Automotive

A Startup Just Revealed A Fabric-Bodied Off-Roader And I Have So Many Questions


Image for article titled A Startup Just Revealed A Fabric-Bodied Off-Roader And I Have So Many Questions

Image: Fering

How do we feel about cars with fabric bodies? I ask because, to me, it’s kind of an unsettling proposition. Many fabrics turn pretty gross when exposed to the elements, and cars are exposed to nothing if not the elements. Fabric must be stretched taut to suggest any sort of shape, and the moment there’s any slack in there, it gets all baggy and ill-fitting. Cars move and twist and rattle, so you’d think that material isn’t going to hold its form forever.

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Most of these are cosmetic concerns, though. There have got to be practical reasons for a fabric-clad car or off-roader. Or else why would one of the guys who helped bring the McLaren F1 and Ferrari SF90 Stradale to life have chosen it for his new truck, the Fering Pioneer?

The Pioneer is the brainchild of Englishman Ben Scott-Geddes, who worked on those legendary hypercars and has now taken on an entirely different sort of project. It’s powered by electric motors turning both axles, drawing power from a 20 kWh battery, supplemented by a range extender. At the moment, that range extender is an 800cc, three-cylinder diesel engine like those used in Smart city cars, according to Autocar. The battery pack and even the range extender are modular and can be swapped out depending on the operator’s needs.


Image for article titled A Startup Just Revealed A Fabric-Bodied Off-Roader And I Have So Many Questions

Image: Fering

The powertrain is curious in its own right, but again, I have to go back to this truck’s skin. The fabric is compared to ever-durable, water-resistant Gore-Tex; Fering’s press release calls it “similar to the canvas found in high-end hiking boots.” Autocar’s article notes that the use of fabric means there are no panels to repair. I’d argue that there will be panels to repair, you’d just repair them differently or perhaps more frequently replace them outright.

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They may not get dinged or scraped up, but you have to imagine they’d rip at some point. And when they do, you’ll have to see about patching the tear yourself, or send the affected “panel” to an Authorized Gore-Tex Repair Center or the like. (Did you know there were Authorized Gore-Tex Repair Centers? Me neither!). You could also carry some spare body “skins” in the glovebox, which could be pretty clutch if you think about it.

Who knows, maybe the fabric somehow does remain taut, perhaps in part because it covers only unstressed parts of the body and doesn’t experience cyclical stretching? And maybe the replacement fabric is cheap? Obviously some engineering has gone into all this, and I’d love to know more, so I’ve reached out to Fering to pick their brain about the whole thing. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

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Here’s how it looks underneath the “body.”

Here’s how it looks underneath the “body.”
Image: Fering

Cleaning the fabric, I’d reckon, would be more of an issue. Maybe it’s machine washable, but nothing’s as effortless to hose down as sheet metal. And even if the fabric did spare some cosmetic damage you’d rather not see, would those nicks and dents look worse than wrinkles on fabric? Does it even matter? Those of you who subject your trucks to harsh punishment on a regular basis: does every battle scar stick in your craw or do you just accept it for coming with the territory?

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Look, I don’t off-road. There may very well be something I’m missing here. It must be said too that the Pioneer is going to be a very exclusive machine; Fering estimates delivering between 150 and 200 vehicles a year, at “£150,000-plus for a standard vehicle, or considerably more for a specially equipped or adapted model.” Perhaps there’s a very discerning, deep-pocketed buyer (or, frankly, team of remote first responders) out there who’s been waiting for a vehicle like this.

In fact, Scott-Geddes said to Autocar that “customers will tell [Fering] what they want. It’s that kind of vehicle.” With that, I pose the question to you: is a truck with a fabric body something you’d want?

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