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The development of the Russian electric car Atom is proceeding rapidly: the first images of the car appeared in the fall of 2022, and a year later the startup built 13 prototypes for testing, which in total have already covered over 50 thousand kilometers in various road and climatic conditions. And now the company has provided the first functional copy for a short acquaintance – this is not a finished car, but a so-called “mule” with a non-serial body, under which the technical stuffing, including the suspension, is being tested. We drove it for a couple of laps on a closed track.

Testing the technical components of new cars on mules is a common practice in the industry. The first prototypes of bodies will appear only by the end of this year, so for now we have to use functional prototypes: a body similar in size to a production car, which had to be further redesigned, was installed on the finished platform. There are no amenities in the cabin other than a steering wheel, seats and seat belts, but at this stage this is not necessary, because the main thing is what is under the body.

Test prototype of the Atom: apparently, it uses a modified body of the Geely Geometry E electric car.
Motor.ru Platform and test prototype of Atom
Motor.ru

For Atom, everything is developed from scratch: engines, batteries, control electronics, software and, of course, its own scalable platform. 180 people worked on the creation of the latter, which took a year and a half. Atom was helped by the Chinese company IAT Automobile Technology, which is a technology partner of FAW-Volkswagen, Haima, Chery, Dongfeng Nissan and Beijing Hyundai.

Many parts of the supporting part are made of high-strength steel and ultra-high-strength hot-formed steel, which made it possible to eliminate the central pillars. This, as well as swing doors with retractable handles, are one of the “features” of the project.

Simultaneously with the design of the platform, the development of electrical and high-voltage systems was carried out. The latter is the responsibility of a Russian-Chinese team of engineers led by Larry Wang (he worked with Ford and Byton), which is stationed in Atom’s own high-voltage laboratory in the Chinese city of Nanjing.

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The high-voltage system includes the electric motor, control electronics, inverter, wiring, charging ports, recovery system and battery with temperature control system. The latter’s task is to maintain battery efficiency at any ambient temperature. For example, in severe frost, the built-in heater increases the temperature of the cells before charging, and in the summer the cooling system is activated. Atom claims that the battery will withstand at least 1000 charge-discharge cycles, and maybe even more.

The battery itself is being developed by Renera (a division of Rosatom), and its production will be located at a new plant in Kaliningrad. The lithium-ion battery is housed in a fireproof housing that can withstand immersion in water to a depth of up to a meter, is protected from damage (for example, in a side impact) by special beams made of aluminum alloy and is integrated into the load-bearing structure of the body. This further increases the rigidity of the structure and increases the safety of passengers in the event of an accident. Atom expects that according to the Chinese C-NCAP crash test method, the car will earn four stars out of a possible five.

The battery capacity will be 77 kilowatt-hours: as they say at Atom, this will be enough to travel 500 kilometers without recharging (according to the WLTC cycle). The GB/T connectors, which are not yet very common in Russia – from 50 (AC) to 900 kW (DC), are responsible for “refueling” an electric vehicle, but the development of networks with such ports is prescribed in government strategies for increasing the number of charging stations.

Atom

The company says it will take about half an hour to charge the battery to 80 percent, and replenishing the energy needed to travel 100 kilometers will take about eight minutes. However, for this you will have to find fast charging with a constant current of up to 250 A.

The batteries power a 204-horsepower (294 Nm) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor developed by Rosatom. Torque is transmitted to the wheels through a gearbox installed in a block with a differential. The stated acceleration time to “hundreds” is about eight seconds.

The Atom will be exclusively rear-wheel drive. No other options are expected, and the company even released a separate explanatory video to explain its choice:

There is nothing unusual in the chassis design (MacPherson struts at the front and multi-link at the rear), but there is still one interesting solution. We are talking about steering-by-wire: in this case, the steering wheel is not mechanically connected to the wheels. As the company previously said, there will be no redundant auxiliary mechanical systems, which, for example, in Infiniti are used in the event of an electronics failure, will not be available in Atom.

And the electric car will be packed to the brim with various electronics. It will have a head-up display with augmented reality, auto parking, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, traffic jam monitoring, traffic sign recognition, collision avoidance and so on. There will even be its own application store for third-party developers, which can be downloaded into a multimedia system with its own operating system. Kaspersky Lab is responsible for car hacking protection and prepares related software.

The main “control panel” of the Atom is on the steering wheel. This screen will serve as both the instrument panel and the multimedia system display. However, the main “supplier” of the most important information will be the head-up display.
Atom This is what one of the first prototypes of the Atom’s interior looked like. The production version has not yet been shown, but it will likely look much like what is shown in the photo.
Atom One of the design features of the Atom is the absence of a central pillar and hinged doors. This configuration will remain on the production machine.
Atom Many configurations are being prepared for the interior of the Atom: for example, versions for delivery services or taxis, where there will be no front passenger seat.
Atom

But it is not yet possible to test all this. Even the steering-by-wire system is not yet ready – functional prototypes have a conventional rack and pinion. They don’t even have ABS or stabilization systems yet: they will appear, naturally, but the “mules” are currently being tested without them. You can’t even talk about the convenience of the interior – it’s simply not there. But all electrical components and hardware are working.

We can’t go on regular roads in such cars, so all we can count on is a couple of short laps on a closed karting track.

Atom Atom

Power – for the eyes. Even with the gas pedal pressed a quarter of the way, the car takes off abruptly: it is clear that later interior trim and other components will be added, the car will become heavier and this impression will be smoothed out, but it is unlikely to be much. The response to the accelerator is instant and sharp, all the traction goes to the rear wheels without delay – the main advantages of electric vehicles in all their glory. There are also no problems with reactions to pressing the brake pedal, everything is quite linear.

The car responds to steering inputs quickly and clearly: without electronics, the Atom prototype can easily drift, but it doesn’t go into deep corners – the car is perfectly controlled, immediately stabilizes and generally behaves very collectedly. In short, a light, agile little creature. Perhaps, when quickly transferring from one turn to another, the body roll is too high, but we will attribute this to the features of the test prototype, the suspension settings of which have not yet been finalized. But first impressions are not bad.

Atom

Testing of the prototypes will last until the end of this year, and it will be possible to ride the production one only in 2025. The start of production of Atoms on the assembly line of the Moskvich plant is planned for the same year. But the company does not want to limit itself to this – an additional assembly site is being prepared in Naberezhnye Chelny.

In August last year, pre-orders for Atoms were opened, and in two months Russians filled out 36 thousand applications for the car. After this, accepting orders was stopped.

Prices for the Atom are still unknown, but initially they wanted to make it “massive”. According to the general director of the company, Igor Povarazdnyuk, the preliminary cost of the car is from 2.5 to 3.5 million rubles, that is, slightly more expensive than the current Haval Dargo and Geely Coolray – regular gasoline ones. But, most likely, in almost a year the price list for an electric car will change. I would like to believe that it will be to a lesser extent, but it is hardly possible to accurately predict what the market will be like even in the near future.

Atom Atom Atom

Nevertheless, it is interesting to follow the project. The company meets the development deadlines it previously set, does not hide any of the stages of preparing the model for the series, and so far everything looks like one of the most ambitious and technologically advanced cars of Russian design will actually reach the assembly line. /m

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