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Books

January 5th, 2012 Comments off

It’s that time of year – when we all get to enjoy the bounty which was bestowed upon us by family and friends for the holidays…  By that, I mean presents. And in my case, those presents are quite often automotive-related.

This year, I received a copy of Bob Lutz’s book Car Guys vs Bean Counters – The Battle for the Soul of American Business.  It’s a pretty interesting inside-look at Bob’s final tenure at General Motors, beginning in 2001, up through and including the bankruptcy and restructuring of GM.  Once the reader gets past Lutz waxing moronically about the left-wing-socialist-media propagating the great hoax of global warming, and ignorant government bureaucrats promulgating regulations which favored foreign manufacturers (which, in his mind, played a role in the events that led to GM’s demise), there are interesting tidbits about the inept product-development practices within GM that led to mediocre cars that didn’t appeal to consumers.  Lutz’s focus is product design – creating vehicles that people want to buy – and he disparages what he calls the overly academic, data-driven analysis approach that the glut of MBAs that infested the ranks within GM espoused.  His bottom line is that you must create a great product in order to succeed.  Developing streamlined, efficient business processes to produce perfectly pedestrian vehicles will lead to failure.  Cars should be created by car guys. With this, I agree.  (Lutz’s book also gives an interesting GM-centric perspective on the government bailout of the company, which is a nice counterpoint to [while being consistent with] the version contained in Steven Rattner’s book Overhaul.  Which I was given last Christmas…)

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Coincidentally, I also received another book this year:  Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything, by Stephen Bayley.  This mini-coffee-table book views automobiles as art, and the vast majority of its pages contain black-and-white photos of Bayley’s list of the most beautiful 86 cars ever produced.  The first 30 pages, however, contain text that set the stage for the reader, and describe how the automobile was at one time designed to appeal to the senses.  These moving masterpieces were metaphors for personal achievement, and captured the essence of what people aspired to be.  They moved people, rather than just moving them around.

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…Which I think is sort of what Lutz was trying to get GM back to.  It’s sort of ironic that the beginning of Bayley’s book effectively summarizes the point that Lutz is trying to make:  “…It was art that really made the car America’s primary product.  And later Europe’s, then Japan’s.  The management consultancy pioneer, Alfred McKinsey, believed everything can be measured and if you can measure it, you can manage it.  But art is as notoriously resistant to both measurement and management as it is powerful in its effect.  From the moment car manufacturers discovered art in the 1920s, there have been attempts to manage it, to systematize it, but none has been successful.  Even in an industry as hierarchical and stratified as automobile manufacturing, the great cars have been products of creative genius – aberrant, cussed, irreverent – not of scientific management.”

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As a final note, I also received a copy of Peter De Lorenzo’s book Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It.  I’ve only just begun reading it.  While De Lorenzo, too, makes the point that, in the car business, product is king, the lesson that I’m really taking from this book is:  Bloggers shouldn’t publish their work in hard-cover.

 

Observations From an Auto Show

January 28th, 2011 Comments off

The Washington, DC Auto Show kicked off today.  And although it’s not the premiere event on most automakers’ calendars, it is an important occasion, given the vast intersection between the auto industry and policy makers.  It’s also the auto show that’s easiest for me to attend, given that it takes place in the city in which I work…

So, as I wandered through the automakers’ displays, taking note of the new models on the floor (…and I’m talking about the cars, not the barbie-esque spokespersons demonstrating how to recline the seats…), I made a few observations.  And here they are.

Fiat 500 Sport

Fiat is here. Yes, I’ve been excited about the arrival of the Cinquecento for some time.  And Chrysler … err, Fiat had quite a few on display in various colors and trim levels.  This is a nice car. ..It’s a small car.  (Grown people may not be able to fit in the back seat.)  But I think it will sell at least as well as the Mini Cooper (its only real competition) has done.  Molto bene!

Chrysler may be back from the brink, but its future isn’t certain. One of two automakers that the government saved from complete collapse (the other being GM), Chrysler finally has an updated line-up reaching the market.  It is much improved (the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is awesome, and the new Durango and Charger are impressive as well); but I get the feeling their first step post-rescue, while big, is still a little shaky.  I’m skeptical that any of these vehicles (other than the Cherokee) will sell in large numbers.  And it’s telling that their Fiat 500 display was the most crowded spot in the entire Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Fiat area while I was there.

Buick is relevant. GM started turning Buick around not long before the General found itself at the edge of the cliff.  Through their restructuring, the Buick brand was saved, and now has an expanded (and impressive) model line-up.  The Enclave is arguably the best looking vehicle in its class, the Regal GS is bad-ass (yes, I said a Buick is bad-ass), and the upcoming Verano is a small car for grown-ups.  Now, if only they could come up with better model names…

Acura isn’t. Honda’s premium brand, for some reason, has decided to make cars that nobody wants to buy.

Ford C-Max

Ford is on a tear. From where I stood, Ford had the biggest presence at the Washington Auto Show, and had the vehicles to back it up.  They’re making great cars lately – the new Taurus, Focus, Fiesta, and Explorer (not to mention the EcoBoost powertrains, as well as hybrids and pure electrics) are at the top of their class.  The new C-Max is impressive as well.  Ford was the only Detroit automaker that didn’t require government assistance – and now they’re flaunting it.

The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG isn’t nearly as attractive in person as it is in the pictures. Sad, but true.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Right now, I’d rather be Hyundai than Toyota or Honda.  It used to be that the Korean imports could only hope to match the quality, performance, styling, and reliability of the two biggest Japanese brands.  Now Toyota and Honda would do well to aim for Hyundai.  Hyundai claims that the Sonata hybrid is designed to be the first hybrid you want to buy.  They may be right.

Mini is a brand. Sure, the modern Cooper has been around for a few years now, but it’s basically been thought of a sub-brand of BMW.  Now with the (ugly) Clubman and the (still ugly but I want one anyway) Countryman, they’ve got a whole line-up. And they don’t have any competition.  (Well, scratch that, due to my first observation above!)

Nissan may be a one-trick pony. With all the (well-deserved) hype about the Leaf, people may have forgotten that Nissan makes other vehicles, too.  Apparently, so has Nissan.  They still make some good cars, but their design language – which had gotten just a little avant-garde in a desirable sort of way – has taken a wrong turn.

2011 Audi RS5

Audi makes the best interiors.  And exteriors. VW’s premium brand gained a reputation for making the inside of their vehicles one of the most eye-pleasing environments into which a person could deposit him (or her) self.  That’s still true.  And the exteriors have followed suit.  Add to that cutting edge technologies such as Quattro, TDI, TFSI, and the aluminum space frame, and it’s no wonder Audi saw sales increase last year more than rivals BMW or Mercedes.

And finally, people need to be informed by folks who understand. The official auto show guide, in describing the 10 most efficient vehicles (as rated by the EPA), said that if a (all-electric) Nissan Leaf had a 14-gallon gas tank, it could travel over 1300 miles… What?  How does that work?  What good is a gas tank on an electric vehicle?… (OK, it works by calculating the energy content of gasoline – approximately 33.7 kWh per gallon – and falsely assuming that, because the EPA fuel economy label says that the Leaf uses about 34 kWh to travel 100 miles, it could travel over 1300 miles on the energy content of 14 gallons of gasoline.  The EPA fuel economy label also says the Leaf gets 99 MPG.  Which is a nonsensical metric for an electric vehicle.)

Sexism

January 19th, 2011 Comments off

This morning, while standing at the bus-stop waiting for the public transit system to take me to work, a woman walked up to the newspaper vending machine next to me to purchase her copy of the Post.  As she turned to walk away (after retrieving her print edition of what everybody else read online yesterday), she asked me, “Sir, would you like the Sports section?”

Now, I’m sure this unexpected gesture was born out of genuine kindness, pure and simple.  But, should I have been offended? I mean, if our roles had been reversed, and had I offered her the Style & Beauty section, would she have been right to feel insulted?

Bottom-line:  there are many things in this world which are, rightly or wrongly, associated with either men or women.  This includes cars.

There are vehicles that are traditionally for guys. Four-wheel-drive trucks.  Jeeps.  Muscle cars.  Anything with a loud exhaust.  And then there are “chick cars”. The VW New Beetle.  The Mazda Miata (until guys figured out it was fun as hell to drive around a race track).  And minivans.  (OK, minivans may be more stay-at-home-mom-schlepping-the-kids-all-around-town car than chick car.  But still.)

Of course, the lines are now blurring – at least when it comes to minivans.  And auto companies (or at least their marketing firms) realize it.  Take for example the “Rock Van” ads about the latest Honda Odyssey, or the “Swagger Wagon” spots about the Toyota Sienna.  (Meanwhile, OEMs like Chevrolet – who doesn’t have a minivan offering – position vehicles like the Traverse as the less demeaning alternative to the minivan.)

I wonder which gender-bin electric-drive vehicles will fall into, now that they’re becoming more and more available. I’ve been told that the Prius is a chick car.  I suspect that the Leaf may fall into that category as well, though the Volt has a more masculine presence.

The Tesla Model S?  I’ll take mine along with the Sports section, thank you very much.

Fake Hondas

August 23rd, 2010 Comments off

When Hyundai entered the North American auto market in the mid-late’80’s, my initial impression was, “Who are they fooling?!  Nobody’s going to mistake that piece of crap for a Honda!”  I assumed, given the similarities in their name – and their cars’ badging – that they were attempting to capture the segment of the car market made up of consumers who thought they were buying a Honda weren’t capable of thought.  Consumers quickly realized that Hyundais weren’t Hondas, however.  Honda had gained a reputation for well-built, reliable vehicles, while Hyundais were quickly discovered to be poorly built, unreliable, and basically not worth the low price in their window stickers.

That was twenty years ago. So, what’s changed since then?  Well, Hyundais have.  After a few faulty starts, they’ve successfully moved into the luxury market with the Genesis.  They’ve also legitimately moved into the performance market with the Genesis Coupe.  And now, they’ve created the 2011 Sonata – a high-feature car for the masses that’s actually quite attractive.  They hired IAV Automotive Engineering (whose clients also include Bentley) to help them trim weight from the Sonata.  Since the car is only available with a 4-cylinder, the engine cradle structure didn’t have to be designed to accommodate any optional V6 – allowing a reduction in mass that translates in weight reductions elsewhere (such as the braking system) without a performance compromise.  (I love whole-systems thinking!)  All of this results in a car that has a little more power than a similarly featured Honda Accord (its most direct competitor), gets slightly better highway fuel efficiency (35 vs. 34 mpg), weighs approximately 100 pounds less, and is arguably more attractive.  The fact that the Sonata combines the impressive 200 horsepower 2.4 liter 4-cylinder (with continuously variable valve timing) with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and an SE trim-level that actually comes with performance goodies like stiffer springs, better shocks, and larger anti-roll bars, makes the $2k discount relative to the Accord all the more impressive.

A 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warrantyInitial Quality Ratings at the top of their class? What’s not to like? …Well, there’s that whole “no available V6” point where Honda has the advantage.  Then again, the 274 horsepower 2.0 turbo due out later in the model year should fix that.  And still reach 34 mpg.  …A fake Honda indeed!

2011 Hyundai Sonata

Peeks, Leafs, and Curves

April 25th, 2010 Comments off

Just over a week ago, I opened my mouth about V-Vehicle Company, and the fact that they appeared to be dead in the water.  Apparently, the folks at VVC read my post, and thus decided to give a few journalists a sneak PEEK of their affordable, efficient, composite-bodied compact.  According to Autobloggreen, it looks like a cross between a VW Golf and a Dodge Neon. …Who knew ThatCarBlog had such an effect on the automotive start-ups?

2011 Nissan Leaf

In other news, this week Nissan revealed that 6,635 people in the U.S. have paid $99 to reserve a Leaf … in only 3 days.  This is notable for several reasons.  First, lack of customer demand was one of the reasons GM cited in the early ’90s for the limited availability (and eventual cancellation) of the EV1 program.  (Of course, when customers … demanded … the EV1, GM’s stance was, “Oh, they’re not really serious.”)  Demand for the Leaf, which won’t be available until the end of the year, is already stronger than expected – a very good sign for Nissan (and EVs in general).  Secondly, compared to the expectations and media chatter surrounding Chevrolet’s Volt, hype surrounding the Leaf has been relatively limited.  This deserves mention, considering the Leaf will arrive at around the same time as the Volt, and it’s an all-electric vehicle (compared to the Volt’s plug-in-hybrid … er, extended-range-electric propulsion architecture).  Many folks still consider pure EVs to not quite be ready for mass-market consumption.  …And finally, the 100-mile range Leaf will cost $25,280 after tax incentives, about $7k less than the Volt.

2011 Audi RS5

And on a final note … I just can’t stop staring at Audi’s new RS5.  This is one sexy car, with subtly striking CURVES and amazing performance potential.  OK, so the 450 hp, 4.2 liter V8 underneath its hood may not be the most efficient power plant imaginable, but with an average fuel economy of 22 mpg, it’s not nearly as thirsty as most cars of this caliber.  And with such visual appeal on the outside, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s on the inside…

Single File, Please

December 6th, 2009 Comments off
VW L1

Volkswagen L1 Concept

Back in September, at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show, Volkswagen displayed its L1 Concept vehicle, claiming an astounding fuel economy of 170 mpg.  How did they do it?  Well, they start off with an ultra-efficient hybrid powertrain comprised of a 0.8-liter turbodiesel (TDI, which I discussed here) and a 10kW electric motor.  (No plug needed here!)  They use an ultra-light-weight body of carbon-fiber and plastic.  And they designed it with an incredible drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.195.  Improving on the aero efficiency (a topic I discussed here), is a small frontal area, accomplished by arranging the two occupants of the L1 in tandem.  (Remember, the amount of power needed to overcome the air resistance when moving a vehicle is directly proportional to the frontal area, just as it is to the Cd.)

Nissan Land Glider Concept

Nissan Land Glider Concept

At the Tokyo Motor Show a little over a month ago, Nissan unveiled its Land Glider concept.  Unlike VW’s L1, the Land Glider is a pure electric vehicle, with two motors powering the rear wheels.  (No word on the energy efficiency of the vehicle.)  It also has novel technology, such as the handling-improving capability of leaning in the corners, and crash-avoidance sensors to maneuver the vehicle around objects with which it would otherwise collide.  The Land Glider also (presumably) is aerodynamically efficient – at least it looks that way.  And like the L1, this is achieved partly through the use of tandem seating.

Could this be the shape of things to come? Two-passenger vehicles have existed for a while, from sporty roadsters (like the Miata) to econo-boxes (like the Smart).  So, why not cut the frontal area down, and place the passengers fore and aft?  Is this just too impractical – or too unusual – for the average consumer to handle?  With many pushing for purpose-driven vehicles (rather than cars that can do everything, like what most of us drive today), we may eventually see a lot more variety in the types cars on the market.  It’s not so far-fetched that we may see a derivative of the L1 or Land Glider for sale in a few years.  And although tandem seating doesn’t really lend itself to a romantic time at the drive-in, it certainly can play a part at improving the fuel-economy once the wheels are in motion.

Plastic

November 11th, 2009 Comments off

I hate plastic.  Mostly because it, mysteriously, doesn’t dry in the dishwasher.  But also because a lot of things that used to be made with more durable materials (and that are now made with plastic) don’t last very long.

On the other hand, plastics have been beneficial in many respects, especially in the auto industry.  I remember people complaining a few decades ago when polyurethane and polypropylene fascias replaced the large chrome bumpers that were on most cars, but the truth is the use of these plastics allowed for better aerodynamics, sleeker designs, and even improved safety.

ZF Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Strut

ZF Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Strut

ZF Transverse Leaf Spring Axle

ZF Transverse Leaf Spring Axle

The latest issue of Automotive Engineering International describes how plastics are taking the next step in automotive design: being incorporated into suspension components and other structural areas of the car.  For example, ZF is developing a transverse-leaf-spring rear axle utilizing glass-reinforced plastic for the spring itself, as well an upside-down carbon fiber-reinforced polymer strut and plastic spring for the front suspension.  In addition to the benefits of lighter weight (and lighter unsprung weight, which magnifies the handling benefit) the strut can be manufactured with an integrated signal fiber that acts as a strain gauge, providing a warning of any impending structural failure.  (This is not to suggest the chance of a structural failure with these components is any greater than with traditional steel suspension parts.  Formula 1 and Le Mans Prototype race cars have been using composite suspension components for years.  And in fact, these  components may actually be safer, since they won’t rust when exposed to road salt and water, and they can actually let you know when there’s a problem!)

Additionally Bayer MaterialScience is developing polycarbonate windows for use in road-going vehicles.  This again is a case where technology that has long been used in motorsports is making its way to the masses.  The problem with polycarbonate windows has historically been the ease with which they scratch.  That’s not a big deal in racing, where the windshield gets replaced frequently.  But Bayer has developed coatings which make polycarbonate windows stand up to the rigors of life on our nation’s highways.  Here, too, we have the benefits of reduced weight (especially up high in the vehicle, where it affects handling) and increased safety (no shattered glass).

The use of plastics and composites will play a significant role in the design and manufacture of lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. (What’s next, plastic engines?!)  …Given how far we’ve come with plastics, it seems that by now someone would have made a plastic child’s sippy-cup that would emerge dry from the dishwasher…

Aero

September 8th, 2009 Comments off

I’ve said (as have many others) that the Toyota Prius, (new) Honda Insight, and Chevy Volt all look similiar, at least insofar as the overall shape of the vehicles.  (My personal opinion is that that Volt is much better looking than the other two, with the new Prius coming in second, but this isn’t really related to shape.)  The reason for this is that they are all efficient vehicles, so one of their design goals was a low drag coefficient.  An article in this month’s Automotive Engineering International (Aerodynamics Soar) speaks to this, mentioning “complaints that cars like the Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, which balance similar missions of efficiency and cabin space, are derivative of Toyota’s Prius, when actually they are all recognitions of the fact that similar goals will produce similar designs.”

A recent video on the Chevy Voltage website talks a bit about the work that went into optimizing the aerodynamics of the Chevy Volt.  One remarkable data-point is that aerodynamic work on the Volt increased the all-electric range by 7 MILES from the original prototype!  Aerodynamic efficiency makes the Volt a PHEV-40, rather than a PHEV-33! To my knowledge, GM still has not announced what the Cd for the Volt is, except to say it’s the lowest of any GM vehicle since the EV1 (which had a Cd of 0.195).  For comparison, the Prius has a Cd of 0.25, and the new Ford Taurus (a modern vehicle for which aero is important, though not as high a priority as it is for hybrids) scores a 0.32.

The drag coefficient (Cd) is directly proportional to the amount of power needed to overcome the force of the air pushing against a vehicle in order to maintain a steady speed.  This power is also directly proportional to the frontal area of the vehicle, the density of the air, as well as the cube of the vehicle’s velocity.  So, fuel economy can be increased by improving the aerodynamics, reducing the size of the vehicle, driving in less-dense air … or, to an even greater degree, slowing down.  The third option seems difficult, and the fourth a bit boring…

If you still think that aerodynamics don’t matter, check out the extreme, where Cd is optimized at the expense of downforce, causing this Mercedes at Le Mans, and this Porsche at Road Atlanta, to become airborn!

Mercedes CLR at Le Mans, 1999

Mercedes CLR at Le Mans, 1999

Tesla v. Fisker

July 25th, 2009 Comments off
Fisker Karma Front

Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

No, this isn’t another post about the legal battles between Tesla and Henrik Fisker, who had a shot at designing Tesla’s all-electric sedan before starting a car company on his own.  (You can find those on countless other websites.)  This is my subjective opinion, a comparison of the Tesla Model S and the Fisker Karma – two high-end, electrified automobiles intended to excite the car-guy as much as the environmentalist.  These two vehicles will be natural competitors once they’re available in 2010/2011.

Let’s start with the Karma, since Fisker intends to start delivering it in mid-2010, about a year and a half ahead of Tesla’s Model S.  The Karma is a plug-in hybrid of the serial variety (meaning its gasoline-powered GM-sourced 4-cylinder engine merely serves to recharge its lithium-ion battery once its electric range of 50 miles has been reached).  Fisker promises acceleration to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, and a top speed of 125 mph.  While the top-speed is slow compared to most sports cars, it’s well above any legal speed here in the U.S., and is a limitation of the electric drivetrain when used with a transmission with a single forward gear.  And while the acceleration is on par with other sports sedans, the Karma doesn’t look like other sports sedans.  It looks exotic, in the vein of Aston Martin or Maserati.  Only something’s not quite right.  It’s hood is a little too long (think Jaguar E-type, only not beautiful).  It looks like it’s wearing braces.  The diamond shaped reverse-lights mimic the diamond shaped vents in the front fascia, and neither is stylistically correct.  And My God, have you seen that interior?  …The Karma wants to be an Aston Martin V8 Vantage – a stunning automobile also designed by Henrik Fisker.  But it comes across as a not-quite-final sketch that should have ended up in the wastebasket.  In any case, it can be yours for just shy of $90,000 (excluding federal tax credits).  We’ll finally get to see one in motion in mid-August.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Now on to the Tesla Model S.  I have to admit, I was blown away when the Model S was revealed in mid-March.  Like Tesla’s Roadster, the Model S is motivated by an all-electric powertrain, going 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top-speed of 120 mph – specs which are almost identical to the Karma’s.  The base version will cost just shy of $60,000 (exluding tax credits) and have a 160-mile range (with optional upgrades to 230 or 300 miles).  The lack of an internal combustion engine allows for more space for occupants as well – the Model S claims it can carry 5 adults PLUS two children.  And it looks good.  Damn good.  It’s not quite as exotic as the Karma; instead, it looks like something you might see on the street.  It looks like what the Porsche Panamera should’ve looked like.  It aims to compete with the BMW 5-series, or perhaps the Mercedes S-class, or maybe the Panamera.  And it does it well.  It’s Achilles-heel is the fact that production likely won’t begin until the end of 2011 (despite the fact that we’ve already seen the prototype going out for a test drive).  And for more Model S design eye-candy, check out this video.

I wish both Fisker and Tesla immense success.  But if I had $90k burning a hole in my pocket, I believe I’d wait the extra 18 months and drive home in a Model S (with the 300-mile battery-pack, thank you).

Lose Some Weight, Will Ya?

July 15th, 2009 Comments off

An article in the current issue of SAE‘s Automotive Engineering International (“Everything but the Engine”) discusses the effect that components other than the engine have on vehicle fuel efficiency.  Among the items discussed are transmissions and the benefits of DCTs (which I previously talked about here) and tire rolling resistance (which I previously talked about here).  (…Wow, I’m very timely, aren’t I?)  Other efficiency mechanisms discussed are reducing vehicle size, using advanced lightweight materials, improving aerodynamics, and reducing the weight of all the accessories that are packed into what have essentially become condominiums on wheels.

Buick Enclave Rear Suspension

Buick Enclave Rear Suspension

Let’s talk about weight.  Our cars need to go on a diet.  I remember last year reading a Road & Track article about the new BMW 1-series (finally, a small BMW to replace the formerly-small 3-series!), and my jaw hit the floor when I saw how much it weighs – 3373 lbs for a manual 135i?!  This is small car?  …At the other extreme, my wife’s Buick Enclave has a curb-weight just shy of 5000 lbs, despite the use of aluminum in some of the body panels and suspension components.  (The Enclave’s aluminum rear control arms are a thing of beauty, though.  GM did do a few things right.  …Am I the only one for whom control arm material is a criteria for purchasing a vehicle?)

More extensive use of light-weight materials such as aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel, and carbon fiber can reduce weight, but it seems like automakers are more focused on making cars more bloated while using these materials to offset a portion of the weight-gain that would otherwise occur.  (They add 100 lbs of features, but only 75 lbs of weight!)  On the other hand, my race car weighs a scant 2500 lbs, and that’s with an old-school steel tub, a heavy steel cage, and 70 lbs of ballast in the floorboard.  And in its day it would carry 2 adults and 2 children (sans cage) plus their luggage.  Granted, it lacks all the amenities that consumers demand today.

Lightweighting is a good thing, with compounding benefits.  Reducing the weight of the vehicle means a reduction in the size of the engine needed to move it around, smaller brakes to stop it, and lighter suspension components with which to control it, all of which lead to further reduced weight!  At the same time, handling is improved and stopping distances are reduced.  So, why haven’t we seen this in our cars?  One answer is that many of the advanced materials are still too expensive to be cost-effective.  Secondly, consumers demand more and more comforts such as DVD players, Ipod adaptors, Bluetooth connectivity, Big Gulp holders, and hip room.  Finally, some argue that smaller and lighter-weight vehicles are less safe, backing it up with statistics showing increased fatalities for occupants of such vehicles.  And while it is true that today’s small vehicles won’t fare as well in a crash with a Ford Excursion as the Excursion will, this does not take into account the effect that smarter design and the use of advanced materials have on occupant safety.  Cars aren’t like billiard balls – there are many more dynamic forces at play, and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean safer.

Automakers need to build small, lightweight cars – not small versions of what they already build.