British automotive engineering consultancy, Lotus Engineering, has been selected by Obvio Automotoveiculos of Rio de Janeiro, to develop two 'trybrid' high-performance microsports cars for markets across the globe, in a deal potentially worth over GBP70m.

The lightweight urban microsports cars, designated 828 and 012, are the first products for the new Brazilian OEM.

The full engineering programme will include the development of an advanced vehicle safety structure based on aerospace technology, the integration of 'trybrid' engines that will run on petrol, bio-ethanol or natural gas, and other powertrain variants.

The cars will be exported to the US, European and Japanese markets.

Lotus Engineering will work with a range of Brazilian 'supplier partners' to develop two variants of the new chassis concept which will be engineered incorporating Niess elliptical survival rings, already well-proven in the aerospace industry. Providing exceptional chassis performance as well as class-leading safety, the concept also allows for very light structures - target weight for the 012 is 750kgs (1,648 lbs) and for the 828 is 600kgs (1,318 lbs). This will enable the vehicles to feature exceptionally good performance characteristics while also running with highly efficient and economical power plants.

The cars are configured with the driver and two passengers sitting three-abreast and also feature scissor-opening doors to aid access and parking in tight spaces.

Initially, power will come from a 1.6-litre unit produced by Brazilian engine manufacturer Tritec Motors (which supplies same-size engines to first-generation BMW Mini models). Lotus Engineering will develop a new engine management unit, which will give the engine the 'trybrid' capabilities. In parallel, Lotus will develop 170hp and 250hp turbocharged variants for higher performance models. Electrically-powered variants of both cars are expected to follow shortly after the trybrids.

Obvio has already signed a $US700m pre-paid contract to supply 50,000 units a year to its exclusive North American distributor, California-based ZAP - Zero Air Pollution (also involved in adapting current model Smart models for US sale).

Distributors for other major world markets will be appointed over the next 18 months. The Brazilian firm has committed to exceeding all worldwide safety regulations for passenger cars.

A core Obvio-Lotus engineering management team will be based in a dedicated project centre at Lotus' Hethel headquarters. It will manage the engineering programme for the two vehicles, which will be delivered by facilities worldwide and for the first time by a group of high-profile Brazilian-based tier one suppliers who will be heavily involved from the very earliest stages. The two vehicles will be built in Brazil, with production expected to start late in 2008.