Concept Cars Essay, Research Paper
Concept Cars: Automobiles for the Future
No one knows where automobiles are going but concept cars provide us with a small window to look into their future. Different automakers use concept cars in various ways and they all devote a lot of time and money toward developing their cars of the future. The first thing an automaker does is decide what kind of market (what age group, what style of driving) it should target to gain the most customers. For instance, Ford builds mainly vehicles which target families with kids. Every year Ford comes out with new concepts appealing to families. Examples might include four doors, room for a dog, and the ability to go anywhere. Ferrari, on the other hand, builds cars for the rich auto enthusiast who likes to drive fast and race. Ferrari may come out with one new concept every year targeting this extreme group of car enthusiasts. All automakers create concept cars but they may explore different ideas and markets.
In the beginning car design was simple. All cars had four wheels, a couple seats, a motor, and a steering wheel. Henry Ford offered his model T in any color you want, as long as it s black. Today creating cars has become more complicated. Not only must a car look good but it also must be safe and fuel-efficient. Most of this pressure comes from consumers, but they aren t the only ones who have to be pleased. The United States Congress pushes auto makers also, but more along the lines of safety and fuel economy (Butterworth 1). They don t really care how it looks.
Beyond meeting the demands of consumers and Congress, car designers must also make actually building the car easy on their car engineers. For example, some Mercedes Benz models have everything smoothly bolted in from the engine to the suspension, instead of putting together individual pieces in an assembly line. This takes a lot of time and in the car building process time is money. The Mercedes 500 SL is made primarily by hand in 150 hours and it costs 90,000 dollars. Its baby sister, the 190E sedan, is made in 50 hours and sells for 30,000. If a car takes too long to build, it will cost too much and no one will buy it. A car lives or dies by the cost of its design (Butterworth 2).
In the research stage the automaker decides what kind of car to build for what kind of buyer. Often, a car is aimed at filling a special niche in the market. The development starts after the car s type is decided. With CAD (Computer Aided Designing) designers copy, modify, and manipulate cars at the push of a button. Then, if the design is approved, the result is turned over to a computer robot that carves a three-dimensional model of the car. This mock up then goes before the company s executives. If it s rejected the car goes back to the computer to be revised and presented again later. If the design is approved, the concept moves on and a prototype is built. The prototype is then tested to work out all of the problems. Testing will be conducted in many places and ways including roaring wind tunnels and outdoor proving grounds. After all the problems are worked out and the public has accepted it through various car shows, the design moves on to the manufacturing stage. The trip from the computer to the assembly line can take from three to five years.(Butterworth 3)
Automakers use concept cars to introduce new designs to attract more customers. Performance is something that auto makers stress as a selling point. Many people are interested in how fast the car accelerates, how well the car handles and how much fun it is to drive. Almost every year automakers make a more powerful engine. Take the Honda Accord for example. In 1993 its engine created approximately 125 horsepower, then in 1998 it made 150 horsepower. It doesn t sound like much, but automakers will brag about even the slightest performance increase just to show that their car is better than its competitors cars.
Handling is a big part of how a person feels in a car and concept cars often stress this. Automakers produce commercials that show their car speeding down a windy road, and they show the driver perfectly relaxed like he might be just driving down the freeway. Some people want a Cadillac ride, just as smooth as can be, almost like floating along. Some people want a Corvette ride, slightly hard, but just hard enough to go around that 35 mph corner at 70 mph no problem. Other people want to be able to bounce through road less forests and streams. Concept cars explore all these ideas and more.
Automakers are faced with increasing pressure from the government as well as the people to build more fuel efficient cars. Fuel economy is something America hasn t thought much about lately but the harsh reality is hitting us now. Gas prices have gone up almost a dollar in two years and are expected to go up even more this coming summer. Automakers also have to conform with laws controling the amount of carbon dioxide and monoxide released from a car. Concept cars show how automakers are responding to the cry for better fuel efficiency. Honda and Toyota were the first to release an actual electric-motor powered car, although these models are not fully self reliant on electric (Ball 1). The Honda Insight gets 61-70 miles to the gallon and can travel up to 600 miles on a single tank. The Toyota Prius, gets from 45-52 miles to the gallon, slightly less than the Insight (Margot 1). The Honda Insight is not the most fuel efficient car in the world, though. That honor is given to the Volkswagen Lupo, a diesel-powered sedan that gets 77 miles to the gallon compared to the Insight s 70 (Healey 1). Honda has also taken the pollution laws one step further. All of Honda s cars are now SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) certified. Honda is the only manufacturer to do this. Along with their Hybrid, the Insight, they have the cleanest-burning cars ever made (Margot 1).
Amory Lovins has a degree from Oxford University, a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and a reputation as a environmental consultant that earns him as much as $20,000 a day . Amory dreams of a 99 miles per gallon car powered by a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity. It would be made of light-weight carbon fiber and controlled by two joysticks instead of a steering wheel. Sounds kind of out there doesn t it? Well, it isn t too far away. Amory estimates that it will cost $56 million to build 20 or so to test before production. The only thing that is holding Amory s dream back is money, and that can always be a problem in the automobile business (Ball 2).
Engineers have been working for years trying to find alternate fuels for cars that do not harm the earth. Currently, cars run on fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel. Fossil fuels release hydrocarbons, like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, when they are combusted. These hydrocarbons are causing the depletion of the ozone, the warming of the earth, and possibly the eventual devastation of the planet. If we find alternative fuels that do not discharge hydrocarbons or burn fossil fuels, we can stop or reverse the damage done to the atmosphere and save the planet for future generations.
One of the alternative fuels that engineers have discovered
is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. This fuel source has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the biggest problems is cost, followed by finding an onboard source of hydrogen. The minor problems include power output, low-temperature operation (which causes problems with the much-loved heater) and bulk (McCosh 1). On the other end of the spectrum is the fact that hydrogen has zero emissions. It just releases water vapor. Hydrogen also is a renewable energy source that we cannot exhaust as we are doing with fossil fuels. The most basic type of hydrogen powered car uses compressed hydrogen which must be stored at 433̊F. The hydrogen is mixed with oxygen in a fuel cell and releases ionized protons and electrons. These ions produce steam and an electrical charge. The steam is exhausted and condenses as water while the electric charge powers a motor( McCraw 1).
A second source of alternative fuel is methanol. The hydrogen is separated out of the methanol and then used in the same engine as the hydrogen-fueled car. This has more disadvantages, such as the fact that the entire rear of the car is taken up by machinery. It also emits carbon dioxide and is expensive to make. This source is still being refined to get rid of these problems and make it more economical to produce (McCraw 1).
After scientists discovered how to extract hydrogen from methanol fuel, they realized they could do this with gasoline as well. This method has advantages because gasoline is readily available and the entire infrastructure would not have to be changed. On the downside, extracting hydrogen from gasoline also emits carbon dioxide like the methanol process. It also causes
some energy loss as the hydrogen is stripped from the gasoline. This process emits much less pollution than the conventional combustion engine of today, however, which gives it somewhat of an advantage (McCosh 2).
The main thing holding back the use of these fuels is the entire infrastructure itself. How will the fuels be distributed to the refueling stations? How will the hydrogen be stored in large amounts? These are the problems that need to be solved before alternative fueled engines can replace piston engines in cars. Experts believe it will be at least 10 to 20 years before we will find the solutions ( Honda’s FCX 3).
Straying away from the alternative fuels, engineers have also developed electric cars. These have been around for a good amount of time but they are constantly being improved. Electricity is fairly accessible; just plug the car into an
outlet in the garage to charge the batteries. However, the problem is that it does not last. In order to have more range the automaker must increase the number of batteries, which increases bulk. Another problem is that a lot of the electricity we use does not come from dams. It comes from burning fossil fuels in a generator which emits carbon dioxide into our atmosphere (Philips 4).
How can we get the most out of the engines we already have in our cars today? A hybrid vehicle is the answer. A hybrid is simply a vehicle that is powered by two or more sources. The gasoline-electric hybrid is exactly what it says it is: a car powered by both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. You can combine these sources in several different ways. There is the parallel hybrid, which has batteries to supply the motor and a gas tank to supply the engine which can both work together to drive the wheels. The series hybrid has a gas-powered engine that runs an electric generator. Either the generator can charge the batteries for the motor or it can directly power the electric motor. This way the gas engine in a series hybrid never drives the wheels directly. Hybrid cars have several different advantages. For one, they do not have to completely rely on gas
which means they use fewer fossil fuels. This, in turn, causes the car to emit fewer pollutants (Nice 1-4).
General Motors has been working on a series hybrid aimed at reaching a goal of 80 miles per gallon. They call it the Precept. It has two electric motors and a three-cylinder diesel engine. The first electric motor powers the front wheels. The diesel engine charges the batteries for the first motor and directly powers the second electric motor mounted on the rear wheels. The two motors can work either together or alone, all depending on the driving conditions. During normal driving conditions, the front motor runs alone on just the front wheels. When accelerating, the front may work by itself or, if the car needs more power, the engine and rear motor can be used. The latter means that all four wheels are being driven. Whenever the rear motor is running it also means that the diesel engine is running. During high-speed driving conditions, whichever of the two systems is more efficient is used. Then, to get back the energy used to speed up, it regenerates energy when braking using the two motors as generators. General Motors claims the regenerative braking adds 15 miles per gallon to the fuel economy. Although this car will never see the production line, General Motors says that its drivetrain will be further refined to be included in their future hybrid cars (GM s Five-Passenger 2-3). Fuel economy is an ever growing need that people have not quite realized yet, but once gas prices reach three dollars a gallon maybe we will start to understand.
Style is something people go after before they know whether they want a V-8 or a SULEV certified car. Whether the person likes the way he or she looks in the car matters more than anything to some consumers. Manufacturers design concept cars to gauge industry and consumer reaction to new styling trends and technology. The “crossover” vehicle, a vehicle that combines attributes of two or more segments, such as an SUV and a sedan, is one of the newest trends in automotive design. Like most concepts, these vehicles rarely turn into production as they are, but certain features of each are likely to be found in future production models. The crossover is the car designer s attempt to give us everything we could possibly ever want in a vehicle. Crossovers owe their existence to the SUV, minivan and truck crazes of the 1990s. Four-wheel-drive, increased cargo area and tall seating position have become requirements for today’s vehicles. Along with these attributes consumers want style, comfort and good fuel economy. To target this market Pontiac has created the Aztec, which looks like an SUV but also has four wheel drive and qualities associated with a minivan. It has seats that can be taken out to sit in, a back that opens up, and a tent that folds out as a part of the car. Additionally, auto makers have been going back to the past to redesign old cars that were hits in their day. The Chevrolet Nomad is a good example. It is a 21st Century sport wagon that recalls its ’50s namesake. Chrysler also has resurrected its legendary Hemi V-8 engine with an updated version for 2000 the 300 Hemi C concept. Then there is Nissan, which has reinvented its famous Z car. Its styling is reminiscent of the original 1970 Datsun 240Z coupe with a long hood, short deck, rear quarter window, upswept rear and wrap-around tail lights. Many people think that without style there is nothing. That s why auto makers are busy trying to make the right car for you.
With all of this new technology coming out, cars are getting more and more expensive. Automakers want to be on the cutting edge of technology, but they want to be able to sell their cars for a reasonable price, a price that looks attractive to a variety of buyers. Here s where concepts come in. Automakers incorporate all of the cutting edge technology into their concepts. They put in GPS (a navigation system), more fuel efficient engines, and perhaps a body style that was seen long ago. Then they present the concept that they have created to the public. If the public takes to the idea or concept, then it goes into production with the knowledge that there will be buyers for the car when it comes out. They save a lot of money by doing this instead of just designing a car and producing it right away.
Where can a concept car be seen? It can t, unless the automaker wants it seen. Security at design shops is high. There are, for example, three separate locked security doors to keep spies out of Honda s design shop in California. Automakers keep security tight because they don t want the public and other automakers to get wind of their new ideas. This affects the way a concept car is marketed. If manufacturer A knows what manufacture B s concept is then manufacturer A can build something similar to compete with manufacturer B. The ideas behind concept cars are such well-kept secrets that we may never see the cars at all. Either the concept will be successful and it will emerge into the marketplace or it will fail and drop out of sight (Butterworth 2).
So where are cars going? It s all up to the people and their needs, likes and dislikes. In a way, we are deciding where cars are going without even knowing it. Automakers spend a lot of time and money designing cars for the future. They experiment and try to predict what the people will want in a car. Some of today s concept cars emphasize speed, fuel efficiency, style and cost. Concept cars are as different as the many people who buy automobiles. There is a group of Americans that spend almost all their money on cars, they want performance and speed so manufactures have developed a special niche of cars just for them. Other people have realized the need for cars with better fuel economy because of the rising gas prices, the manufacturers are also designing cars to meet those needs. Automakers also aim to create distinctive styles that people prefer such as the Cadillac for comfort and Corvette for sportiness. It is amazing that after all of the hard work that an automobile company puts into a car, its success is all up to the consumer. Automakers design concepts for the future but we decide what the future will be.