching over as his dreams slowly come true. We seemed to have nine lives when our X-PRIZE vehicle finished as one of 4 finalist in our class. We used the name Spira to signify the perspiration and inspiration that goes into our creations. Let us know what you like and dislike so we can improve our products.

I started thinking about increasing the safety of pedestrians and passengers around 1975 when I had a small1972 Fiat 128 while at the University of Illinois getting a Masters in Mechanical Engineering. I was thinking of attaching an aerodynamic vinyl bra filled with bags of air onto the front of my boxy small Fiat. Soon the government mandated air bags inside vehicles. I doodled in my spare time with safe small car designs for years while working for Exxon’s coal mining company, International Harvester’s Solar gas turbine company, and Caterpillar’s engine division. I once even built a tubular frame for a 3-wheel car around 1980. My designs usually had air bags for body panels. I was usually too busy investing in real estate, building condos, and managing apartments to follow through with my designs. In 2006 I designed and built a roof and windshield for my motorcycle. I applied for a patent in Thailand but did not pursue production. I also added a vinyl covered foam piece to the dash to eliminated headlight glare and for crash protection of the face/head. In 2007 I added side panels of foam/vinyl and a back rest. The back rest was a vinyl bag filled with beach balls for safety if hit from the rear.

Finally in the summer of 2008 while on vacation in San Diego I visited hobby stores and started making a small scale model 3-wheeler using cardboard, foam and toy motorcycles. I decided the millions of tiny air pockets/bags in the foam model could work better than large air bags. I liked my foam shoes and decided there should be foam cars to protect pedestrians and passengers. I researched foam and fiberglass composites used in building airplanes, boats, and racecars. I ordered a few how to books online from Amazon.com and studied them during and after my vacation. In Thailand I then made a 2nd model in 1/10 scale and started gathering parts to build a prototype.

prototype

In October 2008 I had another daughter, Lily May Ballard and started putting years of ideas to work building an energy efficient 3 wheel auto to bring safety to motorcycle riders and pedestrians. On October 22, 2008 I moved foam, parts, fiberglass, and a motorcycle to the A & G Technology Factory in Rayong Thailand. I spent a month sweating out the details while gluing, fiber glassing, and designing a basic foam drivable chassis alone.. On November 21, 2008 I drove the bare shell for the first time. I told my brother I would stay under 30 mph but it felt too good and stable so I went up to 60 mph. I soon hired Toa a Thai engineer to help and to do AutoCAD design. The top, windshield, wheel covers, shaping, and controls took time to make the prototype look presentable.

In 2009 and 2010 we concentrated on the $10,000,000 Progressive Automotive X PRIZE and became one of 4 finalist in our tandem classification. We learned a lot and have great memories. Then we pursued how to make it easy to produce but ran into government road blocks in Thailand and later in the Philippines for licensing 3 wheel vehicles. We produced 2 electric and 1 gas Spira in 2011 in Thailand. and 4 in the Philippines. In 2012 we built 4 electric Spiras of 2 to 10 passenger designs and did a 775.8 Kilometer World record single trip with a single charge smashing a 555.6 previous record. We put 50 KWh of batteries(605 kilograms) in a 270 kilo fiberglass core board/bamboo Spira design and traveled from Santa Rosa to the Northern tip of the Island. Guinness world records would not recognize the record because we were not in high volume production according to their newly changed rules. Read the details of the record write up below.

In 2012 we packed up and moved to Wangye Motor Company in Taizhou, China to use their parts and engine for a production vehicle. We discovered a greener, stronger, plastic fiberglass honey comb from Germany just going into production in China for a better chassis. We also found a tough soft foam for the outside that can come in colors to eliminate covering or painting. In 2013 after testing, we finalized designs and ordered molds, stampings, machines, jigs, etc. to start production. The first Spira assembled with production parts was completed in October 2013. It has many DOT and E4 components for export.

The China Experience

Before choosing Wangye Power Co., ten companies were visited and three considered.  Then we wrote up an OEM supplier contract.  The first Spira4u using their engine and motorcycle parts was built in 3 weeks at the Huangyan factory headquarters for endurance testing in the summer of 2012.  Very long hours were worked for 18 months to find suppliers and to make molds and jigs.  Finally a production Spira4u was sent for EPA testing in December 2013.

Living and doing business in China has been an adventure.  It was necessary to learn to eat with chop sticks and we enjoyed many of the new foods that are their staples. Some of our favorites are the tomatoes with scrambled eggs, zucchini, meatballs with half rice, fish, celery with tofu, beans with pork, fried greens, etc.  One interesting custom in China is to serve drinking water year round that is near boiling temperature.

We only know one other American that is living in our temporary home city of Huangyan with a population of over 500,000.  The city is known for its sweet tangerines as it is the same latitude as Orlando, Florida.  It is also known for its many mold suppliers as it is said to make over 60% of the plastic molds in China.  We rented a brand new fully furnished two bedroom condo in a recently opened shopping center close to the factory.

Driving in China is a real experience.  Many vehicle accidents, dangerous driving, and close calls are seen daily that causes us to drive super cautiously to avoid accidents.  A few tickets were paid from the many cameras for speeding and stopping too far into an intersection.   The underside plastic panels on our new Smart Car were replaced for about $1,000 because of many times running over small boulders, bricks, concrete, and chug holes on the road when visiting suppliers.  Most of the roads are very good and have beautiful landscaping but repairs are sometimes delayed too long.  Frequently, the sidewalks are designed to be used for vehicle parking.  Another driving surprise in China was the change in stop light law in July 2013 when it became illegal to go through a yellow light.  Then as people stop early on a flashing green light they sometimes get rear ended. 

The new chassis material made from fiberglass embedded in plastic on both sides of honeycomb panels was discovered by accident.  During a routine plant visit to a manufacturer of honey comb core board covered with fiberglass and resin, a new product was demonstrated.  This new product had the fiberglass already attached to the honey comb core board with a plastic laminate.  Our first thought was a wasted day until Lon started to imagine a chassis folded together like a toy and then plastic welded. We were soon sold on the idea that no more smelly resin would be needed and came back a week later to make 2 chassis in 2 days with hand cutting.  A CNC cutter was soon ordered to make a stronger, lighter, greener chassis in a fast production mode.  The University of Illinois tested the material to be twice as strong as the smelly, itchy fiberglass resin core board it replaced. An additional benefit is this new material is recyclable.  In China “Necessity is the mother of all inventions” as it is sometimes difficult to find good suppliers so some great ideas come out of our difficulties and problems.

Lon Ballard is lucky to have broad experience and credentials to bring innovation to designs:

University of Illinois, Engineering, BS and MS. Some of my best memories were winning the building of the strongest balsa wood structure in 2 engineering class competitions where the crush strength was tested.

Owned and fixed up old and foreign sports cars during and after college including: 67 Triumph GT6, 64-1/2 Mustang Convertible, Three – 53 Cadilacs, 55 Olds, 58 T-bird, 69 Austin Mini, 71 & 72 Renault R16 & R12, 2- Fiat 128, 1971 Corolla, 55 & 58 Mercedes 190SL.

MBA Operations Management, San Diego State University
Left Caterpillar in 1993 at 40 owning 148 apartments. Then built 76 energy efficient town homes in the Peoria, Illinois area.
Earned licenses in the USA: Illinois Professional Engineer, Illinois Plumber, Electrical Contractor, HVAC Contractor.

In 2004 started investing and living part-time in Thailand and old the usa apartment complexes in 2005-7

Spira4u Smashes World Record ?
A record 775.8 kilometer journey smashed the previous Guinness World Record of 555.6 kilometers for "Longest Journet bn electric vehille (Non Solar)"on a single charge. A bamboo Spira4u broke the record on July 27, 2012 by going on a 775.8 Kilometer journey from Santa Rosa, Laguna to Ballesteros (Cagayan Province) in the Philippines driven by Lon Ballard. The record breaking electric Spira4u was manufactured in the Philippines by a local company and Ballard Co .  The strength, durability, and energy efficiency of the Spira designs are what made this world record possible.

Specifications of World Record Spira:
• Weight 270 kg Vehicle plus 605 kg batteries
• 1.5 meter wide x 3.34 long x 1.57 tall
• 9KW peak/ 5KW continuous Electric Motor
• 73.8 kph Max. Speed
• 60 watt-hr/ kilometer Energy Consumption
• Eleven 60 Amp-hour Lithium battery packs (Each pack weighs 55 kilograms )
• Maximum load capacity of 800 Kg (8 people with 1 battery pack) Removable rear seats makes hauling easy.

The most unique aspect of record setting Spira is the "green" bamboo used in its construction. Ballard Co. has invented a unique process to join bamboo and composites together to form structural members. This technique was used to form the upper body and roll cage with fiberglass core board composites forming the lower chassis. The "natural carbon fiber" in the bamboo contributed to the light weight and strong structural strength to make Spira safe enough to carry heavy loads. Ballard Co. is researching other uses of bamboo and has used it for seats, springs, and swing arms in other Spiras.
Spira wants to promote less weight for less deaths, less resources, less fuel, less pollution, and less harm to the world. Further proof of its revolutionary technology is the attached crash test results that show g levels 1/2 that of production cars. The Spira design can change the world of transportation based on the crash test results combined with the high strength per weight ratio for carrying loads. Setting records is the proof of advancing technology.

Vehicles are the #1 killer of 10 to 44 year olds. Spira4u has a mission of reducing the vehicle death and injury rates. 1.2 million People annually die in vehicle accidents. Over 50% vehicle related deaths are people not inside a car. The front of the Spira4u is padded with foam and designed to push people to the side rather than crush them.

Ballard Co. produced several electric and gasoline Spria4u's in the Philippines, Thailand, and China. Spira4u was one of 12 finalists (3rd in its class) in the $10,000,000 Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. Ballard Co. has done 3 crash tests including one at 64 kilometers per hour to the American Institute for Highway Safety 40% offset standards at an approved USA crash test facility as part of X PRIZE. Our foam and core board technologies can be applied to most vehicles to make them safer and lighter.

Most people think light means not safe but we have patented and patent pending ways to make a light car safe. Spira has honeycomb materials and foam like Formula 1 race cars and airliners. Ballard Co. wants to offer a safe, economical alternative to injurious motorcycles and heavy gas guzzlers. The soft narrow front and sloping sides will push pedestrians and Spira4u to the side in an accident. Spira4u is designed to divert to the side in most crashes rather than be crushed.

Light weight makes a vehicle truly energy efficient as a heavy car takes more power to push up a hill, to accelerate, and to build. Light cars save money and resources needed to build and maintain them. Components such as wheels, brakes, suspension, etc. can be smaller and lighter to save production costs and resources. A 300 Kilogram aerodynamic vehicle can run 160,000 kilometers on the energy it takes just to make a 1500 Kilogram car.

Less material, human resources, natural resources, and energy resources are needed to make light vehicles. It is possible to achieve 100 mpg with a light vehicle. Carbon usage is minimized in the production and driving light vehicles whether gas or electric power is used.  The total cradle to grave energy usage needs to be considered.

Little damage is caused to others if you impact them with something light. 50% of the world's vehicle injuries and deaths are to people not inside a car. Spira uses soft foam bumpers and honeycomb composites in a light vehicle to absorb the energy in a collision.

Spira4u was crashed at 64 kilometers per hour to the American Institute for Highway Safety 40% offset standards at a certified USA crash test facility. Spira4u had chassis and seat belt g loads less than 1/2 that of typical production cars. The light materials in Spira have air in them so they act like millions of airbags to absorb the energy in a wreck. Spira has over 4 inches of energy absorbing materials all around the vehicle occupants to keep them safe in an accident.

The front of the Spira4u has a pointed nose with sloping sides to avoid direct collisions. Frontal impacts cause the vehicle to be pushed to the side thereby diffusing the crash forces. This lessens the g forces and creates a vehicle that will survive if impacted by a heavy vehicle. With a single front wheel, the vehicle slides off or rolls with the punch rather than absorbing the full impact.

Ballard Co. recently started to incorporate bamboo into our designs to reduce weight, to provide a safe roll cage, and to give it a unique "green" style. Bamboo is as strong as structural steel and 1/15 the weight (Google and read "Wikipedia ultimate strength of materials"). Bamboo has a strength to weight ratio equivalent to carbon fiber with resin. Renewable bamboo can be called the "natural carbon fiber". Bamboo bends easier than steel and carbon fiber so it can help the vehicle to have a lower impact g force. The strength, durability, and energy efficiency of the Spira designs are what made this world record possible.

Doug Ballard, brother of the driver, and Jasper Boneo, an electrical engineer, followed in the chase vehicle and recorded and filmed the journey. Spira4u really proved its durability over many hand laid concrete bumpy roads and graveled construction bypasses with big chug holes. The rain began down pouring when driving into the El Cid Resort in Ballestero which marked the end of the 45 hour journey (25 hours of driving). Spira4u went about 50 kph when possible but the heavy traffic and road conditions slowed the pace down to a 30 kph average speed.

Crossing a temporary bridge in Northern Luzon was the biggest hurdle as the bridge only had 2 wooden planks for 4 wheel vehicles. People had to manhandle a 3rd plank for the Spira front wheel. Luckily people helped and the Spira is light in the front. The mountain and sea scenery was spectacular in the North. It was a fabulous journey and many curious people were met every place we stopped along the way. After the record breaking journey Spira headed back to Santa Rosa, Laguna down the central plains and mountains. Spira4u did great going thru the mountains even though it rained half of the time.

Gerweiss Motor Co. helped with the production of electric Spiras in the Philippines starting in December 2011 under a license agreement with Ballard Co. The vehicles have a light chassis that can carry 2 to 8 passengers or heavy delivery loads of up to 700 kilograms.

 

 
©2009 Ballard Co.Ltd. All rights reserved