The Truth About Cars » weight The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:00:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » weight C7 Corvette Puts On 90 Pounds Thu, 02 May 2013 16:16:15 +0000 2014-Chevrolet-Corvette-Weight-Chart


Fans of the C7 Covette may be interested to read this breakdown of the extra 90 lbs that the C7 Corvette has put on. For someone such as myself who is used to the OEMs brushing off weight gain or other uncomfortable facts with eye-roll inducing PR pap, the ‘Vette team deserves credit for this itemized breakdown of every component that added to the weight of the C7.


It’s hard to argue with an oil cooler, a revised drivetrain, beefier brakes and a nicer interior. I still think the car is an aesthetic step backwards from the C6, but there’s an overwhelming contingent of you who feel differently. Since we’re as popular at GM as Joe Biden is with the NRA, the first person to submit a real review of the C7 to TTAC (dealer car, press car, private car, it doesn’t matter) will get some kind of press trip swag courtesy of yours truly.

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Piston Slap: Crossing over into Minivan Tow Ratings? Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:35:07 +0000


Mike writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I have been a fan of TTAC for a while now. I am motivated to write by the recent responses to towing with a 2005 Odyssey. Two years ago I bought a 2008 Toyota Sienna and a 21 foot (actual total length) travel trailer. The trailer has a GVWR of 3500 lb, which the Sienna is rated to tow with its towing package. I had an independent shop install a fluid-to-air ATF cooler, unfortunately, perhaps, choosing the smallest model as it was recommended for a 3500 lb tow. I was concerned about getting too much cooling in the winter. The van already had an ATF cooler in the radiator. I had them put in an ATF temperature gauge (before the radiator) at the same time. The towed weight of the trailer is several hundred pounds below the GVWR, but it has a front profile that is basically vertical. I have towed the trailer about 20,000 km (yes, I’m in Canada) and done what Toyota calls an ATF change three times. That’s actually a drain the pan and refill with 4 L of ATF, not really a change. Of course, I have no way of knowing how accurate the gauge is, but the highest it’s been on the highway is 220 F on a couple of grades in the BC mountains (Coquihalla highway). The temperature went down as soon as the grade did. It went up to 240 F or so for a few minutes while backing up a steep hill and around a bit of a corner into a storage yard. The van had 38,000 km on it when purchased and is now at 82,000 km.

Enough background. I am writing to ask why it is apparently okay to tow a larger trailer (5000 lb rating) with a Highlander but not a 3500 lb trailer with a Sienna. As far as I can tell, the engine, transmission and weight of the vehicles are basically the same. The internet is rife with posters who advise against towing with a minivan but seem to have no qualms about doing so with a SUV, except the very smallest.

What do you think?

Thanks very much for helping me out with this. I can find no answer to my question on the internet.

Sajeev answers:

Wow, you actually put an ATF temperature gauge (among other things) in a minivan?  This is why I love TTAC: our readers do some rather brilliant and enlightened things outside of their computer time.  Well, at least some of you.  I kid, I kid!

There are crucial elements that go into a tow rating: the vehicle’s weight, braking capacity and rear spring stiffness.  The 2012 Sienna is about 200lbs heavier than the 2012 Highlander, for starters.  Who knows, maybe the brakes aren’t good enough for a Highlander sized trailer and the Sienna body.  Ditto the rear springs.

I never had much faith in manufacturer tow ratings, until the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) came up with their Surface Vehicle Recommended Practice J2807: which supposedly standardizes these figures.  Is J2807 is be all, end all of towing standards?  Maybe so, but this terribly formatted article gives you more insight.  Definitely cut and paste this one into Word before reading.

While this many not fully answer your question, hopefully this will tow you (sorry) in the right direction.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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MIT Professor: Put Cars On A Diet! Sat, 07 Jan 2012 16:17:42 +0000 The car industry is under pressure to improve fuel efficiency. It is not that they have been sitting on their thumbs. Automakers have achieved large increases in fuel efficiency through better technology in recent decades, says MIT economist Christopher Knittel.

The problem is:

“Most of that technological progress has gone into compensating for weight and horsepower.”

Between 1980 and 2006, the average gas mileage of vehicles sold in the United States increased by slightly more than 15 percent. During that time, the average curb weight increased 26 percent, their horsepower rose 107 percent.  At the same time, the fuel economy of the engines actually increased by 60 percent between 1980 and 2006, Knittel shows in a new research paper, “Automobiles on Steroids,” published in the American Economic Review [$$$].  Most of those savings were used to buy more weight and horsepower.

If we would be driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 mpg to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg, Knittel says.

Currently, better fuel economy is mandated through complicated and sometimes skewed CAFE rules. Knittel thinks that compliance is easy: Maintain the rate of technological innovation experienced since 1980, and reduce the weight and horsepower of the average vehicle sold by 25 percent. Bingo, CAFE complied with.

If the country would shift back to the average weight and power common in 1980, a fleet-wide average of 52 mpg could be reached by 2020, Knittel calculates. However, Knittel does not think it will happen by itself.

The CAFE regulations will “end up reducing the cost of driving. If you force people to buy more fuel-efficient cars through CAFE standards, you actually get what’s called ‘rebound,’ and they drive more than they would have.”

Knittel’s solution?

“When it comes to climate change, leaving the market alone isn’t going to lead to the efficient outcome. The right starting point is a gas tax.”

(Hat tip to Dipl. Ing you-know-who)

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Bob Lutz: “I’ll Take The Blame For GM’s Weight Problem” Thu, 08 Sep 2011 01:03:11 +0000

The theme that’s emerged most clearly from my interview with Bob Lutz was, somewhat counterintuitively, compromise. Every vehicle that’s developed and built is the product of nearly countless compromises, on everything from performance to efficiency, and from weight and materials to cost. The question isn’t so much if you compromise when developing a new car, but how you compromise… as was demonstrated in our last Lutzian anecdote. And even during my interview, as the conversation bounced from GM to Chrysler, from mass-market products to niche halo cars, I was thrilled that this issue kept coming up. Why? Because this theme played perfectly into the question that was at the top of my list of prepared questions. After all, there has been a mystery haunting GM followers for some time now… a mystery that I’d never seen a journalist ever ask about. And there I was, sitting with one of the few people who was even capable of fully answering it. So I just waited for a pause, opened my mouth and asked:

Why do GM cars weigh more than other cars?

I had no idea what kind of answer to expect… but I definitely wasn’t expecting the answer I got.

To be perfectly honest, I half-expected an angry denial or a brush-off… possibly even a signal that the interview was over. In the car world, weight is extremely important to engineering cultures and enthusiasts alike. The former see low weights as the achievement of engineering excellence in the abstract, while enthusiasts enjoy a low mass vehicle’s inherent advantages in handling, acceleration and efficiency. Ever since Colin Chapman built Lotus around the philosophy “simplify and add lightness,” curb weight has been the measure to look at for in-the-know-enthusiasts. And there I was asking a guy who was still informally advising GM, and would be officially back at the company a week later, why his cars were fatties.

Of course he couldn’t exactly deny the fact. Chevy, for example, won’t let you use its online “competitive comparison” system to compare weights, but if you go through the comparisons by hand you’ll find the weight of every GM car is at least a little heavier than the competition. Sometimes the extra weight isn’t much: for example, a base, four-cylinder Camry weighs 3,307 lbs to the four-pot Malibu’s 3,421. But go to the C-segment and you’ll find that a Cruze with automatic transmission weighs 3,102 to the Corolla’s 2,800 and the Civic’s 2,672. Similarly, a base Equinox is four hundred pounds heavier than a comparable CR-V. No wonder then, that Chevy struggled so long with fuel economy and the perception that it “couldn’t make a good small car.”

But if Lutz thought through all this before answering, he didn’t let it show. There was only the briefest pause as he considered the question, before the answer came:

Um, I’ll take part of the blame for that…

Huh? Really?

I said look guys, these vehicles are going to be robust, strong, I want a great ride, an absence of any noise, vibration and harshness, I want these things to be super-silent. So the guys put in heavy-duty components… also, Ed Welburne and I like big wheels, and the minute you say the minimum wheel size is 18 inches, you’ve automatically  bought yourself an extra 50 lbs of weight. We willingly and knowingly made decisions in favor of design and appearance and noise, vibration and harshness… all the things that make a vehicle feel substantial. You know, everybody cries and moans that the Buick Enclave is 400 lbs too heavy, but it’s the last thing on the customer’s list. They don’t worry if it’s 400 lbs overweight or not, they love the way it rides and drives.

And, you know, we did a lot of programs very fast, so there wasn’t always time to go back and say “gee, could we make this part out of something else?” So I will cheerfully admit that making weight reduction targets was my lowest priority… and it shows. But other than the automotive press, nobody cares about it.

And there you have it: if Lutz were simply a “car guy” in the mold of the most fanatical enthusiasts, there’s no way he would have run GM’s product development that way. But, beneath his “true-believer,” “engineers-first,” “car-guys-versus-bean-counters” image, Lutz is still a corporate executive first… a species more closely related to the “bean counters” than the “car guys” we all know from outside of the industry.  For all the passion he puts into his cars, he’s not developing them for himself. And for all of his public contempt for finance and “running a business by the numbers,” he’s always got an eye on what the majority of car buyers, not the aficionados, are looking for. In fact, it’s quite likely that most self-identified “car guys” who don’t work inside the industry would argue that Lutz’s priorities are as anti-car-guy as possible. After all, how can you truly claim to love a car in which you’ve concentrated all of its compromises into extra weight, the enemy of fun and efficiency? Since when do “car guys” trade hundreds of pounds of extra weight for a quieter ride?

Lutz didn’t provide too much more insight into this issue, sticking with his assertion that consumers simply don’t care about extra weight. And if asked in the abstract, it’s hard to imagine many “average consumers” placing “low weight” high on a list of priorities. But it’s clear that Lutz’s absolute emphasis on ride and refinement won’t last at GM, because weight simply isn’t abstract. Even if consumers don’t care about its effects on handling, as gas prices rise, they’re starting to care more about its effects on efficiency. And Hyundai certainly doesn’t seem to have compromised style, the all-important priority in the Lutz approach to product development, in order to bring down weight and achieve leading  fuel economy. So, is weight reduction going to become more important for GM? According to Lutz

Is it something that is being addressed? The answer is “you bet it is,” because it’s going to be harder to make fuel economy regulations with a heavy car. The guys are already doubling back on it. In the next generations they’ll get the weight out and hopefully still maintain the structural rigidity.

And on that note, Lutz whip-cracks back into “car guy” mode, singing the praises of beaming and torsional rigidity, saying “if you get that right, you’re 90% of the way to a great car.” Then, as I’m still struggling to remember a time when someone said “I love this car, but next time I’m going to buy one with more beaming rigidity,” the subject shifts again to CAFE regulation. I’m hardly an experienced interviewer, and my head is still spinning trying to make sense of what I’ve just heard, so the conversation flows on. I’m still not sure I understand why GM’s cars had to be so much heavier, but at least I know who to blame for it… if anyone actually cares.

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Are You Ready For: Plastic Windows? Tue, 12 Jul 2011 23:14:35 +0000

As automakers face slowly diminishing returns in their attempts to make internal combustion engines more efficient (while facing huge challenges in electric, hydrogen and other alt-fuel drivetrains), they are looking ever more closely at alternative materials to improve efficiency (and, to a lesser extent, driving pleasure) through weight-savings. Perhaps the biggest emerging trend in this area, especially at the higher end of the market, is in the use of carbon fiber, which is being actively pursued by automakers like BMWToyota, Lamborghini and Daimler. But, as WardsAuto points out, there’s another material that’s trying to earn a place in the lightweight cars of tomorrow: polycarbonate plastics.

Polycarbonate windows weigh half as much as glass, and because they are made with injection molding they can come in shapes that can’t be imagined with glass.

However, the material is more expensive. To get auto makers to convert, Sabic and its main material competitor, Bayer MaterialScience, have to sell the idea of integrating other parts into the plastic mold that makes the window.

For example, says Umamaheswara, “on a liftgate, a lot of features can be integrated, and if the manufacturer is short of room in the factory, it can be delivered as a module.”

A modular liftgate could include the window, cladding for the D-pillar, a roof spoiler, the high-mounted rear brake light, a rear wiper foot, handles and logos. When all those processing costs are included, he says, polycarbonate is competitive with glass and metal.

These unique assemblies are just one of the growth areas for polycarbonate plastics. Already, Wards reports that the material has become standard for headlamp covers, and when it comes to high-end, cost-no-object projects, well:

Bugatti developed a targa top for its Veyron 16:4 Grand Sport roadster in both glass and polycarbonate from Bayer, and the plastic version chosen had a weight savings of 13.0 lbs. (5.9 kg)

But that’s not the only project that has seen polycarbonates used to create light-weight windows and lower centers of gravity:

The Smart Fourtwo was the first to use polycarbonate windows, with fixed rear sidelites starting in 1998. Supplier Freeglass has made about 4 million plastic windows for Smart, Mercedes-Benz, the European Honda Civic and the SEAT Leon.

But don’t expect to see many polycarbonate plastic windows or other large subassemblies in many mass-market cars for the next few years. Even though firms like Sabic are coming up with special plastics that, if used on panorama roofs, will not just lower weight but improve insulation as well, they don’t expect major-volume projects until more EVs start coming to market, in the 2014-2015 timeframe. In the meantime, if you’re already raring for some polycarbonate windows, you’ll have to spring for a high-price Euro-spec road-racer like the Renaultsport Mégane R.26.R.

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Mission Creep, Weight Problems, Compromise Haunt GM Alpha Platform Tue, 17 May 2011 14:52:21 +0000

Yesterday we gave GM kudos for addressing its lingering vehicle weight issues by redesigning the head of its popular 3.6 liter V6, and shedding 13 lbs in the process. It was, we noted, the kind of news that showed GM is staying focused on the nitty-gritty of product development, sweating the details. But, according to a fascinating piece by GMInsideNews, new-product development at GM still has its issues. Specifically, Cadillac’s development of a new BMW 3-Series fighter, known as ATS after its “Alpha” Platform, has faced more than its fair share of what GMI calls “drama.”

Turf battles, unnecessary “wants” on checklists and ultimately a severe case of “Mission Creep” have created a vehicle that now needs a crash diet, according to GMI’s sources both within GM and at suppliers working on the Alpha/ATS program. For a vehicle that’s taking on an institution like the BMW Dreier (not to mention costing a billion dollars to develop), these are troubling signs indeed.

GMI starts with some history of the Apha program, it’s roots as “Kappa II” which Holden showed as the TT36 Torana Concept back in 2004, before development took a long hiatus. As originally intended, Alpha was to be lightweight and enthusiast-oriented, built only for four-cylinder engines. No wonder it went nowhere inside the RenCen until Cadillac adopted the platform as the basis of a forthcoming small sports sedan. But, as it turns out, Cadillac’s “wish list” for Alpha sowed the roots of its runaway complexity and bloat issues. Cadillac may have saved “Kappa II,” but it also killed off its original promise. Here’s how GMI tells the story:

…as Cadillac became involved with the Alpha program, a sense of deja vu came with it. Much like Cadillac’s initial involvement with the Sigma platform, Cadillac had a long wish-list for the new Alpha platform. This long list quickly turned a light, sporty platform on it’s head, including stops on development several times over the last few years.

Initially Alpha was going to be a four-cylinder only chassis for small premium cars, so naturally development focused on optimizing the Alpha platform for four-cylinder mills in a very light package. Well, Cadillac’s first condition was that Alpha be re-engineered to package a naturally aspirated V-6 engine – and that was non-negotiable. This about-face on engine selection would become the first of at least two engine requests that led to a re-engineering of the Alpha chassis to accommodate the new requirements. More changes (read: more mass and cost) were required for the addition of all-wheel drive.

What started out as a great handling, small RWD program, began it’s mission creep from being very focused to being all things to all people. And as it evolved, certain “hard-points” from previous development were locked in, even though the base program had transformed itself. For example, Alpha was designed with a very sophisticated multi-link front suspension with near perfect geometry for the car as it was developed at that point. That geometry was “locked in”. As the car grew and became heavier with more features and content, that original geometry was no longer optimal. Our sources tell us that GM is now attempting to mask this sub-optimal geometry with chassis tuning rather than doing the right thing and actually fix it.

Now, class, if you were developing a BMW 3-Series competitor, how important would the issues of weight and front suspension geometry be? Very important? Sort of important? Existentially important? Meanwhile, what about AWD? How important would that be? GMI may be reminded of the Sigma’s development, but GM’s history is rife with vehicles that started with a bold, simple vision, only to be re-engineered into mediocrity. A line of driver-oriented, four-cylinder-only, rear-drive small luxury cars is an intimidating step to make… but it could have been distinct, downright unique. And it would have easily handled the CAFE issue that Lutz worried about as ATS development was beginning in earnest in 2008. Heck, BMW is putting a three-banger in its next-gen Dreier… so why was Cadillac so worried about bigger engines and AWD, while glossing over the “locked-in” sub-optimal front suspension?

Regardless of why ATS development has taken the turn that it has, the effects are already clear.

According to sources familiar with the Alpha program both internally at GM and the supplier level, GM has made several other additions to the requirement list of Alpha beyond engines. Among the additions were: a new electronics system and aerodynamic shutters (similar to the Volt).

Each addition has caused another issue to engineer around, thus causing the Alpha program to exceed GM’s mass requirements for the car by nearly 500-pounds. It is unclear how heavy Alpha products will be, but every independent Alpha source GMI has communicated with has indicated that the final curb weight could push 4,000-pounds unless GM puts the program on a mass reduction plan before launch.

So, never mind about all that “GM is focused on weight gain” praise we were lavishing around yesterday. A BMW 335ix with AWD and an autobox only weighs 3,824 lbs… if Cadillac’s ATS comes in “pushing 4,000 lbs” it won’t be a Dreier-fighter, it will be a CTS with less interior room. Which, it turns out, is actually part of the problem.

Another issue the Alpha program has been strapped with is the addition of Alpha+ about halfway through development. The Alpha+ chassis is a larger variant of Alpha, intended for use with the next-generation Cadillac CTS. Naturally, Cadillac has another list of requirements for Alpha+, including the need to accommodate twin-turbo V-6 engines. This has added another layer of complexity to the Alpha program, driving up both costs and mass.

Maybe, just maybe, GM has worked some kind of magic with this Alpha platform that will yield equally exciting Camaros, ATS’s and CTS’s… but that’s a lot of work for one platform. Compromise is almost inevitable. As I wrote on the Alpha prorgam over a year ago now,

Weight and expense problems? Trying to develop a single platform that’s capable of competitively executing every RWD application across several brands? Compromising mainstream variants in order to justify the insane engine requirements of low-volume halo versions? Does any of this sound like a new day for GM’s RWD reputation to you?

Don’t get me wrong: a sub-Zeta RWD platform is a great idea (in Cadillac’s case, probably an existentially necessary one), and my inner enthusiast thrills at the idea of both budget RWD treats and tiny, loony supersedans. But the last thing I want to see is GM spending taxpayer money developing a platform that tries to fill too many niches, only to end up a dud of a compromised-to-death mess.

But it seems that the “all things to all enthusiasts” approach has ruled Alpha platform development, and as a result, well… we’ve got signs of “not good” everywhere. GMI concludes:

Recently GMI has spoken with sources–both internal and supplier–that are working on the Alpha program. According to those sources the Alpha program has been a near constant stream of drama and problems for GM, all of which were compounded by the company’s June 2009 bankruptcy. Even today, as the program nears its final stages of development, problems are still being worked out of the Alpha cars.

GM is now struggling to reduce Alpha’s mass by a quarter-ton. One source indicated that GM is willing to throw all sorts of new composite technologies at the body, structure and powertrain to achieve that goal. Those materials are being thrown at both the Cadillac Alpha cars and the sixth-generation Camaro.

At last report the Cadillac ATS is still slated to launch in mid to late 2012 as a 2013 model-year vehicle.

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Head Games: GM Drops 13 Lbs From Its 3.6 V6 Mon, 16 May 2011 17:35:50 +0000

One of the most consistent and valid criticisms of GM’s product development, even in the post-Lutz era, is the class-leading weight that so many new GM products carry around with them. To a number of industry observers, the lingering weight problem that so many of GM’s cars struggle with is a sign of corners cut in the design process. GM’s cars may look, feel and drive better than they did five, let alone ten, years ago, but clearly the battle for truly “world class” products isn’t over.

And now we’re getting some of the first indications that GM is taking the weight issue seriously, as GreenCarCongress reports that GM’s engineers have pulled 13 lbs out of its 3.6 liter direct-injected V6 simply by redesigning its head. Given that the 3.6 is already one of GM’s better engines, and is used in a huge number of its vehicles, that’s a solid first step as The General takes on the battle of the bulge.

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Holy Cow!: Fisker Karma Weighs Over 5,000 Pounds Mon, 15 Nov 2010 15:54:40 +0000

The Fisker Karma looks as sleek and and sexy as any four-door car on the market, but it’s got a secret: Spanx. Fisker’s powertrain sand battery suppliers tells the New York Times that prototypes of the series-hybrid Karma are weighing in at “over 5,000 lbs.” Says battery supplier A123 System’s Jason Forcier

It’s a pretty heavy car, but you have to look at all the technology, which includes a large gas engine, large electric motors and large batteries.

Fisker reps insist that the final product could come out weighing slightly less, but don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile the 50-mile EV range, 5.9 second 0-60 time and 125 mile top speed goals remain unchanged…. it will probably just feel lead-footed in the twisty stuff. On the other hand, by packaging its batteries in a low, central mass, Chevy’s Volt (the only other EREV on the market) actually handles fairly well for a nearly 4,000-lb compact. Still, “over 5,000 lbs” is full-sized SUV territory, and the Karma is being positioned as a green performance luxury car, not a chauffeured limo. Could this possibly end well?

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Saab 9-4X: The Heavier Cadillac SRX Mon, 18 Oct 2010 18:57:15 +0000

Built on GM’s “Theta Premium” chassis alongside its Cadillac SRX sister in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, the Saab 9-4X crossover is less than completely Swedish but more than just a rebadged SRX. Specifically, at a base curb weight of 4,431 lbs (with GM’s 3 liter V6 driving the front wheels), it’s over 200 lbs more crossover than a base SRX.

In top-spec “Aero” trim, the 9-4X weighs up to 4,706 lbs,  or as much as 400 lbs more than an SRX with the same AWD and 2.8 liter turbocharged engine. But despite all that extra weight, Saab is shooting for SRX-equaling fuel economy (20 combined for FWD 3.0, 18 combined with AWD 2.8T), and similar acceleration (7.9-7.7 seconds to 60 mph). As long as performance and efficiency produce Cadillac-rivaling numbers in the real world, most Americans won’t care much about the extra weight. With comparable cargo numbers though (61 cubic feet with the rear row folded), the Saab is going to have to beat the Cadillac on price to overcome its brand momentum deficit. Otherwise, it’s going to have to spend a lot of time talking up the Swedish Quirk ® value of its new Mexican-made crossover.

Weightier than a Caddy? saab94x3 saab94x2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail saab94x1 saab94x4 ]]> 25
“Small” MINI Countryman Starts At $22,350 Thu, 07 Oct 2010 15:00:33 +0000

The Countryman is a game-changer for us. We are going from extra-small to small
MINI USA’s Jim McDowell turns brand defiance into “game changer” status, by defining the forthcoming Countryman “SUV” as “small” and the previous MINI models as “extra small” in Automotive News [sub]. But the $22,350 Countryman (Cooper S trim with AWD should cost “just under $30k”) is considerably less extra-small than even the next-least-small MINI, the Clubman. According to MINI’s European sites [UK comparison tool here], the Countryman Cooper S weighs about 200 lbs more than the Clubman Cooper S (loaded or “kerb” weight, before adding AWD) and 400 lbs more than the MINI Cooper S. It’s also nearly six inches longer than the Clubman, four inches wider and five inches taller. In fact, with AWD and an automatic (sure to be the most popular configuration in the US market), there’s no way the Countryman Cooper S will weigh less than 3,000 lbs. If that’s what qualifies as “small” these days, it’s a wonder the MINI brand exists at all.
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Ferrari Fights The Future Fri, 07 May 2010 15:46:30 +0000

Despite breaking new ground in the field of brand leverage with its Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park, Ferrari does seem to have lost the plot a bit in relation to its “other” business building expensive sportscars. Ferrari’s abandonment of the manual transmission might be justified by faster lap times at Fiorano, and the lightning-fast, dual-wet-clutch transmissions that replace them certainly seem to help keep the Scuderia at the bleeding edge of technology (even if they’re designed and built by Getrag). But underlying the faster times, higher speeds and “digital supercar” honorifics from the motoring press, there’s a sense that Ferrari’s progress must accommodate an ever-more ambitious business plan as much as design the world’s most capable and emotive sportscars. And it’s starting to bear some troubling fruit.

With “mainstream luxury” brands like BMW and Mercedes publicly committing to increased carbon fiber content in their street cars, and Ferrari’s new competitor Mclaren Automotive building its 458-fighting MP4-12C around a carbon fiber tub, you might think that they’re feeling the heat in Maranello. Or should we say, feeling the weight: thanks to its carbon tub, the MP4-12C’s dry weight is a feathery 2,866 compared to the 458′s 3,042 lb number. As we’ll explore further in a moment, Ferrari is incredibly sensitive to issues of perception, so wouldn’t you reckon that a high-carbon-fiber diet might be on the menu at the sign of the prancing horse? Speaking to Autocar, Ferrari’s CEO Amedeo Felisa says not so much:

The fact is that nobody today has a real understanding of what happens if you damage a carbonfibre structure. After 20 or 30 years of use, who knows what state a carbonfibre structure will be in? Only the airplane industry has a long-term understanding of using carbonfibre, and there the usage is very different. Unless you have a really big accident, it is possible to repair a Ferrari today, and we don’t want to lose that.

OK, since when did the ability to repair your Ferrari outweigh the mission to make the most advanced, performance-oriented cars in the world? This is, after all, one of the most notorious brands in the world in terms of ownership experience. As Robert Farago once famously put it, you don’t really own a Ferrari, you just visit it when it’s not in the shop. So, why give up 175 lbs to the upstart MP4-12C, which is gunning for the heart of Ferrari’s sales volume? Apparently to protect the even higher-profit limited-edition Ferraris.

We will only use carbonfibre on very special cars which have a very low rate of production and which are not for everyday use, such as the new Enzo

After all, who wants to see your $650k+ flagship hypercar bearing the hallowed name of Enzo be beat around Fiorano by a mere $280k+ hotted-up “volume model” like the F430 Scuderia? It’s happened before, and Ferrari seems determined not to let it happen again… even if that means holding the V8 models back relative to their competition. And this theme of flattering the most deep-pocketed drivers at the expense of an across-the-board commitment to pure performance doesn’t end there. With direct-injection engine technology proliferating across the industry, the shift towards smaller displacements and forced-aspiration is occurring in every segment. And with Felisa “hinting” that the next Enzo (due in 2012) could have a turbocharged V8, Ferrari might have an opportunity to introduce a high-performance, turbo-V6, possibly in the 458′s replacement. But, says Felisa:

There are no plans for a six-cylinder engine today. Ferrari will not build a six-cylinder engine until customer attitudes towards smaller engines change. The perception today is that the number of cylinders equates to the possibilities of the car. That is why we are developing hybrid technology that can be applied to our V8 and V10 cars. Hybrid means we can protect the V12.

Ironically, Felisa complains elsewhere at Autocar that Ferrari planned on offering its first hybrid

In 2015, if we are forced to by the [government] regulations. The issue of emissions for Ferrari is more a political one than real one. Lowering emissions of every Ferrari will not save the planet, but it will cost us a lot of money

Forced. Right. Because downsizing and focusing on weight isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, a biggish front-engined GT like the 599GTB should be offered with a V12 for as long as possible, and if hybrid technology helps Ferrari keep a 12-pot in its stable a little longer then good for them. After all, Ferrari can’t abandon its brand simply because some former F1 upstarts are targeting their business. But part of that brand is performance, and if the MP4-12C catches the 458 napping (say, on a Top Gear power lap, or Youtube video, Ferrari will have given the boys from Woking a toehold on which to rebuild their brand. But then maybe a little competition is exactly what Ferrari needs to stop prioritizing nouveau-riche cylinder-count envy, and starving its volume models of technology like carbon fiber simply to protect its hypercars. After all, Enzo didn’t get into the global branding and amusement park business.

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Let There Be Light. Weight Wed, 28 Apr 2010 07:09:39 +0000

When I was a kid copywriter on the Volkswagen account, grumpy but thorough VW engineers drummed one tenet of green into me: You don’t save gas with secret carburetors which the oil companies hide. You save by shedding weight. The less weight to push around, the less energy is needed to do the pushing. From the First Law of Thermodynamics to Einstein, all will agree. Like we agree on the need for a balanced diet. Then we go to the next Wendy’s, and order a triple Whopper. Despite the wisdom, cars tend to gain heft over the years like an erstwhile skinny Italian bella ragazza after the age of 30.

With tougher environmental regulations spreading across the globe, and CO2 mutating into a climate-ogre from something that used to provide the fizz in a soda, automakers remember the old engineering rule: Less weight, less gas, less crud.

The challenge is to build cars light and safe at the same time. It can be done. But it’s tricky. Building cars that dissipate energy during a crash is one part. Using lightweight, but strong materials is another.

“The ability of automakers to incorporate lightweight materials into their vehicles will go a long way toward determining their global competitiveness,” The Nikkei [sub] says.

Japan’s Toray entered a joint venture with Daimler to develop carbon fiber parts.

Toyota plans to introduce several new materials for its Lexus LFA sports car, slated to be ready to buy by the end of the year. Small windows will be from polycarbonate, 30 percent lighter than glass. The LFA will use carbon fiber inside and out.

Nissan has adopted aluminum alloys for the doors and roofs of its sports cars.

BMW AG joined up with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers to produce carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic in the U.S.

Volkswagen is increasingly using aluminum for its luxury brands, such as Audi and Porsche.

However, shedding that heft comes at a hefty price. Literally. The new lightweight materials don’t come cheap. Nobody knows that better than Volkswagen. More than 10 years ago, in 1999, they launched the Lupo 3L, which had its name from the fact that it used only 3 liters of gas for 100 km. Which comes out to 78.4 mpg. (U.S. gallons, not the imperial stuff.) The car used light-weight aluminum and magnesium alloys and weighed-in at only 1,830 lb. Market research showed that the car would fly off the lot. Then it just stood there. It did not move. It was too expensive. For the same price, people got a bigger car with more oomph. The Lupo 3L was quickly buried. Critics said it was a green washing experiment. It wasn’t. They honestly meant it. But they overlooked another immutable law in the auto business: People love to save the planet when asked by a researcher. People love to get the best bang for the buck when it comes to buying.

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Japanese Mini Car Makers Fight Battle Of The Bulge Wed, 10 Mar 2010 11:24:41 +0000

Subminiature, or „kei“ cars ( from kei-jidosha – subcompact cars) have been a Japanese phenomenon. At one time, their combined share was 1/3 of Japan’s market. Unlike anime and Pokemon, the 660 cc vehicles never much made it beyond Japan’s shores. And recently, the sales of the pocket monsters on wheels had been flagging. Last February, the little critters had recorded their first rise rise after 15 months of going down – by a hair of 0.7 percent.

According to today’s Nikkei [sub], “improvements in hybrid and electric technology are dulling the fuel-efficiency edge that minivehicles have long had over larger cars. To maintain their advantage, makers of minis are putting their autos on diets, shaving weight wherever they can to eke out better gas mileage.”

Well, the formerly yaseta (skinny, lithe) kei cars have gotten a bit debu-debu (hefty) lately. Minivehicles have grown larger and heavier over the years, losing some of their appeal — superior mileage — in the process.

Manufacturers have declared an all-out war to fight the flab. When Suzuki  launched a redesigned 2010 Alto last December, Yasunori Arakawa, chief engineer for the development team, “panicked” when he “was told that the new Alto might have to become even 100 grams heavier than the previous one to meet quality assurance standards.” After an all-hands slimfest, the redesigned Alto did shed 10kg, and became nearly 17 percent  more fuel-efficient. Daihatsu’s new Tanto, released last December, dropped 60kg of extra heft. All minicar makers are on the hunt for weight to regain lost market share.

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