# The One Percent Solution

By on December 12, 2006

Amory Lovins makes his living studying energy use and efficiency. According to the physicist and cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute environmental think tank, the modern automobile uses just one percent of its energy to move its occupant hither and yon. The number is shockingly small, and it may point to big changes for future cars.

Lovins points out that a great deal of an automobile’s engine power does… nothing much. At idle, a car uses its fuel to power accessories and keep itself going. All of which take a friction-filled bite of its overall efficiency. In fact, Lovins reckons only about an eighth of a car’s fuel is burned to turn its wheels. Half of that simply heats up your tires and the air around the vehicle. When you depress the go-pedal, you’re using just six percent of your engine’s total output.

On average– we’re not talking about a Prius or Hummer here– less than 20% of the energy of gasoline is actually used to drive the wheels of the car. That means very little of the gas you bought moves you down the road.  It’s like buying a twelve pack and taking one sip.

The numbers look absurd, but if you’ve been around cars long enough, you know they’re not completely ridiculous. You know not to touch the exhaust manifold after the engine’s been running. You know not to stand up in your buddy’s convertible. Combustion engines put out a lot of heat and the atmosphere is not nearly as pliable as it seemed when you were standing still. In every mechanical transaction, friction takes a vig.

Then there’s the weight. Basically, 75 percent of what your car’s doing is moving its own weight. Steel, glass and gas are heavy. The more weight you have to move, the more energy you need to overcome gravity and inertia.

It’s as tough to find fault with the physics as it is to accept the outcome. If you were getting one percent return on an investment, you’d move your money. If your employee worked five minutes a day, you’d hand him a box for his Happy Meal toys and mouse pad and change all the administrative passwords. And yet, we put up with one percent efficiency from our cars? Not for long. As the price of producing that single percentage point grows (in many senses), the pressure to improve our vehicles’ energy efficiency grows stronger.

Of course, physics is kind of nice ‘cause everything goes both ways. If three quarters of your fuel is spent on weight, shedding pounds gives you about a seven-fold energy return. Lower your drag and you can pick up some more. Fancy engines are another solution, but materials and design are where the really dramatic energy savings live.

For example, BMW has developed a process for mass-producing carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFP). CFP is up to 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel, without concession to strength. Although the cost of production and application currently relegates the technology to aeronautics and serious racing, new procedures have begun delivering the material to mainstream vehicles. OK, the M6 and M3 are not exactly what you’d call fleet cars, but it’s a start.

CFP is also easier to shape than its ferrous colleagues. Instead of pressing a hood and attaching hitches and hinges, a CFP hood can be extruded with all its doodads in place. Any manufacturer who could master mass production would see its vehicles’ number of parts– and related assembly time– plummet. CFP also offers designers the opportunity to use more complicated forms, to create shapes that can’t be [cost-effectively] hammered out of metal.

Reduced reliance on metal stamping would also lead to quicker refresh rates for styles, and more simultaneous choices. Seven different Scion TCs in the same model year. A WRX that screams I just graduated and one that whispers I was never here. Fins for some, no fins for others. Mass customization.

Greater control of vehicle design can also increase the slipperiness of vehicle, further improving efficiency and performance. Lovins believes a 66 mpg SUV is achievable, without compromising current space or driving dynamics. It could big, brutish, tow a small town and safer too boot. Americans can eat their cake and have it too.

Carbon fiber costs around \$8.50 a pound, compared to \$1 for the same amount of steel. Unless economies of scale can lower unit prices, it seems a hopeless mismatch. Think how much debate surrounds the commercial value of the current “hybrid premium.” If, however, you believe that oil will not dip below \$70 a barrel, that global warming is not the liberal conspiracy that Mr. Limbaugh and his supporters suggest, or that a one percent return on your energy dollar is unacceptable, a little hike in sticker prices could represent a big bargain.

## 149 Comments on “The One Percent Solution...”

• virages

Wow, great article. This is why to me energy should have an appropriate price tag. I currently pay more than \$6 a gal. where I live. And that is what the price should be. This keeps a pressure on the consumers, who in turn pressure the manufacturers for more efficient cars. And how can we do that?
The first thing is take the exess wheight out of the cars! Simple physics. Man, cars have porked up in the past years. I can’t even consider a Civic a true economy car now. How heavy is that thing compared to a first generation Honda?
The next thing is drive less. Yup I love cars, I love driving on winding roads and going places. But I can’t stand bumper to bumper traffic on the same strip mall road everyday to work. I bike to work.

So we have to think about doing things differently. If not to save the planet, but to save the things we love doing. Like barreling down an empty street from time to time.

• Are CFPs used for body panels only?
If so, weight savings would be negligible.

Also, big picture-wise, cars are massive because other cars are massive.

We could all be zooming around the city in go carts with lawn mower engines except that…. we’re not all zooming around the city in go carts.

• scotty

increasing the efficiency of SUV’s without compromising certain characteristic qualities would be a wonderful achievement. imagine the possibilities of increasing the efficiency, without sacrificing performance, of a sports car! (e.g. 66mpg m3)

• WaaaaHoooo

Just think of the energy we could save if we got rid of that pesky atmosphere.

• Ken Strumpf

“If you were getting one percent return on an investment, you’d move your money.”

At the risk of going OT I’ll simply note that that’s exactly the rate of return on our Social Security “investment”. Would that I could move mine.

• ash78

Great article. Just got it listed on fark.com for later!

• noley

This is one of the more intelligent articles on TTAC in some time! Excellent! As car enthusiasts we have to think about this kind of stuff, along with all the things we usually cover here.

The problem is that size matters in the efficiency equation, both for engines and vehicles. Sure, smaller is better and more efficient, but the reality in America is that few people care about saving fuel, especially if it means driving around in something less commodious than a quartet or sextet of leather Barcaloungers. And what they’ll pay more for is more weight, padding and comfort, not exotic materials that make a vehicle more efficient.

A related issue is safety. While lightweight is good, a vehicle still needs to be strong enough to protect its occupants. While this can be done –as in the design of many race cars– I question how well it translates into practical designs for everyday vehicles that can be mass produced.

Virages’ post is right, though, we have to think about things differently.

• ash78

It all comes down to that old notion of mutually assured destruction (remember that, cold war folks?) as ThriftyTechie touched on. I was just doing some refresher reading on the prisoners’ dilemma last night. Car weight is definitely something where every manufacturer has an incentive to make cars heavier, since they don’t want to be pegged as the people who build death traps. Further, the levels of NVH suppression even in entry-level vehicles these days is getting to be on par with late 80s/early 90s luxury cars. The thickness of the steel that helps with the door-closing “thunk” is now taken for granted (except for maybe Subaru, but I digress) ;D

Asking people to take a step back into lighter, presumably louder vehicles would give the impression of poor quality, and I doubt that people are really going to choose rational though and the greatest social benefit over their own self-interest. Car buying has been an emotional decision for a long, long time.

Last point: with mass adoption of lightweight materials, who’s to say that manufacturers won’t just use that to build even larger and more heavily contented vehicles? As long as people are willing to pay almost anything for fuel, I don’t see a mass adoption of this short of (gulp) government intervention or massive incentives for manufacturers.

• NICKNICK

What’s this about “energy should have an appropriate price tag?” I can’t think of any business selling things for less than they are worth.
There will be a manufactured oil shortage (peak oil hoax)–you can be sure of that. If oil was in as short supply as the chicken littles say, the smart money would be on hoarding. Now. BigOil wouldn’t be practically giving gas away at 2.25 a gallon if it would be worth \$45 a gallon in the near future. But they WILL use excuses like hurricanes and the like to manufacture shortages.

Gasoline could probably cost \$0.65 a gallon today. However, the bean counters figured out that a national average of somewhere in the \$2 range will extract the most possible from the nation. Charge less and get less. Charge more and sell way less.

You can bet that if we all drive 70mpg fruit-powered gokarts that gasoline would hit \$11/gal tomorrow so that the Man still gets as much of your paycheck as he can. He won’t starve you yet–you’re of no use to the Man if you’re dead.

• John

That’s the only photo of a guy posing in front of his books where it looks like the books have actually been used. Maybe you’re on to something.

• seldomawake

Great article!

I’m currently wrestling with a difficult decision: Lotus Elise or ‘vette? I’m glad that I’m covered either way :)

• Antone

You’re treading on my Truthyness of why we aren’t building efficient cars.

• virages

On the issue of car weight and new technologies. The combination of the two could provide a virtuous circle. There is some potential but we are not there yet. CFPs are stronger and lighter than traditional steel parts. That is why we see them on race cars. And “look at me” cool shifter knobs.

Applying these new materials to cars can reduce the weight and at the same time allow the conservation of current safety standards. What’s more, over time when the average wheight of cars is reduced, there is less mass on the road for potential carnage. Less mass, less death, less consumption.

One caveat is as Ash78 points out is NVH. People want their cake and to eat it too. But this is a solvable problem too. There will be a learning curve to applying new materials to solve problems. But it will be better than before.

• William C Montgomery

I don’t mean to quibble, but Light Crude closed at \$61.22 and Brent Crude at \$59.46 last night. A person would need to be pathologically pessimistic to believe that the prices are not or never will be below \$70 a barrel. See CCNMoney.com. Nonetheless, great article. Lighter is better.

• pariah

To further bring light to this lower-than-snake-****one percent figure… We must also keep in mind that part of the inefficiency of the automobile is a derivative of the inefficiency of gasoline itself. Upon combustion (and the subsequent conversion of engery), approximately 70% of all the energy stored in gasoline is wasted as heat, leaving only 30% to be converted to mechanical energy. So when you take a figure like: "…less than 20% of the energy of gasoline is actually used to drive the wheels of the car" it's important to remember that the 20% figure isn't in relation to the whole of the energy stored in gasoline, but in fact is actually applied to the 30% of the energy in gasoline that isn't immediately wasted upon combustion. This leaves us with an adjusted figure of a mere six percent of the energy in your gasoline actually being used to drive the wheels of your car, and this is why we have numbers as low as one percent.

• 1984

1 percent eh?

So let me get this strait… you want to include the total mass of the vehicle as a loss?

So… What you are saying is that everything that is transported that is not my weight is a loss?

In essence you would need a completely weightless gasoline powered machine that transports ONLY ME to work. Should I just deposit the gasoline directly up my ass?

• Michael Martineck

HEATHROI:
Lovins does, in fact, put up rather than shut up. He’s started a bunch of for-profit companies, including Hypercar (www.hypercar.com), a design firm for those interested in building more efficient vehicles. He, along with almost every major automotive manufacture, believes there’s greenbacks in the green movement.

ThriftyTechie:
BMW started with roofs, but just about anything made of steel or aluminum can be made from carbon reinforced plastics, along with a lot of things that can’t.

I have a formal background in automotive engineering. For my thesis I studied the gross waste of resources that a current vehicle operates with. These numbers above are not new to me, and it is sickening. One alternative that I studied was the use of ceramic materials throughout the vehicle. Ceramic materials would eliminate the losses due to heat and friction. Even if we still burnt dirty, finite gasoline, we would return at least 60% better fuel economy! Unlike a hybrid, this actually would return massive savings over the lifespan of the vehicle.

Lets face it, the standard steel “horse-less” carriage is about as developed as it can get. And the basics are not any different than they were 100 years ago. Without any revolutionary changes to the design and manufacturing approach, we can not go much further with the internal combustion engine.

It will take a company going outside of the box to develop a whole new approach to automotive construction and engineering to show just what can be done.

(Then that company will have to survive when the oil industry goes after them for building something that hurts their business, but thats a whole other conspiracy theory for another time.)

• virages

NICKNICK and HEATHROI, the reasoning for an “appropriate price tag” is a little bit more subtle than you might think. The price of energy should not just reflect the cost of pumping it out of the ground and distributing it (heck you guys are paying for it else where by funding a war), but it has associated costs. Even leaving out global warming in the equation, energy use has associated social costs. Local polution, traffic jams due to lack of public transportation.

You make acess to energy a little more difficult and people will think about what the real cost is about using it. So basically I will say the bad word here. I am talking about an energy tax, that can be used to encourage energy conservation and re-injected in to transportation infrastructure and research.

And by the way, as a public institution researcher, I don’t have much money to throw around. But yeah, I will try to tell the manufacturers what I want to drive with what I have in my pocket book.

• WaaaaHoooo

I think people who enjoy paying \$6 a gallon should ante up and pay \$9, so that I can get my gas free. And if they feel I should pay \$6, then they can pay \$12 instead. That way it all works – they’re happy, and I’m happy. Win-win. ;P

As for the “huge American gas guzzler” thing (also being discussed with Expeditions) I have to say that big ol’ honkin’ Lexi, MBs, BMWs, et all dont get particularly better mpg than I get in my F150 – many actually get worse. Same with many sportscars …. but *that* is okay, as we all know. This guy doesn’t say anything new or anything an auto engineer doesn’t know – we all know you have to spend for gas to move the metal around you and to … uhhhhhhhh … break wind, but if we all just did the “need” thing (with needs being defined by some self-appointed autocratic elite) we may as well just all up and move to North Korea where the needs of the proletariat are defined as a few grains of rice, some bugs, and if you’re lucky a small wagon for transport, while the autocrats enjoy the Benz’s that you should not even be able to dream about, lest you die. Gotta love those who feel everyone else should live by their definitions. The world sure would be a great place if everyone would zip it and do precisely what I say, too. Uh huh.

• guyincognito

New lighter weight materials, wether CFP or otherwise, will help increase vehicle efficiency. However, I do not forsee the opportunity for mass producing customized bodies because of this technology. Even if the material is more easily formed than steel, it will still need to be molded somehow. Building such a mold would still be costly and time consuming with all of the development and material costs associated with it.

• ihatetrees

Lighter may be better for fuel economy. However, lighter is NOT better for surviving getting hit.

Many will pay for the weight and the sense of security (even if it’s false).

Regarding the line:
It’s as tough to find fault with the physics as it is to accept the outcome. If you were getting one percent return on an investment, you’d move your money. If your employee worked five minutes a day, you’d hand him a box for his Happy Meal toys and mouse pad and change all the administrative passwords.

The above assumes there’s CURRENTLY a better investment. There’s not. There’s currently bad trade-offs. Replacing bad employees IS justified since there are other employees available. There’s NOTHING currently available that replaces current vehicles at anything near current costs.

Having said that – I wouldn’t doubt deisel electric drive cars will be common 50 years from now.

And yet, we put up with one percent efficiency from our cars?

I put up with horrible efficiency from halogen lamps at my desk because I can afford their superior light. Also, my cats like the halogens’ inefficient heat.

Increase electric rates (or taxes) by a factor of 10 to \$1.50/Kw Hour, and I might change my behavior (and annoy my cats).

• Steven T.

Lovins has been doing some interesting work for a long time. His technical numbers have thus far proven to be pretty good, but where he tends to get blue sky is in his projections of how fast the auto industry can transform itself.

Engineers like Lovins seem to see the world as a largely rationalistic calculation of costs and benefits. So back in the late 1990s, Lovins projected that Detroit would have embraced a whole range of major design changes by now . . . because it would have saved them lots of money. Well, Lovins may be right that this was the rational way to go, but that’s not at all what happened.

Entropy prevailed. Perhaps one reason why is that visionary engineers have very little power in Detroit.

Uh…

FIBERGLASS and ALUMINUM.

Just had to say it. We HAVE the materials to make light cars for relatively cheap. Even safety can be put in there, really. Here’s an interesting and relevant video on the Lotus Elise, while we are talking about lightness:

Notice that the Elise was put together in a VERY short time. Carmakers can put out light cars quickly if they try, but most are wasting energy in various places in the development process. Aerodynamics should be a no brainer – we know how to make cars sleek, we just need to do it!

All this “carbon fibre” and “car of tomorrow” and “new tech” is missing the point that we have the ability RIGHT NOW to make better, more efficient cars.

• jerseydevil

excellent article, thanks!

• ash78

Glad you brought up the Elise. That car could probably be retrofitted with a 90hp tdi and net 65+ mpg on that chassis. Of course, that would defy a lot of the purpose of the chassis design (sport), but the point stands that the technology does exist.

The Elise, or moreso the Prius, use pretty advanced aerodynamics to help achieve their respective goals, something that most cars forego in the name of style. Point being that if people would accept “ugly,” we could definitely eke a few more mpg from a given platform.

• virages

Hey, come to think about it, I would rather drive a Smart on the A-10 from Paris to LeMans, than drive a Ford Expedition on I-95 between DC and NYC. But I guess I do have a twisted sense of security.

• mikey

Well said WaaaaHooo

• jazbo123

A bit of hyperbole here that detracted from the main point:

Someone already mentioned that oil is below 70USD already, actually around 61.00 this morning.

And the last time I checked, 20% of a 12-pack is much more than a sip; more like 2 1/2 cans. Still not enough for me, but a vast improvement.

And really, are we so dim witted in the first place that we need to have 20% explained to us? That sounds a bit condescending which is very characteristic of a certain political mindset. Oh well…

This is all a bit ivorytowerish to me.

• mikey

Virages, in Canada we have Smart cars.In the U.S. they call them golf carts.
You just have to see one trying to get around in 6 inches of snow,to understand how stupid it is to drive a Smart car.

• HawaiiJim

Good to see that Amory Lovins is still doing his thing. Very nice, upbeat, calm article as befits the holiday season.

• @ seldomawake:
Vette

• Zarba

We’ll get lighter, more efficient cars when it is economically advantageous, in the Adam Smith “Enlightened Self Interest model”, to do so.

Seems kinda obvious.

Or we’ll get them when we surrender our freedom and get our Ladas. Ask the average North Korean how he likes his car.

• One percent is correct if you’re thinking only about your own meat moving. But as a famous engineer once said (will say?) “I canna change the laws of physics!”

There is plenty of weight savings potential in better design and newer materials, but many things do have to stay. There is a certain minimum needed to provide crashworthyness and weather protection. And federal regulations seem to add more weight every year. Crash standards, pedestrian protection, emission controls; it take s a dedicated design team to knit these needs together with something that will sell.

Another problem with carbon fiber: it doesn’t recycle. Steel is the most recycled resource people use. Its behavior in all conditions is well known, and it fails in predicatable ways. As far as I know nobody can take composites made of high strength fibers and epoxy and turn them into anything else but junk.

There is plenty of heat lost in internal combustion engines. Enthalpy Happens. But if you want a compact, cheap, reliable energy source, it’s going to be hot. You have to cram too much energy under the hood not to lose much to heat. Look at the storage potential of a gallon of gas compared to anything and it wins in all catagories.

Diesels go all out and extract as much as possible from that heat. Hybrids use a smaller hot gas engine and add in a little storage to offset the small motor.

More than anything else, I think a better driver knows how to drive any vehicle using less gas, and planning your day to shorten the route and minimize the miles results in overall better efficiency. Proper maintenance (especially tire pressure) results in improved milage and a car that runs longer before needed to be replaced. A car that does not need to be replaced uses less resources than creating one.

I want to see every car have a new metric on the dash: miles per gallon per person. Even four people in an expedition get 48 mpgpp. Encourage carpooling and large families.

• Ed S.

Changing the fundamental design and construction (materials) of a car will have an impact not only on safety, but service and repair. BMW employed light(er) weight aluminum in the from sub frame of the new 3 series in order to maintain 50/50 weight ratio front to rear. I’m a little out of my expertise here, but I believe that the aluminum sub frame is bonded to the firewall. When damaged, the entire unit must be replaced because aluminum’s material properties will not allow it to be straightened more then a fraction of degree (or so). This requires many hours of training and a costly certification to do correctly. The Fords and Toyotas will not be happy to pay such a high price for the change.

What this creates is not an insurmountable engineering obstacle (certainly design will catch-up and bring the cost of repair down eventually). The issue is a large barrier to entry for these new materials. BWM started with the roof panel because it is not (very) structural and because the change benefited other performance attributes of the vehicle beyond fuel efficiency. The average sedan will not see those same benefits making the perceived “cost” of switching materials even higher.

The only way new materials will be brought to the automotive market is for them to be matured in another industry (planes – Boeing 787, for example). The materials, processes, and accessory service and support markets can evolve away from the economically “inefficient” auto industry.

• rodster205

Why is light always ‘unsafe’? I understand physics, but the idea is that the force (of the impact) has to ‘transfer’ somewhere. The large vs. small does not look good when the smaller object is somehow held stationary, therefore absorbing the entire force of impact.

However, cars in normal circumstances are NOT stationary. I have been in my share of accidents and most of them were myself in a small car hit by a large SUV or van. Here are 3 examples:

Chevy Blazer into side (90 degree) of Mazda Miata @ 25mph
Plymouth Voyager into rear of MGB @ 10mph
Buick Regal into rear of Honda Civic @ 15mph

A funny thing happpened in all of these ‘overmatched’ collisions. There was surprisingly little damage! Actually the larger vehicle in each instance had equivalent damage to the smaller vehicle. Here’s what happened: the excess force became motion. That’s right, the small car got ‘punted’ a little. No matter how grippy your tires are they will lose grip the minute a larger vehicle smacks your ride.

Granted, a head-on collision would effectively have planted the smaller car and the results would have been much worse. But most accidents aren’t head-on collisions, and NO vehicle does very well in those anyway, large or small.

• linnta08

insightOwner: I was with you right up until “large families”. How does moving more people more efficiently save energy?

• mikey

Insight does make some valid points if we all practised good driving and planing,the impact would be huge.
Even older, large well maintained vehicles can get good fuel economy if you drive em right.

• bfg9k

ihatetrees:
December 12th, 2006 at 11:11 am

Lighter may be better for fuel economy. However, lighter is NOT better for surviving getting hit.

Well, that’s not really true. Kinetic energy goes as mass, so if you hit something in a lighter car the chassis has less energy to dissipate, same for the something that was hit.

As for BEING hit, a lighter car can devote more of its weight for safety structures. Imagine a carbon fiber based car that weighs 50% that of a steel car, say 2000 lbs instead of 4000 lbs. Carbon fiber is both stronger and lighter than steel. The carbon fiber car can easily afford to tack on more structural parts devoted to safety (i.e. crush members, etc) due to the much lower weight. Say, another 200 lbs worth. It can now still have a smaller engine, better efficiency, and have more of its structure devoted to handling impacts than the steel car, making it safer.

So, in general: yes, lighter is less safe if you’re comparing within the same type of construction material but not if you’re using modern materials (i.e. carbon fiber and composites) that are both stronger and lighter than the benchmark, steel.

This argument is actually laid out by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute in their Hypercar publications in far greater detail and with more persuasion than I can muster at the moment.

• ash78

rodster

I don’t remember all the fancy physics terms for it all (it’s been over 10 years since HS), but the rate at which the small vehicle changes direction or speed in an accident is a function of it’s inertia/momentum. Basically if a really small car gets t-boned by a larger one, the small car driver’s body is subject to a high g-force when the small car is quickly jolted aside. Assuming no intrustion, the real damage is the internal organs colliding against the skeleton–especially the brain against the skull. A larger car does not experience the same G-forces in the jolt becase more of its inertia is initially transfered to the smaller vehicle before it moves.

• MW

Great article. Thanks for challenging us to think differently about a serious issue. The level of hostility in some of the postings above just illustrates how uncomfortable some folks are with that challenge.

• charleywhiskey

Musings, such as Amory’s, inevitably get picked up by politicians who use them as a basis to “call for” increasing the corporate average fuel efficiency regulations. In doing so, they always overlook the cost of achieving their demands. Physicists and politicians get by with this game but engineers and businessmen can’t. Aside from pious idealists of the Prius persuasion, most consumers won’t fall for a scheme where the additional capital cost of a car far outweighs the operating savings over the car’s expected lifetime.

• linnta08: If everybody is going in the same direction, why not carpool? Since the car gets basically the same milage with one or four people, you can quadruple the efficiency by getting three friends to go along. It’s even better if they supply gas money and/or donuts. mmmm donuts.

• Slow_Joe_Crow

Weight is an issue, but CFP is not the panacea. First off, it’s made from petrochemicals (oil) which could otherwise be in your gas tank. Second, carbon fiber composites fail catastrophically, unlike metals which fail gradually. This is why carbon fiber wheels aren’t street legal. CFP body panels are OK but CFP structural members could be a major problem.
The other issue is that the mass market does not care about weight, it cares about NVH. Case in point the Citroen AX, extremely lightweight construction, praised by car magazines for its handling and trashed by everyone else for being tinny and flimsy.
Finally, one of the main reasons why Europeans like diesels is because they can illegally run them on tax-free agricultural and industrial fuel (red diesel).

• WaaaaHoooo

Is Amory Lovins related to Borat?

• rodster205

Basically if a really small car gets t-boned by a larger one, the small car driver’s body is subject to a high g-force when the small car is quickly jolted aside. Assuming no intrustion, the real damage is the internal organs colliding against the skeleton–especially the brain against the skull.

So that explains my current mental state…

• CliffG

What is interesting is that in the world of sport bikes and touring bikes, weight is consistently thought of as the enemy (we’ll skip the Harley’s and their clones, that is sort of an industry involved with building ever greater variations of ’66 396 Chevelles). Thus, a new Kawasaki sport tourer has 180 hp in a 580 lb. bike. Most of the new 600cc sport bikes have about 130 hp for less than 370 lbs. In bikes the pursuit of lightness is an accepted part of being on the cutting edge. But, in automobiles weight is something that is accepted, just add a bit more torque/hp to get it moving.

The easiest way to increase gas mileage/speed in a vehicle is to reduce the weight. But try to get that philosophy through the insurance companies and legislators. The combination of those two (along with your friendly local litigators) conspire to inhibit light vehicles. Add those forces to folks’ natural tendencies towards wanting large private spaces, and, voila, large heavy vehicles everywhere I look. Just don’t hit me when I go past you on my 45 mpg 130 mph bike.

• philipwitak

to borrow a phrase from the baker/hamilton iraq study group, what we apparently have here is something of a ‘new way forward.’

i like it.

anything that will get us to stop doing things like we did, and start doing things like we should, is fine with me.

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• Brendan McAleer

Is Amory Lovins related to Borat?

I is very excite about fool efficiensee!

• This was a great reminder of how far we need to go. What IS an acceptable level of efficiency? Obviously, it will never be 100%, so what is the best we can do in the “real world” where we have an atmosphere, friction, and 20 lbs of adipose tissue?

Reading this really makes me want to start looking for a CRX HF again. That vehicle is as simplistic and light as a mass-produced vehicle has been within my lifetime.

Also, thanks for using the phrase in correct order:
“can eat their cake and have it too.”
I have always wondered why people state that they cannot have it and eat it…

• Until we start seeing ceramic cylinders and pistons, I tend to think that auto engines are about as efficient as they’re going to get. I think MB introduced ceramic vales a while ago, so maybe that’s a start. Valve timing techniques will probably give some marginal improvements, but ultimately its going to take an entirely new technology (or power cycle) to really change things.

• SherbornSean

There is a solution of lower weight, which is maybe a good thing, except for the fact that cars weigh nearly double what they did a generation ago leads me to believe that buyers want all the heavy safety equipment, drivetrains, luxury appointments and chassis rigidity that are commonplace today.

There is a solution of mass customization, but I thought we were in agreement that most automakers made too many models as it was, so now I’m more confused.

There is the solution of higher efficiency, but from what I can tell, gas prices doubled 2 years ago, and the US economy didn’t blnk, so what exactly is the problem?

And we have the ability to get better economy with a lighter car. So rather than spend an extra \$3k on a hybrid, we can spend an extra \$10k on a lighter car that gets the same mileage.

I spend \$20 a week on gas, which is about what I spend on coffee. If I buy a carbon fiber mug will I still get caffeine headaches?

• pauln

1986: my MB 300E, 6cyl, autimatic, fully equipped, sunroof, ABS, airbags, superb NVH, 140 mph, solid as a rock;
Weight: 3195 lbs

2007 VW Rabbit, base version, automatic
Weight: 3100 lbs

There’s work to be done.

• Steve_S

The problem is cost. Unless a new means of making CF that reduces its cost significantly or unless the cost of aluminum and steel rise significantly you won’t see CF cars. You have a steel Camry for 23k and you have a CF Camry for 30k which do you think people will buy regardless of fuel savings?

The one niche that will pay for light weight vehicles are sports car enthusiasts. Notice I didn’t say muscle car enthusiasts. So a steel structure or at least crash points with CF body panels if it isn’t extremely expensive would sell to some degree. Knock 500lbs of a Mazda RX8 and it wouldn’t be considered an underpowered sports car and the MPG would be reasonable (It’s two main detractors).

One question on CF is doesn’t it shatter during a very hard impact? Also there is no real way to repair a panel except replacement, add in molded hinges and so forth and that could be very expensive.

• SD987S

Nice job Michael, one of the better articles I’ve read here in awhile.

However, you’re about 56 metaphors below the per-article threshold required to publish to this site. Way to fly under the radar !

• pauln

Now I’ll give my version of an explanation for what happened in the case of the 300E and Rabbit, as well as the general porkiness we’ve seen recently throughout the car industry.

The W124 (300E) represented an intensive and focused effort by MB engineers to improve its efficiency over its predecessor (think early ’80’s record high gas prices). The W124 weighed several hundred pounds less than the W123, and had dramatically improved aerodynamics. This was at a time when MB had only 3 car lines to focus on, and there was no platform sharing. The platform, structure and all the components of the W124 could be fully optimised for weight efficiency.

The current Golf (Rabbit) shares much of its platform, supension, drivetrain, etc. with the larger Passat. This platform is/will be used in a wide range of vehicles including the mini-van Touran, the coming SUV Tiguan, the Jetta, Audi A3, Golf Plus, as well as SEAT and Skoda models.

This same pehnomena is happening throughout the car industry: ever increasing numbers of niche models sharing platforms/components, combined with a continuing drive for cost cutting has changed the engineers’ priorities. There will never be another W124 MB (sadly); it was brilliantly designed in every way to be materially superior to anything else at the time; now MB engineers spend their time figuring how many new ways to repackage as few platforms as possible.

Audi is switching over to a single “platform” for all their passenger cars (except A3, which uses Golf platform). The A4, A5 (future), A6, A7 (furure) and even the A8 will be based on one “family platform”.

There’s no way individual components/bodies can be fully optimised for weight in this approach. But it is cheaper and more flexible.

• NoneMoreBlack

An interesting, but ultimately hyperbole laden article.

As pointed out, CFP’s are made from petrochemicals, in a process using large amounts of (largely petrochemical-derived) energy. Much of this is reflected in their higher cost relative to steel, aluminum, etc.

The more important point is that yes, combustion engines are only 20% efficient, but this is pretty unsurprising, at least to me. Highly modern, efficient coal plants, for example, are only around 30-40% efficient. Comparing these numbers to market return or the operating efficiency of a company is, in my mind, an attractive but meaningless piece of rhetoric.

Essentially, you’ve reiterated the argument for mass transit. At least it was well written.

• Michael Martineck

SherbornSean:
The article is more of a question than a solution. One percent efficiency seems rather silly to me. Yes, cars trend heavier because people want more stuff, but I don’t think that’s a trend that can continue. Yes, gas doubled in price and the US economy didn’t collapse. If it doubles again, will it keep chugging? What if doubles again after that?

Mass customization isn’t answer to anyone’s problem. It’s just cool. The more, the better. I wish Jeep offered a minivan, and Mini offered some allwheel squealer. The problem is not that there are too many different makes and models of cars, it’s that some badge-engineeredmakes and models are not different enough.

• Glenn

Very good article. I have posted on a brand-X auto blog site (and no longer do so because I got tired of being flamed for my own opinions) relating to just this subject.

I bought a Prius in 2005. What started it was a conversation with a collector car insured – customer when I used to be on the phones selling collector car insurance. He said “you know, my Model A gets 25 miles per gallon – there is absolutely no excuse for modern cars to not get 50 miles per gallon.” And how could I argue with him?

Eventually, the Prius gen II (I think generation III for Japan) came out in late 2003, and I was intrigued.

Now fast forward to the announcement yesterday that I saw on the auto news (somewhere…) about the next gen Prius in 2009 being capable of about 95 mpg (or nearly twice the efficiency of the current car, which is about twice as efficient as the “average” mid-sized car). In fact, those of you who know me know that I’ve written before how our 2002 mid-sized V6 sedan (2.7 liters) gets almost exactly 1/2 the mileage (i.e. is 1/2 as efficient) as the Prius, with a similar amount of performance, room, comfort and with a significant improvement in safety (kudos – Prius – but I bought the package including vehicle stability control and side curtain bags – largely because most Michigan drivers don’t seem to fathom the idea of following rules of the road any more – like stopping at stop signs on side-roads, or stopping at red lights… but I digress).

Once, again, great article. And to boot, the Prius only has a couple of aluminum body panels (hood, hatch) and is steel otherwise, weighing in at 2900 pounds (extremely light for a 4-5 passenger D-class/mid-sized interior and luggage-area car).

Yeah, I’ve noticed that all other cars have done nothing but gain weight – huge amounts of it.

A 30-year-old Volkswagen Rabbit weighed in at under a metric ton. A new car is what, 40% heavier? Ridiculous. The air bags and seat belts weigh in at 25 pounds or so. The extra strength steel for improved crash-worthiness should only add a few pounds.

• noley

On the subject of vehicle weight in accidents I recall talking with an insurance adjuster who said that in his experience smaller cars actually did OK in collisions for some of the reasons noted above. “They just bounce away,” he said. Which is what some folks here note…Rather than absorb all the energy from another car hitting them, some of the energy is converted into motion as they move away from what hit them. Of course if they are being sandwiched, have no place to bouce to, or are being struck sideways by a sufficiently large object (another vehicle or striking a tree, for example) all bets are off.

Of course, stats show that small cars are not quite as safe as larger ones. But that is with current design parameters and wide range of vehicle types and configurations. If all vehicles shrunk ( the larger ones perhaps shrinking more) and were designed using modern materials it would seem that we’d get some energy gains and retain (or even increase) safety.

But weight is approaching ridiculous levels. My ’78 Scirocco weighed 1850. My ’86 GTI was 700+ pounds more, nearly as much as the ’84 Saab 4 door my wife drove back then. My present ’96 Saab 9000 weighs 3200, which is less than many cars today which are substantially smaller, slower and less commodious. And it is at least as safe as many of them.

What do people think are an appropriate range of sizes and weights for vehicles?

In Europe, we like diesels because of their great advantage in torque compared to gas engines. In short, you get much power with a small engine, and that is especially well adapted to automatic gearboxes. A modern diesel engine is considerably more energy efficient than a gas engine. In fact, you may need an additional heater not to loose the windscreen defroster when the motor is idling at the traffic lights! And when it comes to heating, how much of the fuel is needed to defrost the whole car in a winter morning, and to keep the car warm when driving? And to keep it cool in mid summer?
I don’t think a modern efficient common rail diesel waste 99 % of its energy use. And when it comes to aerodynamics, get rid of the ridiculous outer rear mirrors, they count for 15 % of the drag. Replace them with rear video cameras which can let you see a full rear panorama, including the tow bar. I am absolutely sure that diesel technology is the only answer for the future (next 50 years or so). And the future diesel fuel is not what we use today.

• The science is well stated (and known I would add), but irrelevant to the current marketplace IMHO. The 2.5 are barely treading water with seemingly little to no stomach for rethinking basic design and engineering assumptions related to the modern automobile. And the Japanese, it seems to me, will have no real incentive for such daring research so long as they are winning the energy efficiency argument among most consumers.

For a generation now, the message has been safety, build quality, and now recently, energy consciousness – and even here the debate has centered largely on the supply side. Although rethinking every design consideration of the modern car in the interest of weight and dynamics makes perfect sense in the classroom – I just don’t see it going anywhere fast… and this to me is unfortunate.

• pauln

Glenn: I just looked into this claim about the next gen. Prius. Those numbers are coming from a Japanese testing cycle that generates much higher numbers than even the EPA test. Based on conversions I saw at another site, this “95 MPG” comes out to about a 12% increase over the existing model. Toyota has said before that their target was a 20% improvement. Either number would be excellent; a doubling is out of the question (without plug-in capability).

• virages

Basically I read this site because, I like most people here want cars to be awsomer (not a word but you understand). I love sports cars and at the same time I am an environmentalist. So what drives me crazy is seeing all these bloated behemoths on our roads (here in France too). We are living after the year 2000 and we are still buying cast iron push rod engines on ladder frames?

So yeah, give me a Camry made of carbon fiber and titanium to shuttle my family abouts more efficiently. And at the same time I can get my sporty driving satisfaction without slinging around 3 tons of metal.

And why is it that the airline industry can start making passenger airplanes out of CFP (Boeing 787 due to roll out in 08) and even carbon fiber bicycles are affordable, but the most used mode of transportation doesn’t get as much technology input?

• tcwarnke

Wow, after reading 3 times as long through the comments as the article, I can finally put in my two cents.

Many good points are made in the article. However, the beginning (fuel combustion) and the end (weight savings/customization) are very disjointed. Pariah has got it right; the basic inefficiency of the modern automobile is the fuel and combustion itself. We can talk all day about weight savings (which I agree that modern cars at TOO heavy), but you can’t fight the laws of thermodynamics. We can only get so much out of the fuel.

In comment to “Jeff in Canada”, I agree with you. Although, we must keep in mind that ceramic is a dense (read: heavy) material and it is very brittle. These are just two reasons why it is not a suitable material for a car today.

NoneMoreBlack very well said!

• Glenn/Pauln: Did you read that the EPA will be requiring truer to life MPG standards? I read that this will impact hybrids downward more than any other class of vehicle. I personally think the current unrealistic ratings are a hoax and the change is well warranted.

• virages:
>>NICKNICK and HEATHROI, the reasoning for an “appropriate price tag” is a little bit more subtle than you might think. The price of energy should not just reflect the cost of pumping it out of the ground and distributing it (heck you guys are paying for it else where by funding a war), but it has associated costs. Even leaving out global warming in the equation, energy use has associated social costs. Local polution, traffic jams due to lack of public transportation.

>>You make acess to energy a little more difficult and people will think about what the real cost is about using it. So basically I will say the bad word here. I am talking about an energy tax, that can be used to encourage energy conservation and re-injected in to transportation infrastructure and research.

To elaborate slightly on what Virages has to say about this, economists like to refer to “external costs.” these are the costs that are not embodied in the purchase price, such as the ones he mentions above.

• jerseydevil

gotta love 95 mpg.

hope that toypta puts it in something i’d wanna be seen in.

• For more on Lovins, and his “hypercar” concept, go to
http://tinyurl.com/tkrby
an article I wrote that appeared in the April 2005 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

• Ar-Pharazon

Many here seem to have trouble distinguishing between ‘possible’ and ‘practical’. You seem not to realize that the ‘minor cost penalty’ often makes something a business impossibility, just like some ‘minor design detail’ may in fact be an engineering impossibility.

Take the use of carbon fiber as an example . . . it only adds a few thousand to the cost of a vehicle, and as soon as we find a way to mold it to shape and stop disintegrating on impact, we’re golden!

Companies sweat blood today to try and take \$1.14 out of the cost of a vehicle, and they do the same trying to get 5-star crash ratings using good old cheap, heavy steel. Carbon fiber is cool and all, but it’s pie in the sky for a good long time, I’m afraid.

Maybe if dude’s like this guy climbed out of their tower and tried to actually run a auto business, they’d change their tune. And I’m not talking a ‘flavor of the month, sell ’em to Hollywood celebs at any price’ auto business, either.

Look at the Prius. A great bit of technology, and not really rocket science. But certainly most agree that there is no economic justification for buying one . . . not until gas gets a lot more expensive. They’re still too expensive. And if you think that Toyota (and formerly the US Government) isn’t subsidising your purchase, your deluding yourself. They may make it up on free ‘advertising’ and corporate good will, but they don’t actually make a profit on the vehicle. So you lose money, and they lose money, on a not-really-that-high-tech vehicle.

But yeah . . . go Carbon Fiber!!! Whooo!

• Jan Andersson: I am absolutely sure that diesel technology is the only answer for the future (next 50 years or so). And the future diesel fuel is not what we use today.

In fact, for reasons I don’t fully understand, if you take 100 units of crude, you can only get around half that as diesel. So you’re always going to have a mix of diesel and gasoline. (I suspect that’s why Europe is only about half diesel.) Moreover, on a BTU basis (rather than a per gallon basis) diesel is not that much more efficient than gasoline, so switching to diesel wouldn’t do as much to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as one might think from mpg comparisons. This is not to criticize diesel. It should definitely have a much bigger role in the US than it does.

• Bubba Gump

Carbon fiber is certainly not pie in the sky. Theres a reason the z06 gets similar fuel mileage to the standard C6 Corvette.
Z06
Carbon fenders, Carbon Hood,Carbon doors, Carbon quarters,Carbon/Balsa Composite floor pans, graphite/glass reinforced body understructure and alumunium frame,engine (for the most part) alumunium torquetube, alumunium transmission, alumunium chassis.
Pie in the sky, NO
Mainstream? probably sooner than you think.

However this in no way changes the fact that over the road trucks will still be 40 tons. I’m personally not keen in getting into a tangle with one of those or an 8000 lb excursion.

How bout you?

• Jim H

Just think if we could transfer all of that heat (energy) right back into power for the car…now that would be awesome.

• dhathewa

“And if you think that Toyota … isn’t subsidising your purchase, your deluding yourself.” – Al Pharazon

I’ve heard that particular claim many times but I’ve never seen any evidence offered to support it.

I’ll bet your neighborhood GM dealer wishes he had a model or two from GM that he could set up with a waiting list and charge full MSRP+. Like the Prius.

• SunnyvaleCA

Paul, I mostly agree that the w124 was way out and ahead of its time. However…

* There were four main consumer platforms (190, 300 (E), S, and SL). You could throw in the Gelaendenwagen too, as that somehow is now seen as a “normal” “car” in the US.
* The engines were shared with the other platforms. In the US this wasn’t as apparent, as the engine choices were limited. Even so, you could get the E, S, and SL with the 3L The 190 and E both had a 2.6L option.
* Transmissions… shared as well at least for the stick shifts. All four platforms could be had with the same nasty Borg Warner (S class only available over seas). For the record, I had the 5-speed E, one of a few hunderd in the US.
* There are a fair number of other major components shared across platforms.

It is kind of fun to look back at that original 1986 300E and compare to today’s cars. With 177 HP, 180 ft*lb of torque, a 4-speed automatic (that started in second gear and downshifted if you floored it), low gearing (in the US), and rear wheel drive, the car really flew for its time. Top speed was rev-limited to 137 MPH with the automatic; the 5-speed stick could hit 137 in 4th (same gearing) but wouldn’t go much faster in 5th without a nice long hill. Added weight and taller gearing slowed the car through the subsequent years.

Wheels were 15-inchers. Tires were 195/65/15 all-weather or, if you really wanted to go crazy, 205/60/15 all-weather. That’s pretty much bottom-of-the barrel now!

As for safety, the car had a single airbag, 4-channel ABS, and seatbelt pretensioners. The fuel tank was wedged between the trunk and the passenger compartment for crash protection. Doorlocks (delayed by the pneumatic action) would unlock using the same circuitry as the airbag deployment. Door handles (instead of the popular “flaps”) were easy for outside rescuers to grip firmly while pulling open doors bent in a crash. The coolest feature was that the full-sized rear head restraints could be released by pressing a button on the front dash; the head restraints would flop back into the back of the seat (much to the surprise of back-seat passengers!).

• Bubba Gump

Pharazon

Carbon will always disintegrate on impact or else it won’t be carbon. :)

Well thats not entirely true. Chrysler made a hood for a viper to crash test (I know this because a friend of mines shop made it) of a material made of carbon/fiberglass /Kevlar weave. It was 3 mm thick. Upon crashing the vehicle in the frontal 35 MPH test the hood folded but did not break. The hoods kenetic energy then proceded to rip out the rear latches for the hood and when the hood recoiled it did with such force that it sheared the windshield and both front window headers clean through promptly slicing the head off the crash dummy.
BUMMER :(

Hood 1 Big dummy 0

Look on chrysler engineers face ( well you know)

• Bubba Gump

edit

• Jim H

I could definately see that happening…kevlar and fiberglass don’t disintegrate. :) I’m still waiting for the “body foam” like that of Demolition Man. ;)

• Bubba Gump

Perfect Zero

camless valvetrain technology is the holy grail when it comes to conventional piston engines. I cannot believe the manufacturers are still waiting. It is currently proven technology. It used to be on board computing power and speed were the limitations but that is no longer the case.

Picture an engine with no cams, timing belts, throttle body etc. Just pistons,crank,valves actuators and associated sensors with high pressure direct injection, and making the valves ceramic and eliminate the lash cap/rocker arm/bucket lifter etc you could rev the thing all the way to 10,000 rpm easy without valve float.

The engines speed is totally controlled by the intake valve opening time, infinatly variable cam timing and cam lobe phasing. (ie bottom end torque and rediclous HP from a smaller displacement engine) with a 25% reduction in engine friction and 30% fewer parts.

A company selling a rotary cam tunnel design keeps trying but ultimatly you still are turning a fixed timing rotary cylinder. Not the answer.

• jerseydevil

David Holzman:

i hope for lighter cars, cause they are more fun to drive then heavy ones!

• johnnycam

Does Amory Lovins have wall to wall carpet in his home or does he just strap small rectangles of carpet to his feet?

Just wondering.

• Bubba Gump

The holy grail of generators

http://www.delphion.com/cgi-bin/viewpat.cmd/US05473205__?OUT_FORMAT=pdf&MODE=fstv

Only bad part is one of the liquid metals used is flammable in the presence of oxygen. (ie crash problems)

• Jonny Lieberman

Weight has nothing to do with safe.

Nothing.

Protecting the driver/passenger from damage has everything to do with safe.

If “CFP is up to 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel, without concession to strength” than it is exactly that. Just as strong (i.e safe) only lighter.

So maybe the vehicle in question could better avoid the accident in the first place.

• John Williams

Wow, great article. This is why to me energy should have an appropriate price tag. I currently pay more than \$6 a gal. where I live. And that is what the price should be. This keeps a pressure on the consumers, who in turn pressure the manufacturers for more efficient cars.

Sounds like you reside in Britain or Europe. That means that the city you reside in should have a pretty good public transportation infrastructure and most of the residents either utilize it regularly or own small, fuel efficient vehicles that travel relatively short distances.

If \$6/gal gas ever came to American shores, it would most likely be in response to Americans heavily adopting more fuel efficient vehicles en masse.

So yeah, give me a Camry made of carbon fiber and titanium to shuttle my family abouts more efficiently. And at the same time I can get my sporty driving satisfaction without slinging around 3 tons of metal.

Would you pay \$250,000 for one? Keep in mind that carbon fiber and titanium are still very expensive materials. Toyota (or anyone else for that matter) will not build such a car until it becomes economically profitable to do so.

I think people who enjoy paying \$6 a gallon should ante up and pay \$9, so that I can get my gas free.

Stop giving the feds ideas! :)

• NoneMoreBlack

Jim H:

Just think if we could transfer all of that heat (energy) right back into power for the car…now that would be awesome.

BMW’s on the case

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/automotivetech/163cf51b6fd89010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

Who knows, maybe within a decade?

• kablamo

Very interesting discussion, many good points…

While spectacular technological breakthroughs are always great for the imagination, realistically, the cheapest and simplest way of improving performance (and fuel economy and efficiency) is cutting weight.

Aside from fuel economy, reducing weight also improves the life of tires, brakes, shocks absorbers, clutches, etc…

Unfortunately we seem to be on a long term trend of increasing luxury, safety, and the usual bigger is better. It seems like it will take a while to convince insurance companies, average consumers, legislators and ballers that economies thanks to significant weight reduction is worthwhile. It seems there is hope when Ford talks about reducing the weight of the next F150, mind you I’m not holding my breath.

To be honest I think this is a societal problem… our society doesn’t value efficiency. That’s true for more than just cars too.

• Terry Parkhurst

This is one of the best, if not the best, article(s) ever posted on TTAC. About 11 years ago, Atlantic Monthly had a similar article on Amory Lovins. But how many people read that magazine? And how many are opinion leaders in auto selection? Not many, I guess. The most important thing I take from this discussion is weight is the enemy. The reasons most SUVs are rolling anachronisms is they are like trying to ride the Pony Express with an elephant. The real value of what Lotus builds is it paves the way for the future. Whether we power our cars by fossil fuel, hydrogen or peanut oil, we need to make them light, yet strong; just as racecars are.

• pauln

SunnyvaleCA: Yes, some other components were shared, but when you engineer a car with the intent to lose several hundred pounds, and not have to share the basic platform, body and suspension, you can optimize every (non)shared component for that specific vehicle. It becomes synergistic, because if you can save 200 lbs in the body, you can specify a proportionately lighter braking system, etc.

My point is that to my knowledge, this was the last (and perhaps best) example of a mainstream car shedding several hundred pounds, yet being safer, stiffer, and more content laden than its predecessor. It’s been downhill across the board since.

MB and all the others manufacturers lost sight of this as a goal.

• Ar-Pharazon

@dhathewa . . . regarding your first point, I doubt that this will soon be public knowledge. This type of financial info is usually closely guarded by the company, so we won’t be getting this from Toyota. I believe that a rational analysis of the content and amortized engineering that went into that vehicle would prove me out.

Regarding your second point, exactly! I’m not faulting Toyota for this strategy, they’re making out like bandits. I’m just saying that on a purely economic basis, the Prius is a loser all around.

@Terry P . . . I don’t believe in the myth of the lone sane voice crying in the wilderness, being ignored by ‘the man’. Not any more than I believe in the 100 mpg carbeurator hidden in old Hank’s vault (I’ve seen the inside of his vault!) If this guy really had such great ideas 11 years ago, he’d be rich and we’d be driving his innovations. The fact that he’s still simply preaching his gospel shows that he’s really more sizzle than steak.

• nino

Just think if we could transfer all of that heat (energy) right back into power for the car…now that would be awesome.

Turbocharging.

• nino

To be honest I think this is a societal problem… our society doesn’t value efficiency. That’s true for more than just cars too.

All too true, I’m afraid.

• nino

Many good points have been brought up.

The fact remains that there needs to be a business and economic incentive to any manufacturer to use expensive technology.

I too have a desire for cars to be lighter, but until it can be done relatively cheap, forget it.

• IntegrationArchitect

A car that could save the planet—fast

So much interest on this thread in ways to get from point A to point B and back while saving money at the pump. Personal blimps did not catch on as once predicted so we are stuck with roads and cars.

There are recent and finally some revolutionary news with an actual prototype car that is All Electric and very low weight as everyone in the thread has been discussing. What was discovered [by an ex-Cisco Systems engineer] is that the key to success is the most efficient “power converter” from the batteries to the engine.

EVERYONE STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND READ THIS LINK ON WRIGHTSPEED ALL ELECTRIC CAR

http://www.wrightspeed.com/x1.html

All they have left to do is figure out the right type of battery and the revolution will occur similar to how the invention of the Compact Disk replaced vinyl in less than 10 years.

The problem will be keeping the teenagers from going 200 mph when these are mainstream.

• SunnyvaleCA

I think people who enjoy paying \$6 a gallon should ante up and pay \$9, so that I can get my gas free.

That is pretty funny! Seriously, though, consider that if the US government got \$4 tax for every gallon sold then other taxes could be reduced. How about doing away with social-security taxes and reducing payroll taxes… this could help the law-abiding people at the low end of the pay scale who are currently at a huge disadvantage compared to those who work “illegally” and report no income (so the employer pays no SS tax).

To be honest I think this is a societal problem… our society doesn’t value efficiency. That’s true for more than just cars too.

Yup, and that is where a fuel tax comes in.

• starlightmica

When I read this article, the following car came to mind: Buckminister Fuller came up with the Dymaxion [car] in the 1930’s. It was big, aerodynamic, fuel efficient, and lightweight. A later unbuilt version had small motors in each wheels, all but one which could be shut down for increased efficiency.

http://www.3wheelers.com/dymaxion.html
http://www.washedashore.com/projects/dymax/chronology.html

How about a modern version of one of these? Updated crash protection, of course, as there’s no crush space in the original design.

Wrightspeed has mated an Ariel Atom with a lithium battery powertrain, with startling performance, but is still looking for funding. Both Tesla and AC Propulsion have already gotten further with the Tesla Roadster and the Scion xB EV conversion respectively.

• CliffG

Um, before we all go running out to our garages to plug in our electric cars, somebody better figure out where we are going to get all that electricity and how our aged, decrepit electrical grid is going to get it to us. If you think our electrical generating system is capable of handling a conversion of even 10% of our private vehicles to electricity, you are certifiable. We can’t damn up rivers anymore, we won’t build nuclear plants, wind farms spoil the view, and most of the country can’t use solar for more than a few months of the year. Need I go on?

Building cars a few hundred pounds lighter is not easy or cheap, but compared to the nightmare of increasing our electric supply by 30%, a heck of a lot more doable.

• pauln

CliffG: The latest AIADA newsletter says that based on the most recent study, the existing grid can handle up to 180 million plug-in hybrids. Don’t forget that the grid is largely idle at night, when the overwhelming majority of charging would take place.

More effective use of the grid at night could potentially lead to lower electric rates, because of higher revenue but no increase in fixed cost (infrastructure).

• SherbornSean

Cliff,
The DOE just published a study showing that the US grid could charge 180 million cars without strain.

http://www.autoblog.com/2006/12/12/turn-off-your-ac-nations-power-grid-can-handle-180-million-evs/

We don’t have to increase the supply of e-plants because you charge up at night when demand is low.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of reducing weight, I just prefer realism. Given that consumers appear to favor heavier, higher hp vehicles, I’m not sure CF leads anywhere, except in niche markets.

If the objective is to reduce fuel usage say in half, diesel electric plug-in hybrids get you there a lot quicker and cheaper.

• ihatetrees

Glenn:
In fact, those of you who know me know that I’ve written before how our 2002 mid-sized V6 sedan (2.7 liters) gets almost exactly 1/2 the mileage (i.e. is 1/2 as efficient) as the Prius, with a similar amount of performance, room, comfort and with a significant improvement in safety (kudos – Prius – but I bought the package including vehicle stability control and side curtain bags –

Performance? With no clutch and tires from Tim Hortons?

Comfort over a V6 Camry? With four adults?!?

The Prius is a fine car, but your definitions are probably only shared by a small market segment.

People may respond to surveys and politicians and such by saying they want efficiency and fuel economy. However, when they get behind the wheel, they want power, space and comfort.

A 30-year-old Volkswagen Rabbit weighed in at under a metric ton. A new car is what, 40% heavier? Ridiculous. The air bags and seat belts weigh in at 25 pounds or so. The extra strength steel for improved crash-worthiness should only add a few pounds.

My guess – much better acceleration, handling, and larger size are probably the reasons. Heck, the specs and handling of today’s (non-WRX) Impreza would have made it a serious performance car 20 years ago. Now – it’s just a fun, practical small car.

The Euros and Asians have had micro cars spec’d like a 30 y.o. Rabbit – but there wasn’t a US market for them – until recently.

• IntegrationArchitect

Your right the problem includes we are spoiled with V8 single driver 5000 lb cars.

Society can gradually make the switch. For example has anyone noticed all the “natural” food markets that are doing very well that are a backlash against the over processed foods? McDonalds is loosing money and more healthy choices are gaining ground. People now understand if they want to live longer they have to make better choices.

Same for cars, if we start buying electric cars or electric/diesels, they will make them better and cheaper. But for now with \$2000 rebates and \$225 lease specials on Hummers– that’s what we are buying–unfortunately. Our children will look back on this time with disbelief.

On being able to recharge an electric car: my power grid is fine [thank you for asking] they are also adding a new nuclear plant to help with all the home construction in our state. In another state and city [Portland, Oregon] if you drive an electric car, you can park for free downtown and get a free recharge too. The X1 achieves the equivalent of 170 mpg and it does offer a trickle charge setting that would pull the same energy overnight as a microwave oven. They are making improvements every month to extend the driving range.

The X1 prototype is this racecar that could be scaled back to only go 80 mph in another version. Then it would be lighter and have fewer batteries and require much less power to recharge at 110 volts and could have more seats.

This thread does not mention too much about the secondary and more critical problems like greenhouse gases, melting ice caps and the rising oceans that electrics and diesels also help to solve.

• A Modest Proposal:

In recent decades American drivers and their passengers have porked up. With each increase in waist size more energy is required to overcome gravity and inertia and move that mass. Not only to move the mass itself, but also to move the increased mass of the materials necessary to accomodate larger (m)asses inside the vehicle. When a family of four weighs 1000 pounds, SUVs must increase their size accordingly.

Clearly, smaller, more efficient Americans are a necessary step on the road to reducing our energy dependence. American baby factories have failed to address the market need for lighter, more nimble children and it is at this time that offshore production stands poised to overtake the domestic babymakers. American parents must be willing to refine future models to compete with Japanese babies in size, efficiency, and looks or the domestic babymakers are headed towards an inevitable government bailout as health care costs for overweight American manchildren skyrocket in the coming decades.

• Bubba Gump

when america gets serious you will know because high speed light rail will appear. Until then were all just self centered whiners. Thats the truth whether we want to believe it or not. Look you ever been in a group who was suppose to do somthing, everyones gung ho right up to the point it’s time to do something. Then its like the lights came on and the cockroaches scattered, leaving the blind one who can’t see the light to git er done. So what happens the blind one gets stepped on by a shoe. Nada Nothin happens. Lotta talk zero action, and the roaches under the table in the dark begin to whine again. We as Americans need to quit telling the world how good we are and just do it. If were that good everyone will know and we won’t even have to open our mouths.

Somone up the stack was trying to make the point that you can take one 50 mpg prius with a 1 passenger and it equates to 50 mpg per passenger.
You could fill a 24 mpg Outlook with 8 people and it equates to 192 mpg per passenger.
That is the point he was trying to make and its true if you look at it logically.
Makes a suburban a model of effeciency if its full.

You want to reduce dependency on fuel right now bigtime. start a car pool crew

• Bubba Gump

Brandon you have a point. we won’t settle for a sub standard car but we settle for substandard education, substandard health. If its to tough we just lower the bar some more. There are some scary 18 to 24 year olds out there. Just take one look at the hollywood young. WOAH!

• Bubba Gump

Its ironic that if nuclear wasn’t attached to bombs and radiation we would all be driving cars that run on nuclear heated steam/water, right now just like aircraft carriers. Just change the pill every 5 years and keep the water tank full.

• quasimondo

McDonald’s isn’t losing money. It’s amazing what their dollar menu does for them.

You mention the \$2000 rebates that an SUV buyers gets, but you didn’t mention the \$2000 tax incentive a hybrid buyer gets. This negates the notion that folks are flocking to SUV’s simply because the automakers are throwing money at them. The government is doing the same thing with hybrid buyers.

The power grid in your neck of the woods might be fine, but in a place that could really benefit from electric vehicles, like California, their electrical grid seems less than optimal to take the strain. I remember the good ol’ days of the rolling blackouts. It wouldn’t make for a good morning to have a car not recharged because they had to cut power in parts of the state to prevent the whole thing from going down. Besides, if the cost to charge these batteries nightly outweighs the cost of filling up my tank, where’s the cost benefit? That ugly word of the utility industry, ‘deregulation’ could very well rear its ugly head. If I’m not saving money at the pump, I’m simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Then there’s the issue that you’re still polluting. Instead of the emissions coming from your car, they’re coming from the coal burning plants, and no amount lightfooted driving is going to alter that.

I’m not that much of a Luddite that I can’t appreciate new technologies (okay, maybe I am). But before we go rushing off into this electric frontier with power cords and paddle chargers in our hands, a lot more thought needs to go into this before we declare electric motors to be the new magic pill for society.

• IntegrationArchitect

It’s not the electric motor it’s the new design of the power converter. Please read the CNN Business 2.0 Story for details.

“If you drill into the complexity of an electric car, it’s not the motor, it’s the electronics and battery system, which car companies aren’t good at.” Adds Musk, “The time is right for a new American car company, and the time is right for electric vehicles, because of advances in batteries and electronics. Where’s the skill set for that? In the Valley, not Detroit.”

• The Smart Car was supposed to be electric, but got a gasoline engine.
The EV1 was so popular among owners that they went to court to be allowed to keep them. The car had one of the best air resistance coefficients of any production car on the roads when GM yanked them out of owners’ hands and sent them to Arizona to be crushed.
The Think car company developed the Think City together with Ford – at considerable cost – a major departure from the original Think. A car that was never taken seriously by Ford, and which people would have been clamoring for today.
I have driven both the EV1 and Think City, handy and quick, with air conditioning and comfortable seating. Ford gave the Think City away when California decided to drop the EV-vehicle requirement for carmakers who wished to sell cars in the state… You think they would have liked to have it today? :-)

In my opinion, we are standing at a paradigm shift in personal transportation – and the majors have been simply unbelievably blind to the opportunities lying in wait.

Won’t take long now before people will look back on the Hummer with complete derision. Imagine if GM had used the resources spent on that blind alley more wisely?

Diesel again:

David, you’re right about the diesel/gas extraction rate from crude oil. But diesel fuel can be other things: wood dust, vegetable oil, extracted from paper pulp mill black liquor, natural gas, and so on. AND you need a relatively small motor to move a big car, if you don’t need the plus 100 mph speeds. You can definitely average 35-40 mpg in a 3500 lb car. Compare that to an E85 car, which only averages some 16-18 mpg, down to 12 mpg in city traffic.

• jerseydevil

Bubba Gump:
December 13th, 2006 at 1:20 am
Its ironic that if nuclear wasn’t attached to bombs and radiation we would all be driving cars that run on nuclear heated steam/water, right now just like aircraft carriers. Just change the pill every 5 years and keep the water tank full.

yeah except that instead of oil leaks we would have radiation leaks.

• Ar-Pharazon

@Stein . . . it seems that your facts are there in spite of your argument, not in support of it.

I already said I don’t believe in the lone prophet or the 100 mpg carb, left alone because ‘the man’ (for some unknown, probably nefarious reason) doesn’t want to accept their solution. The fact that GM, Ford, M-B all cancelled their electric programs — and the fact that none of the majors now have a viable, high volume electric vehicle — is pretty good proof that the concept is just not economically viable. Not yet, perhaps . . . but still not.

You folks seem to want the auto companies to sink BILLIONS of dollars into developing something that benefits you, but doesn’t benefit them. “Oh, but in the future, these things will be BIG, and the profits will be . . . unlimited!!!” OK. How long have we heard this? Look back in the archives and tell me, what were the Cali crowd saying back when they first passed their zero-emission legislation? How long until electric cars were the ‘standard’? Has it happened? No. If you think that’s because GM and big oil squashed the concept, then I’ve got a parcel of land in Area 51 to sell you.

It hasn’t happened, because it makes no business sense. And that’s the way this country (and the world, mostly) works.

If you say that these technologies benefit us all and we should have it, then who is the group best positioned to pay for it? The government. They paid for roads, they keep the airlanes sane, they deliver the mail, they keep us safe . . . let them foot the bill for this technology.

Bet not a lot of you will agree with that. Especially when couched as a ‘bailout’ to the auto industry to get them more competitive.

Where’s my electric Toyota? They’ve got the deepest pockets, the best engineering, the best product planning, etc . . . why didn’t they introduce one years ago?

All this must tell you something. Like they say in Missouri, “show me”.

• Glenn A.

Bubba Gump’s description about how people are all gung-ho about change until it’s time to actually DO it, is great. Nice one. Unfortunately, I see this all the time in life (like at our church – the congregation was all gung-ho about building a few more classrooms and a new larger fellowship hall to eat in and ignore the old church building across the parking lot, instead of simply adding to the old building). Now, we’ve had to cut like 20% out of the church budget for the year because everyone who supported it all, now is not willing to tithe for it.

So it is NOT with Toyota and Honda, companies which have essentially said – okay, we’re just going to proceed with hybrids and improve the situation (more so Toyota than Honda, Honda seems to have lost their way a bit).

Once (not “if”) plug-in hybrids come about, Toyota will probably be in a better position to build them than any other company (Honda looks like they are going to go for their FCX in low-mass-production in 2008).

As for the next-gen Prius, I have seen 94 mpg noted in a couple of articles, and I think that Toyota are probably being conservative. However, I also suspect that this figure will prove to be a figure for a PLUG-IN Prius hybrid (and if I’m wrong, then the real-world summer MPG will be “infinity” for gasoline – for example, I live 17 miles from work and with a 40 mile electric only range, I wouldn’t even need to plug in at work).

In terms of real energy use (i.e. well-to-wheels overall efficiency), I read that Toyota (which has hybrids in production AND fuel cell vehicles under test on the road) states that overall efficiency of the Prius was double what their fuell cell car was, and double what the “conventional” mid-sized car is.

Nearly doubling that again at 94 “real world” MPG would be a formidable feat. Making the same car plug-in capable would be a world-beater.

Let’s all be realistic. I have a 2002 Hyundai Sonata V6 – 24-25 mpg real-world in the summer, about 22 in winter. My 2005 Prius can obtain about twice those numbers doing virtually everything the other car can do EXCEPT tow a small trailer.

In fact, the Prius CAN tow my small (canoe/utility combo) trailer weighing in at 360 pounds (less canoe) which means I could bring home furniture, refrigerators, and do more or less what my neighbors do with their pickup trucks IF I choose to put a hitch on the car and risk the warrantee.

My point is – instead of everyone talking about pie-in-the-sky, go put your money where your mouth is and double or triple your efficiency. Then next car, try to get a doubling of efficiency again, if the tech is there.

Before long, the oil we’ve got, and synthetic fuels obtainable from garbage, offal, sewage (and which is carbon-neutral) could possibly see us off the imported-oil teat.

See http://www.changingworldtech.com for a real shock. We just need to get off our asses as a nation and culture and DO IT. One person at a time, one company at a time.

• Glenn A.

Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention. My wife and I CARPOOL in our Prius already. One of my past-carpool partners bought a Highlander Hybrid and moved to town 2 miles from work.

• johnnycam

In the ’70s when I came of age, I really doubted that I would ever own my own car after university. The first energy crisis seemed to herald the end of the modern world.

According to all the chicken littles, the sky is still falling and will forever remain so. We have nothing to fear, but fear itself and all the dimbulbs who “know” how to run the world.

They are the only thing I really fear.

I look forward to seeing my son and my daughter in their 400 HP sports coupes. I hope they let me take them for a spin. And I look forward to doing the same for my grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren.

And the chicken littles will still be runnning aound squacking. Go eat some corn and keep it out of the wasteful ethanol plants.

• dhathewa

“Where’s my electric Toyota? They’ve got the deepest pockets, the best engineering, the best product planning, etc . . . why didn’t they introduce one years ago?” – ar Pharazon

It’s over at the dealer. Toyota built a fairly decent EV, the RAV-4/EV but discontinued it in favor of the Prius, Camry hybrid and Highlander hybrid. They’re electric cars with their own generators on-board.

One could also ask, “Where’s my electric GM? They’re the biggest automaker in the world… why didn’t they introduce one years ago?”

GM built a fairly decent EV, the EV-1 but discontinued it in favor of more gas-guzzlers.

• jerseydevil

Glenn A
See wwwchangingworldtech.com for a real shock. We just need to get off our asses as a nation and culture and DO IT. One person at a time, one company at a time.

Thanks, good stuff!

• wsn

Where’s my electric Toyota? They’ve got the deepest pockets, the best engineering, the best product planning, etc . . . why didn’t they introduce one years ago?

The electric Toyota is called Prius. It’s half electric, but it’s still the closest thing to an electric car ever. I won’t be surprised if Prius becomes more electric biased in the future. (No, GM EV1s don’t count. We are talking about mass produced and sold cars.)

• chuckR

The aerospace boys have a saying – ‘Simplicate, then add lightness’. Is anyone here ready to do that? Do you need 3 memory settings 8 way power seats? Power sun roof? How about that stupid nav/info screen? And the DVD players for the backseat? Two or four zone heating/cooling? 0-60 in 4 seconds instead of 6 seconds which was creditable in the first golden age of muscle cars? Big heavy tire and rim sets for more of that swell unsprung weight? Lots more examples if you spend even a small amount of time thinking about it.
I can think of two simplicated cars – Lotus Elise and Ariel Atom. (And their electric cousins, Tesla and X1). VW killed the Volks-moggie – lawyers perhaps? That car might have provided a reasonable compromise between comfort and simplication, for use, like motorcycles, in decent weather. If you could get a break from insurance companies for either/or use of a real car or a lightweight car, that would help too.
As for batteries, the lithium ion versions are claimed to provide pretty good range, but still at a high price. 6800 of them for the Tesla – thats an awful lot of extra packaging weight. OTOH, the compartmentalization might help in case of arc overs or shorts. Those can be impressive – as Dell found out with some small ones. There are companies that make much larger lithium ion batteries, but they aren’t automotive.
Carbon fiber – sure thats practical. Look at all the cheap racing sailboats that use it extensively and the even cheaper cars like the Enzo. A panel here and there is a lot different than a complete structure. Its light and strong but not forgiving in most senses of the word.
I’m waiting for a revolution in personal transportation, but
think we’re likely to get a continuing evolution instead.

• quasimondo

There’s another saying that the automotive boys have as well:

“Light, cheap, or durable. Pick two.”

Besides, I like navigation screens. It helps keep me from acting like a lost tourist. I like dvd screens in the back seat too. So does any parent who’s ever had to go on a long road trip, or any kid who’s been dragged on a road trip. I have a personal preference for power moonroofs, though I miss the days when cars used to have T-tops. How heavy do you think that stuff is? It’s not like they’re stuffing CRT screens in the dashboard. The power seats? Okay, maybe, but the regular manual seats in my old beater seemed quite heavy too when I pulled them. Maybe a six way carbon fiber bucket will do.

The weight isn’t in the creature comforts, contrary to popular belief. What’s the excuse for a car like the Hyundai Elantra, a bare bones transportation appliance with no frills that still tips the scales at nearly 2900 lbs? People like a car that feels solid. And they like a car that doesn’t feel like a strong crosswind is going to shove it off the road. Sure they can reduce weight with lighter materials, but will the weight reduction justify the price increase? Are you really willing to pay more for a car that feels like a Toyota throwback?

• Glenn A.

The Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr from 1978 through the mid-1980’s used the theory of “simplicate and add lightness” too, and look what “wonderously, thunderously craptastic” cars they were, too! Especially with the “Pinto” 2.3 four banger. (banger being the oeprative word, here)

Lightness need not mean chintzy, cheap, crappy cars, but it tends to when foisted upon us by the big 2.5.

But, no, chuckR, I DON’T “NEED” 8 way power seats, 0-60 in less than 10 seconds never mind 6 seconds, and yeah, my Prius does perfectly well thanks very much.

And yeah, I AM gaining back the “expense” of the electric drivetrain with immediate “payback” because before I selected the Prius, my choice for next-car was a 21 mpg mid-sized WITH 8-way power seats (2x memory buttons), leather, sunroof, ersatz wood and real leather steering wheel, ete etc for the same money I spent on the Prius instead.

• johnnycam:
December 12th, 2006 at 7:04 pm
Does Amory Lovins have wall to wall carpet in his home or does he just strap small rectangles of carpet to his feet?
Just wondering.

Lovins’ spectacular ~4000 sq ft house, around 9,000 feet near Aspen CO (which I have visited twice) does not use any energy from the grid. Passive solar architecture takes care of most of the heating, with a very little supplement from appliances (which are extremely energy efficient) and the heat given off by the occupants.

• Ar-Pharazon

There’s electric cars, and there’s hybrid cars. Hybrids aren’t zero emission (though of course neither are electrics, but hey . . .) Hybrids were a workable idea that was created to replace the unworkable idea of an electric car.

Of course Toyota abandoned the electric car in favor of the hybrid. That’s my point. Everybody abandoned the electric car, for something. But electric cars were supposed to be our savior. Conspiracy nuts still think they were quashed by GM and the oil barons. It just proves my point that some nuts will preach on and on and on about something that is just not practical. As has been said here by others . . . form a carpool, lighten up your lead foot, fill those tires, get rid of the DVD and 88-way power seats before you preach and preach about some technological white elephant.

And (for once) I was not jabbing at Toyota. In all seriousness . . . if they aren’t selling electric cars with all their engineering prowess and financial might, then that’s gotta tell you something about the feasibility and financial viability of the idea.

• Ar-Pharazon:
Ar-Pharazon I don’t believe in the myth of the lone sane voice crying in the wilderness, being ignored by ‘the man’. Not any more than I believe in the 100 mpg carbeurator hidden in old Hank’s vault (I’ve seen the inside of his vault!) If this guy really had such great ideas 11 years ago, he’d be rich and we’d be driving his innovations.

In fact, he’s definitely not hurting. He has been consulting with utilities, foreign countries, etc., on renewable energy and other resource issues since he first surfaced in the late 1970s. His He runs the Rocky Mountain Institute, which works on resource issues. He may have been a bit ahead of his time on cars, but he is definitely not a crank. Just wait a few years.

• quasimondo

Glenn A,

Remember: Light, cheap, or durable. Pick two.

• ZoomZoom

Great article. I haven’t had a chance to read many of the comments yet, but I will.

I think that a lot of people (not in this bunch!) are ignorant of the physics of weight, mass, thermodynamics, aerodynamics, and the energy required to move, stop, go, and do. I think it’s partly an education problem.

If we were better educated in these areas, I think we would be more intelligent consumers. Among other things.

• chuckR

quasimondo

“Light, cheap or durable. Pick two” is an OK wry engineering saying as long as they don’t come to believe it and as long as beancounters don’t impose it. Acting on that attitude in the 70’s is what got the Big 3 to where they are today – the Largeish 2.5. They made them heavy, cheap and unreliable and paid the price in market share. The Corvette ought to be an aspirational car – its clear the expertise to pick at least 2.5 of the quoted items is there. Granted a Corvette is only cheap for what it is.

• ZoomZoom

insightOwner:
December 12th, 2006 at 2:14 pm
linnta08: If everybody is going in the same direction, why not carpool? Since the car gets basically the same milage with one or four people, you can quadruple the efficiency by getting three friends to go along…

Now we’re getting somewhere. Any discussion about transportation efficiencies should include carpools…elevators, escalators, and the ultimate “transpools,” trains and planes!

• cg

quasimondo, i think you’ve got it.

Pick 2.

Thats right, I’d like to say you CAN’T have it all, but maybe it makes more sense to say you don’t NEED it all. We humans are greedy and always want 3, but we also have a conscience – it makes us different to animals.

Does anyone still not believe that global warming is happening? Even if you’re a non-believer, just maybe making a sacrifice and only picking two for a change is pretty cheap insurance for what could happen.

Here in Victoria, Australia we are having one of the worst bushfire seasons ever (and its only December) and water restrictions mean I can’t water the garden. It just doesn’t rain here anymore.

• thx_zetec

1. GM’s problem is not making big vehicles, their full size pickup/SUV line is most profitable vehicle line on the planet, even after the recent gas-price induced decrease. GM’s problem is legacy cost and poor perfornance in car market.

2. Regarding #1: Toyota knows the full size truck market is a gold mine, that is why they are spending billions on the new Tundra, a full-size, 384 hp full size pickup. BTW it will likely have worse fuel economy than the Chevy Silverado. Despite all the talk of Toyota Honda technology nobody seems to match Chevy’s full size pickup fuel economy.

3. Saying the Prius is an EV is mis-leading: all of the Prius’s energy is generated from burning gasoline, even though some of it is temporarily stored in a battery. O.K real world you might get 20-30% getter mileage, but otherwise you’re burning dinasour juice, just less of it. Plugin hybrids will improve this.

4. Regarding EV’s: If GM was only car maker you could blame its demise on GM. However many carmakers (Honday, Toyota) all ended their EV sales about 10 nano-seconds after CARB ditched its silly mandate. (the most amazing thing I heard as that “big oil” killed the EV. How could they punish EV owners – refuse to sell them gas?)

You might think I’m pro-GM or anti-Toyota, I’m not. I drive a small 4-cyl ford and a Toyota minivan and like them very much. That last thing I’d want is a fuel sucking Tahoe (even less the Toyota Sequoia which gets even worse mileage). My point is that fuel in-efficiency sells and makes money.

If someone could make a 9 passenger, 450 Hp 4 wheel drive that got 80 mpg and cost \$12,000 people would buy it. But this does not exist, and may not be possible. So people choose to pay more and give up fuel economy.

• quasimondo

ChuckR

It’s not a matter of the beancounters dictating this, nor is this the outcome of an engineer’s mind gone stagnant. This is quite simply the truth, so to speak.

These cars are heavy not because the car companies wanted to pile on weight, but because they were required by the government to make a car that can withstand a crash. Noley mentioned earlier of how an insurance adjuster told him that small cars can survive an impact from a larger car because they simply bounce away. I disagree. A youtube search for a video of a crash test involving a Honda Civic being broadsided by a Mitsubishi Montero traveling 60 mph shows the Civic wrapping itself around the front end of the Montero. The cabin intrusion was so severe that the door was halfway inside the car, and somehow the driver’s head found its way into the backseat. Definitely not surviveable unless you have reinforced door beams and B-pillars. But unfortunately that adds weight. Sure you can use composite materials, but the problem is the cost not from expensive materials, but because it is time consuming and in most cases must be made by hand. This is fine for a limited production vehicle like the Lotus Elise or Corvette Z06, but when you’re trying to churn out half a million Corollas, this just won’t do.

Besides, how are you going to convince a buyer that your car is safe when you have naysayers saying the car is glued together, even if the bonding process makes it many times stronger than a standard weld?

Light, cheap, or durable. You can only pick two.

• Ar-Pharazon

I always thought it was fast (as in, done quickly), cheap, or good . . . pick two.

* You can have your luxo-widget tomorrow, but it’s gonna cost you
* I can give you a luxo-widget at half price, but the waitlist is 9 months
— or —
* You can pick up a craptasto-widget at the 7-11 on the way home for only 99 cents

• P1h3r1e3d13

I apologize for the overly long, segmented, reactionary post, but that’s what happens when I join late. Humor me.

@WaaaaHoooo re: the “huge American gas guzzler” thing:

Compare the market share for the F150 (the highest-selling vehicle ever) and other light trucks and SUVs to that of luxury and sports cars. I don’t have numbers in front of me, but you will find the former much greater. Thus, their economy or lack thereof has a much greater effect on the nation’s fuel consumption and emissions.

@insightOwner, and others re: miles per gallon per person.

I believe you mean people miles per gallon. Take Bubba Gump’s example: “You could fill a 24 mpg Outlook with 8 people and it equates to 192 mpg per passenger”
Miles per gallon per passenger (or “person”) = m/g/p = 24 mpg / 8 people = 3 miles per gallon per person, not 192.
People miles per gallon = p*m/g = 8 people * 24 mpg = 192 people miles per gallon.
Interestingly, Arthur St. Antoine’s column in the November Motor trend addresses exactly this. Check it out.

@ash78 re: “fancy physics terms”

That makes sense on paper and in real life, too. The word you’re missing is “acceleration,” which is “rate at which the small vehicle changes direction or speed.” A “G” is a measure of acceleration.

@neilberg re: cake:

@many people re: high-mileage/plug-in Prius:

Yes, according to several sources, the next-generation Prius will be a plug-in hybrid. This makes obvious sense if you consider that, with a hybrid Camry available and a hybrid Corolla coming soon (some say 2008), the Prius loses its niche if it doesn’t stay a step ahead of them in efficiency and technology.

@virages re: push rod engines:

For the record, the pushrod engine is a more recent design (though the omniscient Wikipedia disputes this) and a more elegantly simple one. It also allows for more compact packaging of the engine, allowing improvements in a car’s weight distribution, crush zones for pedestrian safety, styling, and more. Though the OHC design is perceived as technologically superior, one need not look farther than the current small block Chevy to see that a well-designed and -constructed cam-in-block engine can be quite competitive with modern OHCs.

@Brandon D. Valentine re: A Modest Proposal:

Hilarious! Good show!

@Bubba Gump re: nuclear cars:

It’s also ironic that, in a thread discussing lightweight cars, you suggest a design that would require hundreds or thousands of pounds of steel, lead, and other materials (perhaps concrete) to contain the radiation that is as inextricably attached to nuclear reactions as heat is to combustion.

@quasimondo re: the cost of charging an electric car:

http://auto.howstuffworks.com/electric-car.htm puts the cost of driving an electric at 1 cent per mile, versus 4 cents per mile for a gas car at thirty mpg. And that was with gas prices at half of today’s values!
I’ve read other estimates of a full charge worth 250 or 300 miles for the cost of one gallon of gas. That’s at least ten times as economical as most gas cars.

@Glenn A. re: Honda FCX and Toyota Prius:

For the record, the “FC” in “FCX” stands for “Fuel Cell.” It is not a hybrid, plug-in or otherwise.
And again, word is that the next Prius will be a plug-in.

@johnnycam:

The continued existence of “chicken littles” does not mean that they are always wrong. I’m sure many warnings were dismissed by skeptical Romans around 500 AD….

Also, on the subject of growing vehicles, grab a car mag and read a review of an updated version of nearly any vehicle. You’ll see “it’s x inches longer, y inches wider and [usually] z inches taller.” Chances are, you’ll also find something like “the new [model name] gains 200 pounds over the outgoing model, but compensates with an extra 36 horses.”
It seems every new model has grown in every redesign for the last decade. Witness the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa, which slot in under the Civic, Corolla, and Sentra, which used to be defined by their smallness (especially the Civic).

I’m convinced that a navigation system in my car would result in a net savings of gas, due to the reduction in wrong turns and the associated backtracking.

If you’ve stuck it out all the way to here, thanks.

• Glenn A.

quasimodo wrote:

“Glenn A,

Remember: Light, cheap, or durable. Pick two.”

Ford Fairmont / Mercury Zephyr. Light, cheap. NOT durable.

Toyota Prius. Light, durable.

Point taken.

But perhaps the Prius is not as “expensive to purchase” as one might surmise. Depends upon your perspective, doesn’t it?

Prius at \$22,000 is a bargain for a mid-sized car if you consider what a all-out attempt to obtain 100 mpg with carbon fiber as a car body would cost. Much as I admire the idea that Honda is being extremely brave and putting out their FCX hydrogen fuel cell car in 2008 (in low-mass production), it is going to be a LEASE ONLY car, thus probably heavily subsidized by Honda (which I do NOT think Prius is by Toyota).

Plus, “watch this space” in about 2009 when the next-gen Prius comes out. I bet it is NOT made of ultra-light “unobtanium”. Toyota promised cutting the “hybrid premium” in half (to what, an additional \$2000 instead of twice that).

• Glenn A.

Yes, P1h3r1e3d13, I know the FCX is a hydrogen fuel cell car. Initially it will be fuelled via an at-home hydrogen generator connected to a natural gas line (which more-or-less defeats the purpose behind the whole exercise of trying to break away from the petroleum based economy). However, Honda and the others are working on solar cell generation of hydrogen (obviously requiring a water connection for electrolysis). Honda just started a huge company (division) for the manufacture of solar cells. So who knows, maybe by 2009-2010 the at home hydrogen generators will be solar. (I’ll need quite an array for northern Michigan).

Of course, I want an FCX if I can lease one. I’m a car-guy! I wanted a Chrysler Turbine in 1963 even though I was SIX YEARS OLD. OK? At least I have some small chance of leasing an FCX at age 51 in two years, eh?

Of course, the cynic inside says “well, we were promised gas turbines, then it was steamers, then it was Stirling, then it was Wankel – as the next BIG thing.” Pretty incredible that here it is 2007 nearly, and a good 1/2 of the damn vehicles on the American road have chug-chug V8’s, ladder frames and straight axles. Sheesh.

If I cannot get an FCX, we may well wait another year for the Prius gen III (gen IV for Japan). The the current Prius will be the “50 mpg gas hog” only used a few thousand miles a year when we can’t carpool.

Those folks who say “20-30% improvement” (in a hybrid such as Civic Hybrid or Prius) should come and take a ride with me and watch the MPG meter. It’s a 20-30% improvement over what? How about a 100% improvement over our current conventional 2002 Hyundai Sonata V6 with the same interior room, performance and functionality?

Took my boss to the Ford dealer to pick up his (once again in service for a problem) “Dorf SUV” (Ford spelled sideways is dorf). He was transfixed by the MPG meter. We slowed down to turn into the Ford dealer and he exclaimed “oh my God, you just went up to 49 mpg” (he was looking at the overall average over a couple hundred miles).

• P1h3r1e3d13 It seems every new model has grown in every redesign for the last decade. Witness the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa, which slot in under the Civic, Corolla, and Sentra, which used to be defined by their smallness (especially the Civic).

Excellent point. My old Civic-Corolla class ’93 Saturn weighed around 2450, about 500 lbs less than current civics and corollas. At around 2300 lbs, the Yaris weighs 400+ lbs more than my comparably-sized ’77 Corolla did; the Fit weighs even more than that.

One point that Lovins makes is that when you start peeling weight off of a car, you get into a virtuous circle where it becomes possible to peel more weight off. For example, my old Corolla required neither power steering nor power brakes (people who drove it thought it had power steering, the steering was so light). (again, see my article on the hypercar at ﻿http://tinyurl.com/tkrby)

• johnnycam

P1h3r1e3d13:

And I am sure those Romans were eventually running around saying this is the end of human civilization! Nope – just them.

And I am not an expert in the end of the Roman Empire, but I am confident that a bunch of government regulations, government regulators and armchair “experts” would only have hastened the demise of a once great society. Here’s hoping these three groups don’t try to “save”us.

• CliffG We can’t damn up rivers anymore, we won’t build nuclear plants, wind farms spoil the view, and most of the country can’t use solar for more than a few months of the year. Need I go on?

That last statement is simply not true. Massachusetts, where I live, will be one of the first places in the country where solar electricity becomes competitive, because electricity here is so expensive (I pay about 16c/kwh). I have neighbors who have solar hot water heating systems. I don’t think that the notion that wind “spoils the view” is going to gain any traction. The need for it is too great, and the economics is becoming too compelling. Here in Mass, Cape Wind, which will supply most of the electricity for Cape Cod, is almost certain to become a reality since we have just elected a governor who favors it. Use of wind power is growing exponentially; I expect in ten years we’ll have wind farms all over Mass. Denmark gets a very large % of its electricity from wind farms. There are also houses here that get virtually all their heating from passive solar architecture.

• … and as for the electricity grid, much of the capacity is idle at night, so it could be used a lot more efficiently if it were replenishing car batteries at night.

• chuckR

quasimondo – I stopped reading anything by Lovins when he said he had a car design that bounced away from the accident. I want the car to collapse gracefully, decelerating me as smoothly and slowly as possible. If I walk away, I don’t give a hoot about the car. I don’t believe in unobtanium. Even if CF were 10 cents a pound, it would not be a good choice for body structure because it doesn’t fail progressively while soaking up collision energy as strain energy. I liked the comment above about the CF combination hood/guillotine. (At that \$0.10 price, somebody might invest the time to make CF work in other ways). After 150 years of wrestling with metals in a quantifiable way (increasingly reliable properties and good ways to predict response under loads), engineers can still be surprised by steel and aluminum. We’ve had 1/5th the time to wrestle with carbon fiber. Unless you can find another way to mitigate collision impact, metal (not unobtanium) bodies/airbags/padded interiors still look like the way to go.
It would be interesting if someone had some weight numbers on body shell/doors/hood/trunk lid for a current well rated car. And similar numbers on a similar sized car from body on frame days.

• Paul Niedermeyer

Glenn A: the next Prius may have plug-in capability as an option, not standard, and for about \$5,000 to \$8,000 extra, based on educated guesses by folks who know what the batteries will cost. The next Prius (w/o plug in) will be about 15%, maybe 20% more efficient than the current one, NOT 50%!

I know you love your Prius, and I totally respect it, but keep in mind that when the Prius is driven normally (not like most Prius enthusiasts), it averages about 42-44mpg. Excellent, but exagerations are not necessary.

• jerseydevil

David Holzman:

excellent article! Thanks!

Is the only function of a car is to transport the 150 lbs or so of meat we call a human being?

Of course not. The human needs to be positioned appropriately to control the automobile. It needs to be kept warm in winter and likes to be cool in summer. It’s exceptionally fragile in the context of the vehicles capabilites, and needs some sort of protection from, ahem, sudden changes of velocity. It needs to be aware of the automobile’s speed, fuel load, etc. It needs to be isolated from excess friction/combustion heat, noise, and road impacts. It needs a place to put it’s Big Gulp (OK, maybe not so much).

And all of these things which our sack of meat requires must necessarily add weight!

The above is an entirely incomplete list, and while utterly obvious to anyone who takes any time to think about it, it makes a valid point- this 1% talk is almost uselessly academic. If you take it as a given that the human requires certain things that will necessarily add weight to an automobile (and you should), well, wouldn’t it be more valuable to know what percent of the total weight of your average vehicle those elements add up to? Probably a pretty large percentage, dontcha think? Will it change the equation much to swap out steel bodywork for CFP? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong- the idea of cutting out automotive flab is extremely appealing to me. And, chock full of facts and figures that obscure the difficulty of solving the problem rather than enlighten with examples of solutions, that’s why this article was such a letdown.

David, you’re right about the diesel/gas extraction rate from crude oil. But diesel fuel can be other things: wood dust, vegetable oil, extracted from paper pulp mill black liquor, natural gas, and so on. AND you need a relatively small motor to move a big car, if you don’t need the plus 100 mph speeds. You can definitely average 35-40 mpg in a 3500 lb car. Compare that to an E85 car, which only averages some 16-18 mpg, down to 12 mpg in city traffic.

Jan, I’m more concerned about the carbon emissions per mile than about the mpg, and because of that, E85 doesn’t exactly make me want to do a Snoopy dance. Diesel improves carbon per mile, but not as much as mpg would suggest. As for the other sources of diesel, especially the renewable sources–wood dust, etc.–the big question is how much can be sustained. However that comes out, diesel certainly should have a much bigger place in the current mix than it does.

• Even if CF were 10 cents a pound, it would not be a good choice for body structure because it doesn’t fail progressively while soaking up collision energy as strain energy.

In fact it does soak up collision energy–far, far better than steel does. (See my article, link somewhere above). This is part of the reason F1 drivers often walk away from crashes at extreme speeds.

• Bob Elton

A few years back, I worked in crash testing at a major autmaker. We had spent a great dealof time developing various bodies made of differimng kinds of carbon fibers, ABS, and other materials. All of them failed the basic 30mhp barrier test, in one of two ways.

The light weight cars shattered, and the dummy was killed.

The heavyweight ones, which wound up signifigantly heavier than the steel bodied car, bounced off the barrier. Theimpact was so severe on the dummy, since the car absorbed none of the energy, that the dummy was killed. In some cases the seat belts snapped.

Small changes separated the “shatterers” from the “bouncers”. Sometimes temperature was enough to make the difference.

Stel absorbs energy better, per pund, than any material anyone has found so far. Steel cars can be lightrer than they are, and probably lighter than any plastic or aluminum car.Ask the Iron and Steel institute, of course, and they will say the same thing. They have, however, built some cars to back this up. They were Taureses, undistinguishable from a regular Taurus, and they weighed only 2500 lbs. With all accessories.

If you want to save weight, there is the place to start.

Another overlooked shortcoming of CRP is that while it is strong, it is not particularily rigid. In cars, there is a need for torsional rigidy. Airplanes and other things don’t need this, much. Per pound, steel works better for this requirement than any other material.

There are lots of ways to make cars lighter. Leaving hte spare tier home would be one. If everyone took out the spare tire, and jack, tonight, the country would immediately start saving tremendous amounts of fuel. More than any tinkering around with unreliable materials.

Bob Elton

• SherbornSean

Bob,
Nice post. I like your point about spare tires. My guess is that 90% of drivers wouldn’t know what to do with a spare if they did get a flat, other than call AAA.

In a similar vein, 90% of American drivers would get better mileage, improve performance and control, and save about \$900 if they learned how to use their left foot. Is it really that hard, or is it too distracting from using your Blackberry while driving?

• chuckR

David – an alternative explanation for race car drivers walking away from wrecked carbon fiber cars and steel cars too is that a) they take safety much more seriously (helmets, 5 pt harnesses) b) better passive safety (guardrails,etc) on race courses than roadways c) they don’t tend to run into immovable objects or objects moving at them.

Some insteresting stuff for the “chem-heads”:

http://www.ecotraffic.se/publikationer_eng.asp

• George B

One of the frustrations I have as a consumer is that I can’t influence the car design process in any way other than not buying a particular model. Right now, the weight gains of some new models are a major turnoff for me.

Ford F-150 regular cab SB MT V6 4615lbs!
Acura TSX 4cyl MT small sedan 3257lbs! 3345lbs with auto.

I guess that other consumers must value 5 star crash test ratings and the impression of quality that comes with more mass more than they value quick acceleration and good city cycle fuel economy. I wish I could pay more for the “more aluminum, less iron and steel, less mass” performance option to reduce the weight of non-structural parts of a car. I don’t expect revolutionary changes with every design cycle, but 5-10% weight reduction vs. 5-10% weight increase would be nice.

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