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#1 of 52 Is it time for automakers to get the fat out?
Aug 20, 2008 (1:01 pm)
I was reading an article this morning about a talk Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a think-tank located in Snowmass, Colorado, recently made.
His main point was that higher oil prices and more price volatility are here to stay, and in the near future they will make the recent CAFE legislation totally irrelevant, as the consumer will demand fuel economy even higher than the 35 mpg average that legislation calls for.
However what caught my eye was a couple of paragraphs near the end of the article, that said:
"While automakers are investing large sums in exotic powertrains like fuel cells and electric plug-ins with lithium ion batteries, Lovins says automakers could make huge strides simply by making their vehicles lighter.
Moreover, such efforts to downsize do not require automakers to produce boring vehicles. Lovins approvingly noted Tesla's successful effort to eliminate unnecessary weight from its roadster, a vehicle with a top speed of 125 miles per hour.
Weight is the key, Lovins said. He quoted Henry Ford on the subject: "Weight may be desirable in a steam roller but nowhere else… Whenever anyone suggests to me that I might increase weight or add a part, I look into decreasing weight and eliminating a part!"
I applauded heartily, as this is just what I have been thinking for a long time now. The American fleet is SERIOUSLY overweight, even given Americans' preference for larger vehicles. How could many of our midsize sedans weigh two tons or more?
If you look at the highest-EPA-rated "normal" gas car on the market today, the Yaris (I am excluding Tesla at $100K+, Lotus in its $50K+ niche, and the ForTwo because it has only two seats), you see that it is also the lightest, at around 2300 pounds. In its class, the next heaviest, the Fit, is about 5% heavier and gets about 5-7% worse fuel economy. The Accent weighs more than the Yaris and has reduced fuel economy also, similar to the Fit. And on it goes. Indeed, the same exercise can be played out across the car classes.
Do the Lambda crossovers have to weigh almost 5000 pounds? Do Auras and Avalons have to weigh most of two tons? And most compact cars more than 3000 pounds?
When I have broached this subject in the past, most of the posters here seem to have had the general response that yes, they do. So I was rather gratified to see that at least one person in the automotive design field didn't.
And it has not gone unnoticed by me that a number of automakers in the last few months, as gas prices shot up and up, have released notices to the press talking about how they were making weight reduction at every redesign a priority from now on. They too know that a lot of gas is wasted hauling around those needless extra pounds. Not to mention it naturally improves handling and reduces the need for expensive chassis improvements and huge rolling stock just to get decent handling out of the pigs we see for sale today.
Call it the purist POV, I dunno, but isn't it time we insisted on cars with reasonable weights again?
Link to the article on Amory Lovins: http://www.autonews.com/article/20080813/ANA02/438916715/1129/emaildetroit01&ref- - - sect=emaildetroit01
#2 of 52 Re: Is it time for automakers to get the fat out? [nippononly]
by steve_ HOST
Aug 20, 2008 (2:05 pm)
I heard Lovins speak ~20 years ago. He's been pushing conservation a long time. He convinced me buy a lot of caulk and insulation back then, and probably saved me hundreds of dollars.
Here's a tie-in:
"According to Forbes Autos, the average weight of "light-duty" vehicles rose from 3,221 pounds in 1997 to 4,144 pounds in 2007. Ironically, part of that weight gain comes from safety equipment that has been added over the past 10 years, some of which was federally mandated."
In the Trade-Off Between Weight and Fuel Economy, Safety Tech Tips the Scale
#3 of 52 Re: Is it time for automakers to get the fat out? [steve_]
Aug 20, 2008 (3:42 pm)
The ironic thing about that article is it purports to be about how downsizing from an SUV is safe and a good idea, yet the vehicles it proposes to downsize into are some of the worst offenders on the "get the fat out" list. The X3, two full tons of weight and barely room to seat four? Please!
What is discouraging is that in this article they consider anything below 4000 pounds to be low weight.
And while they seem to be trying imply that most of the 900 pounds of weight gain in the last ten years has been the result of adding safety gear, in reality the newly standard safety gizmos are a tiny FRACTION of that weight gain.
#4 of 52 Re: Is it time for automakers to get the fat out? [nippononly]
by steve_ HOST
Aug 20, 2008 (4:58 pm)
The ironic thing about that article
Well, that's Forbes for you.
I didn't go to the source pages, but I bet Forbes has them spread out one by one so they can sell more ad pages.
My old '82 Tercel 4 door sedan came in around 1950 pounds, and it felt pretty peppy for 62 hp.
#5 of 52 As Colin Chapman said...
Aug 20, 2008 (5:10 pm)
"Low Mass is it's own reward."
Aug 20, 2008 (6:12 pm)
My 02 E55 is something like 300 lbs lighter than a W211 E55 and maybe 500 lbs lighter than a E63. Of course those newer cars have a lot more power, but still, that's a bit of weight.
Funny thing is, my E55 weighs about the same as my old 1989 S-class!
#7 of 52 Re: As Colin Chapman said... [andys120]
Aug 20, 2008 (9:35 pm)
And many years later the Malaysian company bearing the Lotus name still takes his motto to heart! Vigorously!
But I'm not just talking about sports cars here, I'm talking about the everyday dull-as-bathwater sedans that fill the garages of most of suburban America. These cars have hundreds of extra pounds of steel stuffed into them to make them as taut as a drum for ten laps of the Streets of Willow, when in reality they just schlep back and forth to work and the grocery store day after day after day, most of the time sitting in altogether too much traffic along the way....and of course they are often better equipped than the family entertainment room is at home with A/V equipment, and jam-packed with gadgetry many owners never use, and some don't even know HOW to use, or even that said gadgets are THERE.
All of that is weight, needless weight. Which means ever more power is needed, ever more gas is wasted. I wonder if any of these automakers will heed Lovins' words in any serious way...
Which mainstream manufacturer was it that just announced every model redesign would target weight reduction from the existing model? I am tempted to say GM, but my memory isn't working properly. And I believe a couple of the luxury carmakers have said the same - Jaguar was one, I think? And maybe Audi too?
But I wonder if it will amount to anything real, or if it will be just a lot of talk.
Aug 21, 2008 (4:04 am)
Cars are too heavy. My son's old 88' Plymouth K car weighed 2400 pounds and was about the same size as my 2008 Eclipse which weighs almost 3400 pounds.
Of course the new car has 3Xs the horsepower and would do a lot better in a crash but 1000 pounds? That's a lot of beef.
The trade off is cost of course. To use more lightweight metals and composites will bring the weight down but the cost way up. Most folks faced with the choice of paying $5000 more for a car or $1000 per year more for gas will choose the heaver car.
#9 of 52 Bloat for safety's sake
Aug 21, 2008 (6:36 am)
I mentioned in another thread that many/most cars have suffered from bloat recently. Not only just increased weight, but also increased physical size (note the Accord for example). I also predicted we would see an end to this trend. We'll see.
Something I wonder. I've heard before the reasoning that some, maybe most, of the increased weight is due to added safety equipment and features. I'm no engineer. Does anyone know or have numbers on how much of the increased weight is attributable to this? Even average, ballpark type numbers for the typical car?
There is a flip side relevant to this discussion. I have heard some express concern about smaller, lighter cars regarding safety so long as there are still larger, heavier vehicles sharing the road. I'm not sure how widespread this concern is, but I wonder how much validity there is to this concern (I think the concern is valid BTW). Is this concern reality based or perception based? I don't think anyone conducts safety tests by slamming a Tahoe into a Yaris. Maybe someone does and I am just unaware.
#10 of 52 Here's an example...
Aug 21, 2008 (9:55 am)
of how much weight cars have put on over the years. The current Crown Vic, which has been standing at death's door for years now, but just never bothered to knock, dates back to 1979. The current model probably weighs about 4200 lb. The 1979 model probably weighed about 3700 lb, in base form. The 1979 had a standard V-8, the 302, but that was a lightweight engine. I imagine the 4.6 OHC is heavier. The 1979 also had a 3-speed automatic compared to a 4-speed, so I dunno how much weight that would add. And a/c was still an option back in 1979. Once upon a time, putting a/c in a car could easily add 150 pounds or more, but by that time it might not have.
So oddly enough, a Crown Vic might be considered a good example of a car that HASN'T porked up all that much over the ages! Especially when you consider the safety and convenience equipment that's been added, the bigger engine (the 4.6 takes up more space than the old 460 bigblock, so I'm sure it's heavier than a 302!), bigger wheels and tires (a '79 had 14"), etc.
From 1979 to 2008, its weight has only gone up about 13%, if my guesses of 3700 and 4200 lb are correct. I wonder how that would compare to other size classes of car over the years? You really can't compare a 2008 Accord, for example, to a 1979, because one's a midsize and the other's a subcompact. If anything, you'd compare a 2008 Accord to a 1979 Malibu, Granada, Aspen/Volare, etc....similar-sized cars that started around 3000-3200 lb.