Friday, October 22, 2010

Design Challenge: 1000-pound car competition

Each year for the past seven years, the Los Angeles Auto Show has generated a design competition. This year, the design challenge is to build a 1000-pound, four-passenger vehicle:

This coincides with a recent report on the desired use of carbon fiber in the manufacture of automobiles in order to save weight and improve mileage. This report stated that if each new vehicle manufactured in the USA used just six pounds of carbon fiber, that volume would consume the entire volume of carbon fiber manufactured currently in the USA. And most of that goes to the military. And, it is still a costly material compared to steel.

Remember how the US DOT resisted the use of headlights other than round headlights, for about twenty years after many shapes were in use in Europe? The same problem is going on with the carrying capacity of automobiles. Unless a car can carry four people, it simply doesn't sell very well, and generally (Porsche excepted) never makes a profit. Since most (85%) of vehicle trips are solo, driver-is-the-only-passenger, why not recognize this fact? Why not make a "core vehicle unit", with a solo driver/passenger in front (and room for an unplanned second rider behind) and then sell "extra passengers" bolt-on units? Heck, even a bolt-on "boat trailer" unit, for those once-every-two-year excursions to the lake (instead, people buy four-door trucks weighing 5000 lbs., and drive it solo 240 days a year, pay a ton for insurance, pay a ton of $$ in gasoline, pay a ton of $$ in the initial cost).

I write about a modular vehicle because the "1000-lb concept car" was already done years ago by GM. Their car, the "Ultralite" was created in the early 1990s. It achieved 100mpg at 50 mph and had a top speed of 135 mph, and 0-60 in 7.8 seconds. However, the materials alone to build the car cost $13,000, the frame being 100% carbon fiber over a foam core. Astoundingly the frame still weighed 450 pounds. Why? Because the car had to safely resist forces with four people in the car, downhill, going 135 mph. Once again, the marketing requirement that cars perform safely at nearly double the top legal speed limit adds unnecessary expense to the objective of traveling from A to B in a motor vehicle.

I say mechanically limit speed!!

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