Engineering an electric drive truck that drives across the most challenging terrain on Earth
Today, most car manufacturers are focused on coming up with vehicles that are electric and autonomous. However, these cars are only designed to work in places that have developed infrastructure to support them. One company is seeking to remove this limitation by developing a truck that can circumnavigate the globe. A vehicle that would give great performances in hot deserts, as well as in the North and South Pole.
On top of all that, it’s an electric drive truck. This will push sustainability goals to territories that are currently ignored while still delivering a better driving experience than what most off-grid capable vehicles provide.
In this episode, the first part out of two, Ed Bernardon interviews Ben Scott-Geddes, the founder of Fering Technologies, a company that is developing the Pioneer hybrid truck. He’ll share with us what they’ve accomplished so far, and the impact they expect their vehicle to make.
Some Questions I Ask:
- What’s your goal with the Fering Pioneer truck? (02:42)
- What are the advantages of your truck over other trucks in the same category? (04:49)
- What kind of input does an explorer bring in when designing the truck? (10:08)
- What are some of the fundamental design elements of the Pioneer truck that make it such a sustainable vehicle? (20:21)
- How did you get into motorsports? (34:55)
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The truck’s target market (03:52)
- The considerations made when developing the Pioneer Truck (06:24)
- The most challenging part when circumnavigating the globe on a truck (13:40)
- The comparison between Pioneer truck’s engine and other truck engines (24:42)
- The different expertise of the team that is designing the car (29:08)
Connect with Ben Scott-Geddes:
Connect with Ed Bernardon:
Ed Bernardon: One thing I need to get straight, the Pioneer, is it a truck or is it an SUV? And I mean, what’s even the difference between a truck and SUV anyways?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, I guess a truck would be definitely, sounds to me, like more of a utility tool and an SUV feels like it’s an automotive term for a product bracket, sports utility vehicle. Doesn’t it?
Ed Bernardon: Like, one’s more for work and the other one’s more for fun. Is that the idea?
Ben Scott-Geddes: I Guess it sounds like it to me. Just thinking about it.
Ed Bernardon: So the Pioneer, is it more fun or more work?
Ben Scott-Geddes: It should be more of a work tool.
Ed Bernardon: Work tool that’s fun, maybe?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, work should be fun, shouldn’t it?
Ed Bernardon: Well, there you go.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Work is fun, yeah. It’s like, more fun than anything.
Ed Bernardon: So that could be your tagline for the Pioneer — the Pioneer: the truck that makes work fun. Does that work? Alright.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah. I’m not paying you for that one as well.
Ed Bernardon: Alright, I won’t send a bill this time. Okay.
Ed Bernardon: Have you ever dreamed of traveling the world on an exotic adventure? Most of us have a bucket list of exotic places—even if it’s just in our fantasies. And, if you know Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos and you’ve got millions of dollars, you could take that adventure into space, and it’s going to last just a mere 12 minutes, that’s about it. But what if you could drive from one pole to the other, and then back up on the other side of the world, go all the way around the world? On a long road trip like that you could probably tick off quite a few of those exotic places on your list. Well, our guest today is aiming to create a truck — a truck that can take you on that trip, all the way around the world.
Welcome to the Future Car Podcast. I’m your host, Ed Bernardon, and today we talk to the founder of Fering Technologies, Ben Scott-Geddes. Fering has developed a truck — the Fering Pioneer — that can take us on a trip that circumnavigates the world. And not only that, the Pioneer may just be the first truck in history with the ability to drive from pole to pole but do it in a way that puts sustainability first. Ben is going to tell us what that route might look like, and the engineering needed to create a vehicle capable of withstanding temperatures from 60 degrees below zero to a scorching desert.
Ben, welcome to The Future Car podcast.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Hello, Ed. How are you?
Ed Bernardon: I’m doing just great. So, tell us about Fering Technologies and the Pioneer, and your truck that can drive all the way around the world. What’s your goal here with the Fering Pioneer?
Ben Scott-Geddes: What we wanted to do was create a vehicle that we saw that nobody seems to have done a specific vehicle for – so we quite like this particular mission. And more than anything, I think we’ve all, in the team, everyone has come to this point in their lives and careers, and obviously reflecting on what’s going on in the world where you want to do this mission or achieve this mission with the minimum impact you can from a car point of view, because cars are generally not great from an emissions point of view and global warming and CO2 emissions and so on. So, we want to try and make a car which has the minimum impact to still allow you to get to these far off places and complete this trip or this journey — not necessarily just this global circumnavigation, but to be able to get anywhere into these remote places with a minimum impact and the minimum cost that we can deliver.
Ed Bernardon: So, is the idea to sell the Pioneer for people that want to get to these remote areas? Or is it also to provide a service or expeditions to people to remote areas?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yes, it’s kind of both. Primarily, as a business case, the one that allows us to do, from a commercial point of view, is to sell vehicles to people that not only want to go but people primarily who need to go off-grid into these remote areas to service stuff, fix stuff, check on stuff, record stuff, research stuff, those kinds of people. They will be our utility users, that’s our market. And then there’s also a group of people who just want to go, and if they need to go, and they want to go, and see stuff and experience stuff, which is great for everybody – they can purchase a vehicle and go themselves, or the second option is to join the global tour, as you’re saying.
Ed Bernardon: So, the vehicles that are out there right now, that like you said, there are really two classes to what you’re talking about here. So, one class is “I need to get a vehicle, and whatever it’s carrying into a remote area.” So, what is the advantage of how the Pioneer operates over the vehicles that are available today that go into these remote areas?
Ben Scott-Geddes: I guess that’s two-fold. So, there’s what mode of transport you’re talking about, and we spoke about this before. So, do you fly it? Traditionally, at the moment, you kind of tend to fly it if these places are really difficult to get to and quite a long way away. And then the other way you can do it is you go on an existing utility vehicle which are traditionally, I guess, the development of trucks and vehicles, it’s generally, from a goods transportation point of view, it’s quite long-winded. So, the vehicles you’ve got at the moment are pure diesel trucks and so on. And really, that’s the fact that if you’ve got to carry your energy source with you, that’s really, these days, the only option you’ve got on existing vehicles. So, there isn’t really anything, if you want to go by truck, you can go and buy, which isn’t a big diesel-powered vehicle. And the alternative to go is to fly, which is about 10 times as bad or 10 times the emissions to fly stuff somewhere.
Ed Bernardon: So, instead of carrying fuel because it’s more efficient, you can carry emergency supplies or whatever it is you’re trying to get to this location. Is that the idea?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, in any way, you just have to use less fuel and pollute less to get there.
Ed Bernardon: The other thing is this whole idea of ecotourism. If you’re going to go from one pole to the other, at any particular time of the year, one of the poles could be 100% sunlight, and then the other one is going to be completely dark. And that’s just the light and dark, but you have to be able to operate in all sorts of different conditions. So, what were your considerations when you were trying to build a vehicle that can operate at night, can operate at day, deserts, snow, ice, whatever; what’d you have to consider when you were designing the Pioneer?
Ben Scott-Geddes: So, what we did is we came up with this idea of this global circumnavigation by primarily land. It’s not completely joined up by land, so you’ve got to go on a ship at some stage. But with the distances, it pretty much works out that with average speeds and difficult terrains you’re going to cross and so on, it’s going to take about a year. So, it does work out from summer to summer that you can arrive at either pole in the summer because it’s about a year’s expedition. And then, that’s how it breaks up into these different stages.
Ed Bernardon: So, six months from one pole to the other, more or less?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Essentially, yeah, if you took it like that. And going six months ago, back down again. And the idea was loosely that you could keep going around, the expedition keeps going around, and you break it up into these 16 stages, and you can get on and off each stage or you can do all the stages if you want. But coming back to the question on the demands, the biggest demand these days is going to be whether the sea ice and the North Pole is frozen enough in the summer. And there’s a sort of a window of opportunity you have to, in theory, cross the North Pole by hard ice at a certain time of year. And the window is getting narrower.
Ed Bernardon: So, the timing is going to be pretty key on when you start and when you finish. Now, this has been done before by explorers. And in fact, I believe it’s actually been done by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
Ben Scott-Geddes: He did it as an expeditionist to raise money for charities. I think Ranulph has raised about 18 million in all these different expeditions he’s done. But he did it by land and sea, not by air, and primarily by foot. So, most of the icecap crossings, he did on skis.
Ed Bernardon: He’s quite a character, too. He is known as what? The greatest living explorer.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yes, he is. And he’s just about still alive, he’s still hanging on.
Ed Bernardon: So, how long did it take him when he did this? And when was that? Several years ago, I believe.
Ben Scott-Geddes: In the ‘80s, I think. So, it took him about two years, I think. And a lot of that was actually waiting. So, he was camped in the Antarctic and camped in the North Pole, waiting for the right opportunity to do it on ski. So, I think he spent about, back in the Shackleton days, he ended up spending kind of six months in a cardboard box, basically, on the ice cap, just waiting for the right time to cross. So, it took him a long time.
Ed Bernardon: So, there are sections where you’d have to put the Pioneer on a boat or a ferry of some kind.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, pretty much, to get on to Antarctica because Antarctica is too far away to be frozen or locked to the land when it’s frozen.
Ed Bernardon: On your team is someone that’s actually worked with Ranulph.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yes, we’ve got Mack McKenny who’s primarily an expedition organizer, but he’s a key driver. He does all of the vehicle-borne expeditions that Sir Ranulph does. He doesn’t anymore because he’s been old now. But yeah, so Mack’s on the team, advising us from the logistics and expedition point of view.
Ed Bernardon: So, what kind of input does he give you when you’re trying to figure out what you want to put into this vehicle? So, you’ve got this explorer. So, Mack has worked with some of the greatest explorers of our time, and one which has actually done the circumnavigation before, so he must be really in tune. I think he was even on the Discovery Channel, he had this show called Extreme Drives. So, he brings in the expertise of driving and exploring at the same time. So, what kind of input do you get from someone like that when you’re designing the Pioneer?
Ben Scott-Geddes: To frame it for you, we are planning, at Fering, to not just provide a vehicle that will give this expedition its vehicle platform to go on; we’re developing the chassis and the structure underneath the vehicle to satisfy a number of utility markets off-grid – so, safari guys, utility guys, these NGOs that are driving vaccines around Africa, that kind of stuff. And the expedition market is going to demand its own living box on top of the chassis, if you like.
Ed Bernardon: A living box?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, the cabin, if you want to call it.
Ed Bernardon: So that you can survive in these extreme conditions.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah. So, you do have to sit in it for a long time. So, Mack’s been fantastic at giving us what he would ideally like this box to sit in for a year with the space and the weight of the layout and the equipment that’s in it. And also the demands on it, Mack’s very well aware of because he’s been sitting in vehicles in extreme conditions for a long time. And we’ve got some great feedback from him on stuff like how big the doors should or shouldn’t be to get in and out with thick gear you got on, having a big light door is a real hindrance because it gets blown off because the wind is so bad, that kind of thing. Snow powder gets everywhere, and it fills up all the cracks. So, there’s quite a lot of technical stuff that Mack has had to give us, and not just his skills and capability at driving off-road and that sort of demands of the vehicle.
Ed Bernardon: What surprised you the most of the requirements that he put out there that was unlike vehicles you had done before? I mean, I never would have thought about the snow dust, or the “Don’t make the door too light, the wind’s gonna blow it off.”
Ben Scott-Geddes: It’s stuff like that. So, a lot of the feedback from Mack is we’ve taken a really route point or really the core to it. So, because this is a totally clean sheet of paper, we haven’t got a legacy vehicle we’re trying to make work in that environment. So, the insulation is a fundamental point of the box you’ve got to sit in, you’ve got to keep it warm.
Ed Bernardon: Yeah, the extreme from the cold side, I think, as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah. And then when you’re not moving, in the off winter, I think they recorded somebody minus 80 down there.
Ed Bernardon: So, you can be comfortable in the Pioneer at minus 80 degrees?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Minus 80 degrees, yeah, which is pretty harsh.
Ed Bernardon: How do you do that? Is that a lot of insulation, a big heater?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, we’ve got an onboard heater. We’ve got a little onboard generator motor, so it’s keeping us warm most of the time. But fundamentally, you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to heat yourself and take your fuel with you to heat yourself.
Ed Bernardon: And also extreme heat at the same time, because you’ll be going through deserts.
Ben Scott-Geddes: The heat, from our own car point of view, isn’t that scary, I suppose because most cars are always getting hot. Generally speaking, 40-50 degrees of heat of your generator, cooling systems are running at 120 degrees. So, heat isn’t too bad. It was easier, to be honest.
Ed Bernardon: So, hot, cold, and you can’t find a charging station or pull into a gas station right around the corner. What’s the most challenging stretch of the entire crossing of the globe here?
Ben Scott-Geddes: The most difficult bit is interesting. We found that was not rocket science, I guess. But all existing infrastructure and roads are horizontally laid out on the globe and over a certain parallel. There are no roads going that way, so they’re all going that way.
Ed Bernardon: So, east to west but not north to south. I wonder why that is? I never even thought of that.
Ben Scott-Geddes: So, what you do is you find that not only from the end of the land in northern Russia, or the beginning of the land again in Canada, there’s a long way to go before you’re resupplied again. So, there is habitation on land at the top of those two continents. But at the moment, they’re a good 1000 miles away from any other generally land-resupplied scenario – so they fly everything to themselves anyway. So, everything north of — I can’t remember what the parallel is — about 70-something degrees, everything flies; every bit of good is going to be flown there. So, these remote outposts, everything is flown in: food, fuel, water, everything. It’s actually quite a long stint in the north. I think it’s about 4,800 miles that you could potentially be having to be self-sufficient. The actual ice crossing or the North Pole crossing is about 2,500 miles at its worst case, I think. So, you’ve got to add on quite a lot of distance in between that when you’re back on land. You can get fuel and resources but they’re flown to those places. So, the big long stint at the top.
Ed Bernardon: So, 4,000 miles that you have to go and be self-sufficient?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Ideally, yeah.
Ed Bernardon: So, how do you do that?
Ben Scott-Geddes: So, what we did – going back to the car – we’ve got an electric car, we put together what we think is – or we know is – the best combination for weight and size, either smallest package group of components for electric motors drive train and with an onboard generator, a small biodiesel generator, we can then package in the space we’ve got for this sort of four-person truck the biggest fuel or the amount of fuel, we think we need to then do that 4000-5000 mile range, which is the combination of elements we’ve got in the Pioneer today.
Ed Bernardon: One of the interesting things that you mentioned before, that you’d never think about is the size of the wheels you selected. I think it was a 22-inch wheel. The reason you picked that size – and someone wouldn’t even think of this – is that if you have a flat tire, you want to make sure it’s a tire size that’s readily available anywhere in the world.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, where we start with that one is that we’re talking to an Antarctic logistics company who’s interested in a small fleet of these vehicles to drive around Antarctica. And they said, “If you’re coming, we’ll fly the vehicle there and we’ll try it out for you. Don’t come with anything less than a 40-inch tire.” So, the outside diameter of the tire, it’s like 42 inches or something.
Ed Bernardon: And why is that?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Because they’ve tried it a few times and they roll the vehicle off the back of their aircraft, which is flying in the air, and it just sinks into the snow.
Ed Bernardon: Oh, okay. So, a wider tire then won’t press down into the snow.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, wider or larger diameter. So, it’s one thing having a wide tire, but then the bigger the diameter, the better. So, we’ve gone for a 42 or 44-inch diameter tire. And what that happens to be exactly the same as is a truck tire, heavy goods truck tire. And heavy goods truck tires are ubiquitous across the globe, so they’re all running on a 22-and-a-half-inch wheel rim, steel rim. So that’s the tire we picked. So, for the majority of the expedition vehicles or any of the utility vehicles, we know that you can get a truck tire of a certain size anywhere on the planet by the side of any road in India or Africa, any subcontinent, anywhere, they carry these tires. So, we picked this 22-and-a-half-inch truck tire to be cheap, cheerful. And also, what we do like about it is it’s the most sustainable tire you can have. So, from a sustainability point of view, I think 80% of these truck tires are remolded, so they’re reused and retreaded, which means it’s effectively got 20% the carbon footprint for manufacturing it because it’s used five times longer than road car tires, which are generally not retreaded.
Ed Bernardon: Now why is that? Why don’t they retread road car tires?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Primarily, I guess because of the speed and the safety aspects of the tire.
Ed Bernardon: Oh, you don’t want the retread to come flying off?
Ben Scott-Geddes: I guess so, yeah, because they are speed limited at about 65 miles an hour, I think, from a legality point, but that’s fine for us. So, using retreaded truck tires anywhere around the world is from an environmental point of view, the tires are really bad from a CO2 point of view. So, that is one of the main factors we like on the choice.
Ed Bernardon: You keep mentioning sustainability, so that’s a key part of your goal of this thing. And certainly, now anyone that’s in the vehicle business is always keeping sustainability in mind. But one thing about climate change, and making people aware of it, is to actually take them and see it firsthand.
Ben Scott-Geddes: That was an absolute key message. And the classic quote, which was spoken by David Attenborough — I love him.
Ed Bernardon: Everybody loves David Attenborough, especially his voice.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, exactly. So, the worst thing about David Attenborough is there’s no David Attenborough following up David Attenborough. So, when he dies, eventually — which he will; he can’t go on forever; maybe he can, I don’t know — so, anticipating the void after David Attenborough. So, he did a fantastic speech when he introduced his planet, his last TV series, where he said, “To bring all this experience to everybody in your sofa or in your sitting room, the more people you can get to see it all, the better the understanding is.” So, we felt it was another little element to our off-grid ability to get people cost-effectively and environmentally effectively into the position where they can witness these places and witness what’s going on. The more people you can get to see it, the better. The more awareness goes up, the more the understanding of the problems and the challenges go up. And the “Save the Whales” campaign in the ‘70s was after making documentary movies about whaling effectively brought about the end of whaling because more people saw it and understood it, and that’s the key to getting people.
Ed Bernardon: You’ve got this vehicle, really big tires on it, carrying all sorts of supplies and things like that. Immediately one thinks, “Oh, this is a big truck, how could it possibly be sustainable?” At a high level, what are some of the fundamental design elements of the Pioneer that make it such a sustainable vehicle?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, my history has been predominantly through performance; performance vehicles and sports cars and racing and that kind of stuff. Any vehicle that’s going to go anywhere, move, has to be lightweight. So, by configuring the best package of the lightest elements possible, delivering it in a way using the lightest structure we can, with the lightest materials, with an obsession with lightweightness, we’ve achieved a vehicle which is about 1,500 kilos – so about the weight of a small hatchback. And it’s primarily the weight, which means you’ve got less materials, less car to manufacture, so you’re using less materials to manufacture them. And then over its lifetime, it’s using a lot less energy to do its job. So, it’s primarily weight, really.
Ed Bernardon: And it’s an electric drive, but yet it has an internal combustion engine that works with it. So, it’s a hybrid.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, that’s right. So, that’s another reflection from my point of view on the current move towards electrifying all these road vehicles. So, everyone has gone or seems to be going predominantly, pure EV – so, pure battery-powered – particularly off-grid, and for any intra-city demand, where the journeys are longer, batteries are just terrible energy density fuel carriers. So, they’re like 10 times or 20 times as bad as burnable fuel. So, you have to use common sense and actually carry the fuel on board, you’re going to need to burn because pure battery-powered vehicles just get into this terrible downward spiral of weight and mass and inefficiency just purely because they’re getting so heavy.
Ed Bernardon: So, there’s a balance then. You don’t want to have too many batteries because now you’re carrying batteries instead of carrying people or goods. On the other hand, if you go purely internal combustion, now you have a problem from a sustainability standpoint. So, how do you find that balance between the two? Obviously, that’s what you did, and a key to your sustainability.
Ben Scott-Geddes: There’s a balance right in the middle that’s kind of a sweet spot, and it comes from the energy you need to kind of cruise on a highway. So, we’ve got the generator, which can just generate just about 10% or 20% more power than you need to sustain forward momentum on a highway. And then the battery just has to have just about enough capacity as a capacitor to cope with the peaks and troughs around that energy requirements. So, if you size the generator as small as you can, just a little bit more powerful than you need, and the battery is literally just keeping that energy ready for you when you’re trying to go uphill or overtake or climb a rock or do something like that, we can also keep our batteries slightly smaller because we’re not in a race – so, if we need to do an excessive amount of off-road driving, we can stop and generate the batteries ready for that particular demand.
Ed Bernardon: So, if you compare the Pioneer to an all-electric vehicle roughly the same size, what would you say the size of the battery pack is? Is it half, a quarter, a third?
Ben Scott-Geddes: About 18 kilowatt/hour. To name a few names, I noticed the Hummer H, whatever, the all-electric Hummer. And I think even Rivian have even had to say that they’re going for battery packs now to get the range that they now need, that they realize they need in order to upscale them. They’re over 200 and something now, 220 kilowatt/hour, so about 10 times the battery size. So, our battery pack is around about 150 kilos, so about 120 kilos. If you imagine a 220 or 230 kilowatt/hour battery pack, they’re getting off for nearly a ton and a half of purely batteries.
Ed Bernardon: Oh, so 20 times?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, it’s about 10 times at least.
Ed Bernardon: To compensate for that, now you have a small internal combustion engine. So, how does that engine compare to, say, a Hummer’s ice motor? If we had an ice engine in a Hummer, horsepower, torque, how does that compare? It is almost like an engine to drive a generator, it sounds like.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, exactly. So, the engine we’ve got is an 800CC turbo diesel, so it’s burning a biodiesel fuel, running at its peak optimum efficiency. And it weighs about 80 or 90 kilos or more, as a generator unit, it’s not bad. And if you compare it to the H1, so a similar-sized vehicle, once you’ve overcome the masses. If you compare the masses, once you’ve got full momentum on a highway, they need about 15% more power to keep a five-ton H1 vehicle, but you need a hell of a lot more horsepower and torque to accelerate all that mass up to that speed if the vehicle is bigger. So, you’re talking about a six-seven liter V8 turbo diesel in an H1 compared to, it was about 10 times the size of ours, again. So, if you do the sums and balance it out, that’s what you need. It’s really unlocked by what is fantastic about EV vehicles is the drive train and the power density of the motors. The electric motors themselves are fantastically power-dense. You’re talking about a 26 kilogram, 200 horsepower, 450 Newton/meter motor. So, for 25 kilos, this is fantastic. So, you get the power delivery for a great efficiency, but you don’t get in the field. So, we’re sort of winning everywhere on that argument.
Ed Bernardon: So, 1/10th the number, at least in weight the number of batteries, 1/10the the size of the internal combustion engine. But in combination, especially with the fact that the vehicle is lightweight, I guess you’re much more efficient, the sustainability is much much higher. At a high level, that’s really what’s going on. I’m sure there are a lot of details on how to make that happen that we can get into. But at a high level, that seems to be the secret behind the sustainability that the Pioneer delivers.
Ben Scott-Geddes: And I think another element of sustainability that which we think about, worry about a lot, is that there’s just been some new data released fairly recently on the actual environmental cost of battery manufacturing. So they’ve got a study of an IC car and a pure EV car. Exactly the same car, ‘cause you can buy it in two options. And I think the carbon production in the production of the vehicle was about 170% in the pure EV vehicle, and that’s fundamentally down to the batteries. So, what we’re worried about is the world making electronic vehicles or battery-powered vehicles, and there’s going to be a huge spike in the carbon-production when all these enormous batteries are being made. So, we’re trying to keep the battery right down and actually manufacture the battery right down. Because again, less is more on all counts.
Ed Bernardon: And if you think about a pure battery electric vehicle, it’s not immediately beneficial for the environment until it’s been operating for a while because of exactly what you just said; the carbon footprint of actually creating the batteries, and maybe even in the end, recycling them, whatever it might be. But if you can somehow reduce the number of batteries you need without adding too much on the internal combustion side from an emissions standpoint — which if you have a motor that’s 1/10th the size, it’s obviously going to create less emissions — it’s almost like you have your cake and eat it too. You’re getting the best of both worlds.
Ben Scott-Geddes: And in the mission that we’ve got, coming back to the point on what we’re trying to do, again, we’re going to be a very small proportion of all the vehicles in the world, which is right for the different environments as intercity, or inside the cities, is it the last two-kilometer journey of a commute – we’re always going to be a minority in it. And we trust again, so to carry a burning fuel is not that bad, so we’re quite happy where we are. In our later years of the car industry — have been done for 30-odd years, and primarily produced sports cars — we’ve definitely got a very green streak in us now, we’re really conscious of what it is we’re producing more than ever.
Ed Bernardon: Tell us about the team that you’ve assembled to do this. You obviously have explorers. You must have car designers, people that understand electric drive systems. I saw that you even have people that understand human physiology on the team. Tell us about the team and the different types of expertise they have.
Ben Scott-Geddes: So, we’ve go just that. We’ve got a fairly, I guess, traditional car design team, if you like, from primarily in the way of materials engineering for structures, analysis guys for structures. But also it was very important when you’re thinking about the user interface to these vehicles and one of these boxes are going to be on top is what we want to be at Fering is really delivering vehicles that really work for those users that want to use them. So, it was really important for us to get people who understood how people interface with these tools and what they want to get out of them; so we’ve got some really key user groups on board as well, like Mack is a good example, the Antarctic guys are great for telling us what they really need. Then we’ve got the usual demand for electronics and systems control, which has been the biggest challenge ever, really, is finding and building the team to be able to develop those suitable systems. And the car industry is in a huge trough of disaster at the moment. And so when I was in Italy in 2013, the story goes where two things happened as soon as I got to Ferrari. Firstly, California was overtaken by China as their biggest market. And the second thing that happened is that China that year, I think, announced that from 2025, every car that’s for sale — could be sold in China because it’s now the biggest market — has to be able to do at least 40 or 50 kilometers on battery power alone. It means that overnight, it’s kind of spelled the death of the internal combustion engine if you like. So, who’s going to spend money on developing engines now? Because everything’s got to be battery powered. So, everything from 2013 had to then be hybrid, at least. The funny story is where you can imagine, in northern Italy, where these beautifully engineered V12s, and all these super high-performance output engines. Bear in mind, Ferrari is 50% engine guys and 50% car guys.
Ed Bernardon: You didn’t consider a V12 for the Pioneer, it sounds like.
Ben Scott-Geddes: No, not really, no. Not even a very small one. But the point is that there’s a huge change, and it’s meant that building that part of the team has been a massive challenge to find those people to engineer powertrains that don’t involve engines. It’s been a huge challenge that part of the team but anyway, that’s a big problem to face in the automotive industry.
Ed Bernardon: Oh, absolutely. So, you have mechanical engineers, powertrain, electrical, you have software – obviously, there must be a ton of software in all this thing – you’re throwing in explorers and people that understand human physiology. Tell us about maybe one of those moments where maybe Mack or the explorers said, “Oh, it’s gotta do this.” And you as a designer or the designers on the team said, “No way! We’re never gonna be able to do that.” But yet somehow you overcame that. Is there anything that sticks out in your mind, looking back as you were trying to come up with a concept for the vehicle?
Ben Scott-Geddes: The thing that springs to mind, although it’s kind of an add-on for the base-level of the vehicle, was navigation. One of the funny stories from Mack or from the team actually, is that when navigating these extreme terrains, having sight of what’s coming up was really important. The Russian guys, when they’re navigating boulder fields, they have a ladder and a guy with binoculars. They stick the ladder up out the back of the vehicle, they climb up the vehicle, and then look as far forward as they can to navigate through the boulder field.
Ed Bernardon: I’ve got to stop you, a boulder field? Where do I find the nearest boulder field? I love that term. It’s like a place with a lot of rocks. It sounds like I’m exploring Mars or something. I’ve got to watch out for those rocks, only take a small step at a time or who knows what might happen.
Ben Scott-Geddes: So, there’s a portion of the crossings, usually where the ice field, apparently, is constantly shifting. And as the ice hits land, it breaks up into these big mini icebergs and chunks, and you’ve got to navigate your way through this field. And it’s changing and moving, and you can go all the way through it and then stop and so on. Anyway, so we came up with this solution where — you guys at Siemens would love this. So, we have 3D scanning software and laser scanners fitted to a drone or something, so we came up with this solution where instead of having a ladder and binoculars and relying on the guy literally standing up on the back of this ladder – it’s a really funny picture on the internet, actually, the Russians are doing it – that we could scan and digitally map this ideal route through this boulder field, and it’s not an uncommon technology. So, this was one of the questions.
Ed Bernardon: So, the drone goes out ahead of the Pioneer and it says, “Hey, turn right.”
Ben Scott-Geddes: Laser scans the terrain, and then using some sort of software that we’ve got to work out yet, some sort of AI, works out the best route given your vehicle’s capability of getting you through this field in the most efficient way. And it’s usable for all sorts of terrains. So if you got to get up a valley, go across a steep incline, across these harsh terrain roads or mud fields or some of that. So, instead of standing on a ladder, which is quite funny when you see it.
Ed Bernardon: It sounds like the Perseverance Rover on Mars, it has that little helicopter, it goes up and it looks out there for rocks.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, you’ve go to do effectively the same thing. You go somewhere where you don’t know where you’re going.
Ed Bernardon: Maybe that could be the next model of the Pioneer. You make it so it can drive on Mars, you’re almost halfway there it seems like. Well, let’s talk a little bit about you in particular. You have a career in motorsports, and now you’re making these global expedition trucks. How did it all get started? What inspired you when you were young? I’m sure you weren’t thinking when you were six years old, “I’m gonna make a truck to go around the world.” How’d you get into motorsports? And what was young Ben thinking about when trying to figure out his career?
Ben Scott-Geddes: I’ve always been into materials in the engineering sense of materials, and always been into design and answers and solutions and innovation, I guess. So, I joined McLaren at 1990-something with Gordon Murray doing the F1 road car from a composites point of view, which is where, back in the day, we first met. We were asking stuff of composites, to try and get composites into some order of manufacturer even though albeit on a very, very low level. But we were always trying to invent stuff, not just from the car point of view, but from materials and application point of view. So, I’ve always been into that. And I’m always quite competitive, I suppose. So, the elements when we started going racing in ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, and so on. They were great fun. We really loved being the lightest, the best ever.
Ed Bernardon: And who was that with? Were you personally racing or you were on a team that was racing?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, that was at McLaren. So, when we started off doing road car stuff, we did a little bit of Formula One. There was only 30-40 design guys in Formula One in McLaren International and McLaren cars, which is what it was, sharing the same building. So, when we did the road car, we took over the old Ferrari GTO building at Shalford and did it there because it had a big autoclave. And so we went racing in ‘95 to Le Mans, and we loved endurance racing. So, I loved endurance racing as well, so we all like to go there.
Ed Bernardon: So, these cars that race like the 24 Hours at La Mans.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah. So, we did do a whole season of global endurance racing. And again, weight was paramount. So, super lightweight was super successful. It gave you loads of challenges, so the rules were a little bit more interpretable if that makes sense.
Ed Bernardon: Does that mean it was easier to cheat? Is that another way of saying that?
Ben Scott-Geddes: It was easier to interpret the rules in an advantageous way because the rules were less locked down than Formula One. Formula One is effectively, in reality, pretty boring because the rules are so locked down. So, we were able to do all kinds of things. This kind of endurance thing started back then, it’s quite an interesting way of comparing the engineering challenges to achieve the fastest 24 hours you could with a minimum amount of fuel, minimum amount of stops, all that kind of stuff. And at the same time, the drivers are really important because these guys, particularly, what we were racing in sort of a 50-50 gentleman racing series, so, we couldn’t take the piss out of our athletes because they weren’t that athletic if you like, so we had to be very careful. So, we did a lot of driver ergonomics programs as well. I did this airblown cool suit, this race suit, don’t you remember those? Anyway, that’s quite funny.
Ed Bernardon: So, you have designed this cooling suit to make your gentlemen drivers more comfortable in these 24-hour races.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, but having tried everything. So, McLaren was fantastic. So, the great thing about McLaren was there was no budget restrictions effectively. We wanted to be the best and that was the mental drive was just be the best. So, we tried all sorts of different thermoelectric cooling systems, we had these Peltier cells on the car, cooling fluids that were then pumped around suits to keep drivers cool. But the cheapest, lightest, and most successful route was just to use the body’s natural cooling system, which was sweating hot fluid, and evaporate it off the driver’s body. So, from the roof scoop, you have this little air tube that blew into the helmet and into the race suit. And there was a French company then started selling it. And then we had one race with, I think, Nelson Piquet was driving the car and he drove through a swarm of bees – that’s quite funny – so, one of these bees went down into his suits, and that’s when we had to put different grills on the front, that kind of thing. But yeah, so lots of driver ergonomics and driver physiology as well. Did that with the Navy, that one.
Ed Bernardon: You also were responsible for a design of a vehicle that broke Top Gear’s record on their track. That’s something that’s always watched. I guess a while ago, it was back in 2006, I believe, the T1.
Ben Scott-Geddes: So the story goes, we were just finishing off doing, after that experience at McLaren with Gordon — me, Gordon, Graham, and Dan; there was only four of us — we were stuck in a room or stuck in a building and called the Advanced Concepts Department. So, we’d finished the SLR, and they said, “Well, let’s map out what cars McLaren are going to make for the next two decades.” So we came up with this Project Eight, it was called, which is the mid-engine car they’re doing now. So, it’s carbon monocoque and chose engines and all that kind of stuff. So, it was never supposed to be a big production car. But it was what we thought we’d make was the fastest car you could ever possibly make to experience raw speed albeit on a track. So, it was exactly that. It was 1,000 horsepower per ton. So, it was about 560 kilos totally, and the engine was about 580 horsepower. So, it was the first car ever, I think, it was 1,000 watts per ton. And it was really fast.
Ed Bernardon: Did you get to drive it?
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, I did. I was forced to drive it in a race in Donington in the UK. And it was horrific. It was just horrifically fast. Very few people, luckily, for them, have had to drive an aerodynamic car for starters. So, to make a car go fast that’s relying on its aerodynamics, you have to be going fast enough.
Ed Bernardon: Swift through the air easily.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Well, no, you’ve got to produce the downforce. To produce downforce, you’ve got to go faster. So, you have to tell these guys, “If you want the car to go around the corner, you’ve got to put your foot down.”
Ed Bernardon: And not be afraid, it’s going to hold because of the all downforce.
Ben Scott-Geddes: Yeah, it’ll stick if you go fast enough, and it was, “Oh God.” So, you have to do that, you have to be much braver than your mind is telling you to be.
Ed Bernardon: You don’t do that in one step. So, how many turns did it take before you were able to take full advantage of the downforce it had?
Ben Scott-Geddes: I didn’t. I couldn’t, I wasn’t brave enough. I effectively got to a certain speed where it was far faster than all the other cars I was lapping, but it was not in the zone. So, you have to go fast enough to generate the heat in the tires, and then you can really go fast.
Ed Bernardon: That’s part 1 of our talk with Ben. Join us again in two week when we’ll learn how Ben shift gears from sports cars to building trucks that circumnavigate the world. And as always, for more information about Siemens Digital Industries Software, make sure to visit us at plm.automation.siemens.com. And until next time, I’m Ed Bernardon, and this has been the Future Car Podcast.
Ben Scott-Geddes – Guest, Founder Fering Technologies
Ben is the founder of Fering Technologies. He has devoted his career to whole-vehicle design, predominantly in motorsports and supercar design and is the brains behind the Fering Pioneer. He previously worked for Ferrari and McLaren, and was involved in the development of the Caparo T1 project. He has a Bachelor of Science from City, University of London.
Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Intiatives – Host
Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership including hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011. Ed holds an M.S.M.E. from MIT, B.S.M.E. from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.
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The Future Car Podcast
The tech-driven disruption of the auto industry cuts across domains, from silicon and software to sensors and AI to smart traffic management and mobility services. Get the chip- to city-scale story in regular interviews with technologists at Siemens and beyond.