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How Light Can We Go?

Posted July 18, 2011 12:50 PM

New metal alloys for automobile structures are lightening up vehicles for better fuel economy while also complying with safety mandates. Will these new materials, along with the greater efficiencies being wrung out of internal combustion engines, give alternative hybrid and electric powertrains a run for the money?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Metals & Alloys, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Metals & Alloys today.

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#1

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/18/2011 4:20 PM

If they work you will see them in racing engines/cars first.

That has historically been the proving grounds for new technology.

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#6
In reply to #1

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 3:21 PM

Let's see:

Lighter car= Compromise Safety

How much fuel are we saving???

small details: passenger and baggage limit and cost

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#8
In reply to #6

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 6:29 PM

No.

You can substitute lighter material for traditional steel and still get the same or better strength.

Look at what is happening inside engines, as an example. Titanium, aluminum, and even plastics are making their way into places that 20 years would be impossible.

Peaking specifically to my post, race cars are getting structurally stronger and safer as well as faster and more powerful.

Racing is the proving ground for tomorrow's technology in mass production.

The trick is to use engineering and material sciences to make a better product (you are an engineer, no?), not just substitute balsa wood for steel for the sake of mass reduction.

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#18
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Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 10:07 AM

Lighter car doesn't necessarilly compromise safety.
Remember the big heavy pre-seatbelt cars?
A lighter car should be able to manouver better and stop quicker. This 'bigger car than thou' mentality is bonkers...
The number of people I see driving vehicles which are so big they can't park them is pretty high.
They think it makes them and their children safer... yeah... until someone in a similar car runs into their kid...these cars are pedestrian hostile.
The trick is to have all vehicles fairly similar and pedestrian friendly as far as possible.
Improve the trucks too so you don't go under the rear or side and get decapitated.(I think this has already been done to a great extent)
Now if only we could persuade those faultless truck drivers not to tailgate.
"But we're professionals, we know what we're doing" ... yeah and you're not the one who gets killed (OMG... Del criticised truckers! The sky will fall in!)
Del

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 10:53 AM

Don't forget the truckers in those accidents are usually loaded on speed to keep them awake. I have seen first hand what a truck can do to a Ford Expedition. Made it look like an accordion. The Expedition emblem on the side was the only way to tell what it was. No vehicle is safe when it comes to trucks. Not even other trucks.

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#21
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Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 12:20 PM

There need to be a whole lot more "trucks only" lanes and highways with jersey barriers separating them from everyone else. Where that isn't practical truck speed limits and driver safety should be seriously and vigorously enforced on both drivers and trucking companies. I'm talking the kinds of enforcement we reserve for airlines and pilots. Over time that would make smaller, lighter cars more acceptable to the American public. I'd also opt for automating major thorofares and vehicle computer controls so that stopping for traffic lights was no longer an option for drivers. That's everybody, not just the trucks.........Ed Weldon

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#23
In reply to #18

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 3:18 PM

Agreed, lighter car doesn't necessarily compromise safety....

But the question is how much lighter? Ti is too costly...

As for bad drivers, they are no matter what vehicle...

Drivers who can't handle suv's and mini-vans (sorry but car pools scare me)

and small cars because they're lighter think they can speed me off as i'm pulling my 37' cruiser.

would like to see supertrains connecting US cities as in Eu and Asia.

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#2

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 12:14 AM

Actually, it is an open-ended nonsense gotcha question.

If we stay home, or walk, we need a big fat zero for vehicle weight. Vehicles built for setting records are eggshells, and behave as such.

On a bit more serious note, momentum matters. When a Yugo collides with an 18 wheeler, the big rig does not notices, while the Yugo's occupants get their brains scrambled for good.

Crumple zones are quite useful, if there is large room for them. Not for tiny runabouts.

Sonny, get your act together before posing such a question.

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#3

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 8:37 AM

Aren't internal combustion engines currently outselling hybrids and electrics? I think the question should be reversed (if asked at all).

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#4

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 10:28 AM

I don't see how this is going to change anything. The hybrids are on the same frame and body as the ICE version of the model. Besides, weight needs reduced more in electrics and hybrids than in ICE's. Any improvements made in the ICE models will be transfered to the electrics and hybrids. As far as efficiency, ICE's will never match electrics. Hybrids (depending on how set up, most are mild hybrids) are a waste.

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#5

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 12:33 PM

I think this is a worthy subject of discussion. A lot of us want to ignore a high probability future of diminishing resources and try to live in our cozy present. I can fairly well do that because I figure my 20mpg Toyota pickup will last until I am too old to drive.

But were I younger with the same head on my shoulders I'd be seriously planning for a vehicle that would be a lot less expensive to buy and operate than today's cars. I'm not quite ready for a bicycle, motorcycle or the like as an all weather means of getting around. Nor am I likely to be satisfied with the relative discomfort and limited cargo/passenger capacity of such a machine for many of my purposes. But reality suggests something in between the small two wheeler and the current crop of automotive consumer products.

And yes, such a vehicle would be less safe for occupants in high energy impacts. But this area of discussion is well worthy of a separate topic in which we might explore how to avoid high energy impact situations rather than build expensive and heavy safety features into vehicles to protect the occupants from injury.

Without getting deeper into the pros and cons and the sacrifices inherent in a very small or "Tween car" (in other words a vehicle somewhere between a motor scoter and a modern sedan in physical dimensions) lets talk here about what it would look like, what it could do and particularly how it would be built. I think major design characteristics of such vehicles is what this topic tries to explore.

Everybody still with me on this? OK...... Here's some examples of past technology from my own memories to hang on the wall while we are talking.....

1. My 1956 VW with its 65mph max and lousy heater. A 4 seater weighing around a ton and quite weatherproof. 30mpg all day long. I put over 100K miles on it. I drove home from the Turlock, PA, swap meet one October some 40 years ago with seven 1932 Ford fenders (4 front and 3 rear) inside with all the windows closed.

2. The 3 wheel moped "trucks" that used to be common in large Asian cities 25 years ago.

3. The classic Lotus 7 two seater that weighs 1100 pounds with a small one or so liter engine. This is a car type you can build yourself at home if you are willing to learn to weld.

4. Golf carts, a common form of general transportation in US sunbelt retirement communities.

5. Go carts and sundry more sophisticated small off road vehicles with fiberglass bodies.

6. The Morgan 3 wheeler.

7. Stan Mott's Cyclops fantasy

8. The Citroen 2CV (Gaelic variant of the Cyclops) 510-560 kg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_2CV#Construction

9. The current crop of small diesel and gas powered 4 wheel in plant maintenance vehicles.

10. A 1927 Model T Ford roadster weighs around 1500 pounds of which 400 is in the 177 cubic inch 4 cylinder 20 hp. engine.

11. Fiat 600 600cc engine; weight of car 700kg=1543 lb.

Food for thought here. .................Ed Weldon

Of late I've been collecting Stan Mott's images of his Cyclops and fanaticizing about the building of a real one, albeit with a drive train somewhat more robust than what shows in Stan's artwork.

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#7

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 6:12 PM

OK... just a brief Rundown I've been dwelling on:

1976 Honda Civic 4spd- 34/43MPG (Sticker) (Real world verified, Favorite old car)

1986 Honda CRX HF 5spd- 49/54MPG (Sticker) (Real world verified)

1996 Honda Civic LX 5spd- 32/36MPG (Real world verified with my current commuter)

2006 Honda Civic LX 5spd- 26/34MPG (Sticker)

2012 Honda Civic LX 5spd- 28/36MPG (Sticker)

The last 3 civics all have the exact same features/extras, power everything, tilt cruise airbags, AC etc etc etc etc. I understand emissions regulations causing some performance drops, but in the last nearly 40 years you would think there would be some kind of real improvement... I thought for sure back in the 80's when we were getting 50+MPG that by 2012 I would be driving something getting well above 100MPG... what happened?

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#9
In reply to #7

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 6:33 PM

Now compare volume inside the cab, luggage, and vehicle mass for each of those examples.

What will you see? Bigger cars. Half of Americans can't even comfortably fit into those early cars anymore. That isn't a pretty sight.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 6:55 PM

My 1996 Honda is nearly identical in size to the 2006 version, trunk/cabin/features ect. It's not a fast car but it's still fairly fun to drive, and has no problems passing people on the highway. I do have one friend who does not fit comfortably into a civic, but 98% of everyone i know fit's just fine.

Absolutely true, the CRX is a very small and light (~1900lbs) car that got excellent mileage (0-60 in ~11 seconds for the HF, with a 1/4 mile in ~18 seconds)(the Si had a 8.5 second 0-60 with a 16 second 1/4 mile), and I believe there was and still is a high demand for small/fast/economical cars of this nature.

I will not accept the argument that it's simply a choice made by consumers to have larger, heavier, less efficient cars. Otherwise all these startup car companies such as the smart car (not smart at all), the tata, all the hybrids, etc would not exist. The market is there, the people want it, but the large auto manufacturers are a bit behind IMHO.

I see absolutely no reason whatsoever that the average mileage for all commuter style cars is not currently 50+ MPG. It's all a political game, and we are all loosing.

I mean... $h!t, we'v been to the moon and back, sent things to mars, mapped the oceans, unlocked the Gnome, genetically modify our food, have a pill to get you up, are getting ready for commercial space travel, and are trying to create a black hole on earth, you'd think some advancements could have been made on our autos while all that was going on.

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 7:19 PM

Part of the problem is you are expecting companies to drive innovation when it is the customer (market) that drives innovation.

However, compare the masses of those vehicles and their sizes as well as the added features in the car. It will become clearer that the auto industry is simply following the market. They are not NASA and their charter is to make a profit, not explore the last frontier.

Politicians are not telling people what to drive, at least no one is listening if they do. People buy cars based on emotions and the "fad of the day".

When enough people demand 50 mpg in their cars it will happen! Believe me, if that is where the market goes so to will the auto industry in a snap. You might be just calling sour grapes because not everyone else sees it like you do?

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 7:39 PM

Sour grapes... maybe... I just think its completely crazy.

I know the technology exists and has for at least 40 years. I know the market and customer base is there. How many damm Prius's are on the road? That should give you a clue as to what people want to drive.

The Toyota Corolla, and the Volkswagen Beetle are the top two manufactured passenger autos in the world as far as sales are concerned. Both are small efficient cars.

Everyone I know who is in the market for a new car looks heavily on the MPG sticker to aid in their decision. In this economy it only makes sense.

My 96 civic is fully loaded, and has every comfort feature that the 2006 does, within the same basic size, yet gets better mileage, and is 10 years older.

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#17
In reply to #13

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 8:40 AM

The emissions controls have not changed much since the 90's. We still use catalytic converters. The weight of those converters is miniscule compared to the weight of the car. So what has changed? 1) safety standards. Look at the safety features on the models of cars that you mentioned. Then add up the weight for those features or just look at the difference in curb weight of the models. The weight of cars keeps going up. 2) electronics. Look at all of the electronics on the models. This requires either disassembly or a manual to determine the Watts-hours rating. Don't forget to add in the engine controls, injectors, airbag controls, power whatever (seats, window, etc.), radio, OnStar, back up camera, cell phone, ipod, etc. The ICE is only 25% efficient and the alternator is only around 50% efficient. This makes the ICE only 12.5% efficient at producing electricity in the form of DC at a constant speed (not sure what rpms that would be and probably varies depending on the alternator model). This equates to a typical econobox producing 4kWh per gallon of gasoline.

Also, we have to remember that EPA changed how gas mileage is calculated. My car's difference in rating can be seen here. I have always been in the range of the old numbers and IMHO the old method was more accurate to real driving habits and I am a lead foot on take offs. Of course, neither account for the speeds on today's interstates.

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#11
In reply to #9

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 6:57 PM

You beat me to it AH, it seems each generation of a particular model is larger and heavier than the previous generation. Approximate figures:

1976 Civic; length -140", width - 59", curb weight - 1488 lbs

2012 Civic; length - 177", width - 69", curb weight - 2705 lbs

But it's not just the increase in size that leads to such a massive increase in weight. It's also all the new safety and comfort features and extras that never used to be there.

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#14
In reply to #11

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/19/2011 7:50 PM

2006

  • Width: 68.9 in.
  • Height: 53.5 in.
  • Length: 174.8 in.
  • Front track: 59.0 in.
  • Rear track: 60.1 in.
  • Wheel base: 104.3 in.
  • Maximum cargo capacity: 11.5 cu.ft.
  • Curb weight: 2593 lbs.

1996

  • Width: 67.1 in.
  • Height: 54.7 in.
  • Length: 175.1 in.
  • Curb weight: 2319 lbs.
  • Wheel base: 103.2 in.
  • Cargo Capacity 11.90 cu.ft.
  • Wheel Base 103.2 inches

The 1996 is taller and longer than the 2006 (but not as wide) with an increased cargo capacity, and better mileage, with all the exact same comfort and safety features...

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#15
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Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 4:50 AM

You have confirmed what I was saying, that it is not just the size increase that has led to increased curb weights in recent years. Your overall weights and dimensions are very, very close, yet the 2006 is 274 lbs (almost 12%) heavier than the 1996. Where has all that extra weight come from if features are the same?

Some of the things that have certainly contributed to increased curb weights over the last 30 years or so - larger diameter and fatter wheels and tyres, more dc motors, larger batteries, airbags, etc, etc. - are all usually things to improve comfort and safety.

If we can reduce curb weights, possibly even to previous levels, (and thereby improve mileage) through the use of light weight materials, without compromising structural integrity, and whilst maintaining the improved levels of comfort and safety, then that has to be a good thing.

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#16
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Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 7:34 AM

It will be a good thing as far as performance goes, but will people pay more for it? Will they see value in it?

Your answer may vary compared to others.

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#22
In reply to #16

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 12:46 PM

Well, let's see...the median price for the 2012 C. Volt is about $40,000 pre-credit but we didn't exactly see 2011 mods flying out of the dealers around the same price and incentive. and probably can attribute half of its sales to the NYC department as they go green.

Because of some modifications for 2012, will it mean more sales at similar price. Only time will tell.

This new lighter car would have to be a major improvement to compete with the current hybrids at a price most consumers are willing to pay, not Sir Branson's pockets....

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#24
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Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 4:39 PM

Will people need to pay more for it? Lighter materials/components don't necessarily have to be more expensive. The plastic (or composite) bonnet (hood) on my old Citroen certainly didn't cost any more, nor did the plastic wings on my old Peugeot. Obviously not many people would want to pay the extra for an all carbon-fibre, titanium and magnesium family car, but to a certain point (the car companies should be able to work this out) some people might pay a little extra for a car with better performance, handling and roadholding that is more economical to run, or car companies might absorb the costs just to get the sales. I doubt that we have the right materials or manufacturing technology at present to make enough of a difference, cost-effectively, but new developments could change this.

Will people see value in it? It depends on what they are looking for. If all they want is something in which to flaunt their 'green' credentials (whilst their Porsche, Mercedes or Hummer is parked in the garage) then weight-reduction is meaningless and they will just go out and buy a Prius. It may well just be something that is valued more outside of North America, where small and light has never really taken off.

I'm sure my answer will vary compared to others. We don't all see things the same way, and we have different needs and priorities. But I don't think this is particularly contentious. If there is a benefit to be had from alternative materials, with a reasonable payback, why wouldn't people go for it?

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#20

Re: How Light Can We Go?

07/20/2011 12:10 PM

It may not be politically correct (yuk, those words!!) to suggest this; but one driving force behind bigger American cars is bigger Americans. There was a time when the average American family weighed around 400 pounds. Today it is more like 700. (These are suppositions on my part. I will cheerfully yield to anyone who can produce some actual supportable numbers). It would be interesting to calculate the fuel savings from an average 20% weight loss of the US population. (Me too. I would do quite well to drop 20% off my current 195 pound load on the bathroom scale)

Another thought. Once a car is made so wide that the driver can no longer reach the passenger side window crank there is an increased desire for power windows and their heavy motors. And of course if you are going to do that power all the windows; not just the one you can't reach.

This begs the question of how to get rid of air conditioning and it's heavy machinery. I'll take this segway to describe the '36 Ford 5 window coupe I owned when I was a young college student in New Jersey. It had a cowl vent easy for the driver to open any amount and close when it rained. It provided blast of cool air better than any plain vent system in a modern car. The flat near vertical windshield (good for shade) was hinged at the top so it could be opened up to 6 or so inches with a hand crank knob in the top middle of the dashboard. Instant wind under your neck where it sweats. The rear window just behind a very spacious package tray had a handle that enabled it to roll down positioned right where the driver could easily reach. True flow through ventilation with minimum wind noise. Both side windows had mechanisms that moved them 2 inches rearward before they started going down. Perfect for rainy day ventilation. All the windows were vertical or nearly so increasing the shading effect of the roof. The center portion of roof itself was an opening covered by a rubberized canvas supported by a wood and wire mesh frame with insulation inside and a mohair cloth headliner which combination greatly reduced radiation heat. And the seat itself had been recovered by a previous owner in some kind of close weave rayon material, quite cool to the touch on top of an added layer of foam rubber. This thing was a delight to drive in the hot and muggy New Jersey summer weather.

Here's a radical out of the box idea: Picture a boxy little thing like a Smart Car with a 2 wheel trailer that that securely docks to it to make one long six wheel vehicle to add passenger/cargo space. All 6 wheels are powered by computer controlled electric motors; so there is no skidding. Backing and parking are "push the button" computer controlled. In the one driver and passenger mode only half of the weight goes for the ride. Yes, I know we'd have to get the "guvmint" to approve the trailers as safe for people to ride in. There would be a variety of "trailers" one could buy. I would opt for a small enclosed van trailer to haul a 1200 pound race car plus pit equipment.

Ed Weldon

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