An ex-Ferrari engineer has created a fabric-bodied hybrid off-roader
The Fering Pioneer is designed to work in the most extreme conditions possible on earth and go for up to 7,000 km (4,350 miles) without stopping!
New car companies seem to be popping up all the time right now. Whether its EV startups trying to take on the big boys like Fisker and Rivian or more niche manufacturers like Bollinger, the amount of new car manufacturers appearing makes it feel like we've entered another golden age of automotive optimism. The latest of those new companies is Fering, a low-volume manufacturer founded by ex-Ferrari, ex-McLaren and ex-Caparo engineer Ben Scott-Geddes. Fering's first vehicle is the Pioneer and it's been explicitly designed to change the game when it comes to creating go-anywhere off-road vehicles.
As you can see by the image at the top, the Fering Pioneer is a huge muscular beast. At least, that's what you'd think. Whilst it definitely will be a fairly sizeable vehicle (at around 4.8 metres long and 2 metres wide, it'll be a similar width and length to a Ford Transit van), it'll actually weigh only 1,500 kg (3,306 lbs). That means it'll weigh nearly 300 kg (660 lbs) less than a 2-door Jeep Wrangler! The Pioneer will achieve this thanks to the use of aluminium and composite materials in its construction, as well as by having a body out of the same kind of super durable fabric that's used to make hiking boots. Why use the fabric in particular? Fering reckons that fabric offers better insulation than steel, is much more forgiving off-road than a conventional body panel material, will bend instead of denting and is cheaper and easier to fix than a conventional body panel if it tears.
In fact, many of the Pioneer's components are designed to reduce costs and make it as easy to maintain as possible. The door frames are completely identical side-to-side and front-to-rear, making creating and replacing doors much easier than on other cars. The huge 22.5 inch wheels are designed to use regular truck tyres that you can find anywhere. There's also no fancy suspension geometry, meaning that it'll be easy to repair broken suspension components in the field.
Another really interesting aspect of the Fering Pioneer is its drivetrain. It'll be a full hybrid, using a combination of dual electric motors (one on each axle) to power the wheels and an 800cc 3-cylinder range extender engine. It'll only operate when it's most efficient to do so, supplying the Pioneer's batteries with extra power whilst the motors do the hard work of driving the vehicle over tough terrain. The range extender is designed to run on biodiesel, but Fering has already stated that it'll offer generators that can run on other fuels to meet whatever market needs arise. The batteries on their own only have a range of 50 miles, but Fering reckons that with the help of the range extender it could go for up to 7,000 km (4,350 miles) without having to stop.
The powertrain's battery packs are also designed with the earth's most extreme conditions in mind. Regular battery packs, which lose huge amounts of efficiency in cold conditions, won't cut it. Fering will be using Lithium Titanate Oxide batteries in the Pioneer's battery pack. These slightly unusual batteries are much better equipped to deal with extreme weather and, as a result, will make the vehicle much better suited to the remote environments it's supposed to be able to work in. They're also much more fire-resistant than conventional batteries! The trade-off is that they're 15% less efficient under normal conditions.
Why use the range extender style powertrain? Well, there are the obvious range benefits. An off-roader that can travel for thousands of miles without needing to take on more fuel and/or charge up the batteries would give it a huge advantage in the world's most remote areas where fuel stops and charging stations are few and far between. It also saves quite a bit of weight and makes things a lot more mechanically simple, eliminating the need for complicated components such as a multi-speed gearbox. A lighter vehicle also only requires relatively small brakes and differentials, again making the Pioneer a bit of an easier task when it comes to an engineering standpoint.
There's also the subject of sustainability. Fering's choice to outfit the Pioneer with a hybrid powertrain designed to use sustainable fuels from day one was a choice that was consciously made to make running vehicles in the world's most isolated areas more sustainable. "Up to now, you've had to fly fuel to remote regions if you want to operate vehicles there," said Geddes to Autocar. "We can help change that — and do it with minimum harm to the environment." It's something that a lot of manufacturers haven't really thought of yet. Perhaps the Pioneer really will be an aptly-named vehicle, as it could end up being instrumental in creating more sustainable versions of vehicles designed to operate in the most remote and extreme areas of the planet.
The first prototype of the Fering Pioneer has already been built (it was essentially a very fancy lockdown project!) and early testing has already started. Fering has said that the car's mechanical layout is largely fixed and won't change very much (if at all), but the shape and body layout is likely to change quite a bit as testing goes on. This is mainly down to the fact that Fering is expecting customer demands to vary quite a lot. Part of the business model built around the Pioneer is that it'll be highly customisable to whatever its customers demand. These demands could range anywhere from creating something for a team of daring explorers all the way to making emergency vehicles for medical teams operating in deserts, jungles, mountain ranges or above the arctic circle.
So, how much will this purpose-built expedition machine cost you? Fering is expecting to be able to sell them at a price tag somewhere north of £150,000. That sounds like an insane amount of money for such a utilitarian vehicle, but you have to remember that the customers for something like this are likely to be after something that's very niche and specialised. They could be adventurers and explorers who regularly need to go into incredibly remote areas, or emergency services who work in some of the world's harshest conditions. When it comes down to this, the high price of the Pioneer is something that they're more than likely willing to pay if it's as capable as Fering claims it is.