Amory Lovins to Car Industry: Lighten-up!

Donal Fagan
by Donal Fagan
amory lovins to car industry lighten up

Scientist/environmentalist Amory Lovins believes that America can solve oil dependency with efficiency. In the early '90s, Lovins conceptualized the Hypercar: an ultra-light, aerodynamic hybrid vehicle with three-to-five-times better mpg than your average bear, with comparable performance, safety, usefulness and affordability. According to US News and World Report, Lovins recently told a National Academy of Sciences energy summit that building cars with advanced lightweight materials like carbon fiber (instead of steel) would boost automotive efficiency to 85 mpg for midsize cars, 66 mpg for midsize SUVs. Lovins claims that "lightweighting" would also improve vehicle safety since the advanced materials can absorb "up to 12 times as much crash energy per pound as steel." Automakers aren't buying it. Literally. "Lightweight materials are horrendously expensive," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told Automotive News [sub]. "People keep forgetting the cost equation." D'oh! Anyway, Lovins and Lutz must live in parallel worlds. "I'd say lightweighting is the hottest strategic trend in the industry right now," Lovins counters. Ah, "strategic." Meanwhile, Lovins' FiberForge seeks to capitalize on his faith in adding lightness.

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  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Mar 24, 2008

    "Also, the present model of disposable cars would need to change." You must be young. We now routinely keep cars for 8 to 10 years. When I was young cars were done, and I mean toast, after 3 or 4 years. If you got 100,000 mi out of a car in the 50s, you had accomplished something. Now that is not regarded as high mileage.

  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Mar 25, 2008

    I am not a member of the Amory Lovins fan club. The X-prize has given him a chance to put up or shut up, and we will see if he can rise to the challenge. But, he does have a point. The cars on the market today are way too heavy. And not just the %^&$#@ SUVs. When exotic GTs made with aluminum and CF can tip in near 2 tons. Something is very wrong. I don't know why this is so. I am not persuaded of the explanations I have read above. I am more inclined to think that any weight advantage created by modern electronics has been eaten up by leather upholstery, than I am to blame the electronics. I would very much like to see lighter smaller vehicles. They can and should be more fun to drive. I drive a 2002 Accord V6 it has 200 hp and weighs 3300 lbs. for a power weight ratio of 16.5 lbs/hp. I like it a lot. The 2003 Accord that used to own, but sold, had a 240 hp V6 and weighed a bit more, about 3450 lbs. a bit less than 14.5. It was plenty fast enough. However, I also own a Mercury Mystique V6 that has 170 hp and weighs about 2900 lbs. it is as much fun to drive as the Hondas. Mechanical reliability is another story. I hope the trend of the future is to lighter cars. I want to see the return of the 2800 lbs. mid size car. Such a vehicle with a 200 hp. 4 could be a hoot to drive.

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Mar 25, 2008

    RS, I am not that young, but it's always a matter of perspective. Sen. McCain's mother is a bit upset about people calling her boy "old". 10 years is still "disposable" in my mind. There is no reason for it. Even with the current abuse most of us put our cars through, they should not be so worn out in 10 years. I would like to see repainting, new interiors, and engine rebuilds become something the average person thinks about for their car rather than a trade-in.