Space Efficient Vehicle by Ralph Panhuyzen and Steve van der Veen, Netherlands

2008: Smaller. Safer. Better.

Drawings on Display at Michelin Challenge Design™

Design Team

Ralph Panhuyzen (project lead and inventor)
Steven van der Veen (visualization)


Ralph Panhuyzen is convinced that the car industry will ultimately change into an “auto-mobility industry” that will take the effectiveness of personal transport and our living environment much more seriously. He has been contemplating alternative personal transportation for many years. In 2004 he put his ideas on paper. This led to very specific design criteria regarding the form of the ‘split personality vehicle’ Panhuyzen had in mind. Dozens of meetings and discussions were held over the past years with regard to traffic conditions, road pricing, vehicle regulations, materials use, suitable engines, chassis and suspension, etcetera to fine-tune the concept. Panhuyzen’s outspoken philosophy and ‘vision induced vehicle concept’ have been officially registered as intellectual property. In recent years, he also compiled a book on the Port of Rotterdam and a report on the scientific research regarding car mobility in the Netherlands. As a former managing director of a major transportation logistics center, he is experienced in joint ventures between government and private enterprise, which may be an advantage when it comes to developing the SEV to its full potential. Three-time Michelin Challenge participant and finalist Steven Van der Veen was hired by Panhuyzen to translate his design vision into detailed drawings. The dashboard, seats, rims, mirrors and taillight module are the result of his personal contributions to the vehicle concept. Van der Veen has done work for Dutch sports car manufacturer Donkervoort among others. He received numerous enthusiastic press reviews of automotive designs he made, particularly with regard to the Audi A1 he proposed a few years ago… Arguably a tastier looking package than the one Audi presented lately.


If you want to save money, why not save space at the same time. And save even more money. Ninety to ninety-five percent of all cars normally carry just one person. So, why don’t we slim down our mode of transportation that is showing signs of becoming morbidly obese? Sleek, lightweight vehicles have many advantages: better maneuverability, superior fuel economy, lower emissions, lean production potential, the ability to use the existing infrastructure more efficiently and exciting, new design perspectives. Does ‘sleek’ mean impractical? No, it doesn’t. The suggested Space Efficient Vehicle (SEV) will do fine as sole vehicle for singles, couples and one-child families and of course during rush hour when traffic is at its worst.

Waist Control

“America is addicted to oil” according to George W. Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address. Let’s face it: the automobile is arguably the most successful product in marketing history. So, if you are seriously thinking of bringing a car that is fundamentally more economic and more efficient, you would do well (1) to ensure that drivers will feel good, safe and special, (2) that politicians will have something positive to identify with, and (3) that it will fit ‘the car industry’s mould’, so to speak. The Space Efficient Vehicle shows that this is possible.

1. Fuel bills slashed from day one. This is what the low-drag, lightweight SEV offers the driver to start with. We are realistically talking 75 to 110 mpg with conventional, small engines. No need for complex, weight increasing hybrid hardware. The key point is that the SEV offers a choice. You can use this comfortable, safe and distinctive looking ‘crossover’ for your daily commuting, for your shopping, or for running errands… and save, rent or borrow the big car when you really need the extra space. Many governments already favor small cars fiscally and are planning to introduce some sort of road pricing. The more environmentally friendly the vehicle, the lower the tariff will be.

2. No need to go to war, as Alan Greenspan would say. No need for bio fuels that increase the cost of food production just to feed our gas-guzzlers. The SEV is sleek enough to let governments utilize parking facilities and freeways far more efficiently. They can launch their own preferential treatment policies based on a whole new category of narrow-track, low-emission vehicles. The possibilities include two lanes turned into three lanes, opening up dedicated lanes, allowing dual lane use as with motorcycles, reconfigured parking lots and space efficient interfaces with public transport. No need for more asphalt at the expense of our living environment. In some countries (and states) the SEV may be categorized as a (three-wheeled) motorcycle, allowing a single driver to make use of the carpool lane for instance.

3. Why try to beat the Japanese at their hybrid game if you can come up with a new-generation vehicle? Lightweight allows for lean, sustainable manufacturing and savings that may actually raise profit margins, and will improve a manufacturer’s overall emission and fuel economy profile. The SEV would also be an excellent export product, particularly to countries that cope with severe air pollution and outdated, inflexible infrastructures. With the front looks of a regular car and the rear cowling reminiscent of the tail of a big motorcycle cruiser, the Space Efficient Vehicle simply falls in to a new category. The SEV combines elegant looks and substantial savings, an eco-friendly lifestyle and true mobility.

A car on a diet or ‘narrow track vehicle’… we heard that one before, some people might say. Well, let’s dissect the SEV. What we see is a front-wheel drive, semi-tricycle arrangement: two wheels at the front and two ‘clustered’ more closely at the rear. The stance may vary according to performance requirements. This provides better protection against rear impacts and better steering input due to a natural swiveling ability. The wheel layout enables a long wheelbase relative to overall length and a streamlined shape, which in turn gives the driver superior 360-degree visibility, especially to the rear. There’s no passenger next to the driver to block his side view. The seating layout allows adequate safety margins to be maintained on the flanks, despite the narrow width of 57.1 inches. The driver can maintain eye contact with the passengers via the interior mirror.

The driver and the first passenger enter and exit the SEV on the curbside, which is safer. Vehicle guidance and lane detection help the driver maintain lane position. A low center of gravity, the forward-located engine and active damping keep body roll, lateral movement and any oversteer tendency in check. This all combines to make it a handy runabout, a time- and money-saving commuter vehicle, and a relaxing long-distance tourer. And yes, the SEV looks different. This may turn some people off, but it may attract even more. And perhaps in the near future we all will ask ourselves: “Why did we ever drive cars the size of a teenager’s room, with a weight of 20 to 30 times the weight of the driver?” Of course, battery-powered propulsion is also possible.

Let’s use our imagination. In the 1950’s car and motorcycle maker BMW had its own version of the ‘bubble car’ called the Isetta. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have the ZEV (zero emission vehicle) BMW is planning, take the shape of my SEV then brand as a New Isetta? If we compare the three-seater SEV with the two-seater Smart Car, then it is easy to see why the SEV is safer, more comfortable (long wheelbase) and more fuel-efficient (tapered shape) than the Smart ForTwo. Of course, the SEV needn’t be German. Why not spice-up GM’s Saturn brand? Or have some motorcycle manufacturer take this ‘crossover’ in production for instance?

Its sleek body combines low drag, straight-line stability, cross wind resistance and rear down force for optimum control. Of course features such as the driver position, the commanding view, bulging front fenders, large diameter wheels, protruding waistline and arch-shaped struts (notice the one exposed through the sunroof) all help to enhance the feeling of being protected, which is important if the SEV is to attract prospective customers. If you would like to know more (for instance the intended specs), please contact