What is an Electric Vehicle ‘Skateboard Chassis?’
The EV revolution is creating dozens of all-new automotive terms to learn. Some simple measurements like kWh and MPGe are easy enough to look up. But some of the new slang phrases can be confusing. Have you heard the term “skateboard chassis” tossed around? It is a reference to how most EV’s axle-height electric motors and low-slung battery pack look a bit like a skateboard before the vehicle’s body is installed.
What is a skateboard chassis?
A skateboard chassis–or automotive platform–is a name for the frame and mechanical components underpinning some EVs. It includes a wide, flat lithium-ion battery pack, the electric motors, and other critical units such as the high voltage bus and motor control units.
As various automakers engineered early electric vehicle prototypes, most found they could keep weight low and maximize cabin space by forming the battery cells into a single layer at the bottom of the vehicle. When they installed these batteries, the motors, and the axles on a single frame the resulting chassis looked a bit like a skateboard–and new automotive jargon was born.
Several automakers have assembled a rolling skateboard chassis to show off the drivetrain components of a newly-designed EV. These skateboard chassis must also include all the final vehicle’s suspension components as well as have wheels and tires attached to its axles.
Can you drive an EV skateboard chassis without a body?
Many skateboard chassis include all of the drivetrain components necessary for driving, steering, and stopping an EV. Some engineers have been able to add a control system to test drive a skateboard chassis without a body.
The Lordstown electric truck startup made headlines when it installed a roll-cage and racing seat on the skateboard chassis of its Endurance pickup prototype. There are many videos and pictures of Lordstown engineers blasting around in this huge, makeshift go-cart.
See the Lordstown driving skateboard chassis for yourself in the video below:
Can you buy an EV skateboard chassis without a body?
Several startups have advertised a skateboard chassis you could conceivably buy and outfit with any body you want. But as tantalyzing as this concept is to EV hotrodders, engineering challenges have prevented any company from going into business selling EV skateboard chassis on a large scale.
Auto News reports that the seductively simple skateboard chassis idea may not stand up to the engineering challenges of the real world. Startups such as Rivian, Bollinger, and Canoo have sought buyers for a future skateboard platform. Even established companies such as Volkswagen and General Motors have explored interest in their selling a skateboard chassis.
For a time, it looked as if Lincoln would buy Rivian chassis and Hyundai was in talks with Canoo. But both of these deals fell through, and they might be because of engineering issues.
Firstly, the body of a passenger vehicle requires lots of expensive engineering. Therefore, the cost of designing and building a body to drop onto a skateboard chassis is nearly as high as designing an entire vehicle.
EV engineer David Twohig revealed, “If you’re carrying human beings in a vehicle, those whole-vehicle attributes are still of primary importance.”
A second EV engineering hurdle is maximizing battery size, often by shaping a battery pack to fit into all available space. Buying an exisitng battery and shaping a body around it can leave you with valuable, unused space and reduce your range.
Is the standalone skateboard chassis market dead? Possibly. But there may be a strong market for skateboard chassis in the freight and industrial spaces. We’ll just have to wait and find out. In the meantime, learn about the impending lithium shortage or see Tesla’s skateboard chassis in the Cnet video below: