Never has the auto industry's emphasis on fuel efficiency been on display more than at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Automakers unveiled a potpourri of new technologies aimed at boosting vehicle efficiency.
Ford rolled out two new hybrids and a pure electric car. Toyota added to its reputation for innovation with a low-cost version of the Prius and a concept car aimed at the future. Lexus, Tesla, and others maintained their emphasis on advanced powertrains with new EVs, hybrids, and concept cars. Meanwhile, a host of automakers showed components -- from new frame materials to power-stingy LED lights -- aimed at cutting fuel consumption.
We have collected some photos showing a few of the highlights of the world's premier auto show. From hybrids and electric cars to automotive frames and LED tail lights, we present some of this year's best.
Click the image below to start the slideshow.
Tesla Model S Electric Car
Tesla Motors said it will begin delivery of the much-awaited Model S electric car in mid-2012. The Model S will have three versions: one with a 40kWh battery and a 160-mile range, one with a 60kWh battery and a 230-mile range, and one with an 85kWh battery and a 300-mile range.
(Source: Design News)
For a deep look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. In a trip sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
Wow, really, really cool slide show. I'm no auto buff, but what strikes me most is how innovative many of these new vehicle designs and components are--and not the kind of innovative where you think space-age out there, but innovative in terms of practicality in the modern world.
I particularly loved the look of the Dodge Dart (I can't totally recall, but wasn't that a really old-style grandpa car back in the day?). It certainly isn't now, with its sleek styling. I also loved the idea of auto makers teaming up with IT leaders like Intel, Microsoft (and hopefully Apple). Those kind of alliances have to be the future of getting slick infotainment/telematics systems in cars that deliver high utility, but keep driver safety in mind.
Yes, there are a lot of neet looking innovations and electronics. On the other hand, the real need as far as vehicles go is efficiency. The most promising trend I saw was the Caillac ATS lighjweight frame. What is really interesting about it is the aluminum components. I had a 1969 MGB with an aluminum hood to save weight. That was long ago. Actually, after the oil shocks in the 1970s, we went to front wheel drive cars and the car companies started advertising the coefficient of drag of their cars. Then along came SUVs ad heavy safety equipment (which is a good thing). We need to start thinking about how to make cars lighter and more efficient again. We also need to stress these technologies on larger vehicles. The buying public prefers them. All these small electric and hybrid cars really don't make much of a dent.
On the electronics front, i really doubt the utility of all the electronics. I was in a car a little bit ago. It was a new Lexus, I think. The driver had all the warnings turned on. We were going a couple of miles in a large city. The car was talking to him all the time, warning him. We were deep in conversation and he was ignoring the car the whole time. It was really a strange, and not so pleasant experience.
We only need to look to racecar builders to make cars lighter and stronger. The technology exists today but the will doesn't. Yes, everyone can not afford a $2M dollar racecar but most of the innovation in production cars "trickled down" from racing. Just ask Honda. There is no reason we can not adapt F1 technology to production cars and with economies of scale make affordable for the masses.
I believe the Dart plays a starring role (actually, it's its cousin, the Plymouth Valiant), in Steven Spielberg's directorial debut, Duel (1971). It stars Dennis Weaver, driving said Valiant, being chased by an evil trucker intent on running him off the road. True to its real-world performance, the Valiant/Dart takes a licking in the movie but keeps on ticking. Low performance but highly reliable, based on Chrysler's famous and rugged slant 6. That engine also appeared in the similar (technically) but more sportily styled Plymouth Duster. I remember driving a 1973 Duster in the early 1980s. Having enjoyed Mopar, I bought a new Chrysler product sometime in the 80s. That was a mistake not to be repeated, and I am among the tens of thousands that were lost permanently by American automakers as a result.
I feel your pain, Alex, as my family suffered from a couple of lousy Chrysler purchases in the `80s as well and as a result, became Detroit-adverse when it came to buying cars. It's an unfortunate mindset, which didn't seem to have the same repercussions then as it does now to the long-term health of the American car industry and the overall recovery of the American economy.
That said, and with the work done in recent years by the U.S. auto makers, that mindset should admittedly should be revisited, especially when it comes to said OEM, Chrysler. That's one company that has consistently turned out an admirable crop of designs, from the redone Jeep series, which is not only good looking, but drives great (my husband had one) to their 300 sedan series, which consistently wins accolades.
Chrysler's designs do win accolades but the company has consistently fared poorly in Consumer Reports' reliability studies. The poor performance continues even today, and the CR studies are an important measure, since they base their studies on approximately 1.4 million user responses.
From what I hear, it's not Chrysler's designs which are at fault, but the build quality. I know someone in their minivan groups who's justifiably proud of their engineering work, but then at the same time I hear stories like that of a couple who went to a Chrysler dealer, and she cut her leg on the edge of a plastic banner that didn't have the edge smoothed down. No sale.
The Center for Automotive Research has claimed that the key to automotive reliability lies in the difference between a philosophy of "perfect parts" versus "perfect system." American automakers, they say, strive to use perfect parts, while Honda and Toyota place less importance on the parts themselves, and greater importance on the way they go together. See:
That's an interesting difference, between the parts and how they go together. My first, second, and third cars (I keep them a really, really long time and don't drive much) have been Japanese from the get go. They are superior machines and Japanese carmakers have been listening to their customers since at least the 70s when they started accommodating American tastes and body sizes.
I had a new 1969 Dodge Dart with a Factory 383 Magnum. I don't think Grampa would have bought this car. Build quality was ok but not perfect. The car was extremely fast for the time and sent many a Camaro and Mustang home with their tails between their legs. Reliabity was fantastic. I ran this car hard for several years until the Arab Oil Embargo, when I traded it in for a VW Beetle (big mistake). Todays Chrysler products are the children of German influenced engineering and their idea of what a car should be. I refuse to accept a 4-door Dodge Charger, no matter how well it performs. I was hoping for a two door coupe when the company changed hands a few years ago, but so far it hasn't happend.
I just noticed something that's been neglected amidst all the talk about alternative energy. Namely, I think we're seeing a "sameness" in styling that recalls the time in the 1980s when all the automakers started to move to "jellybean" shapes. I'm wowed by the technology in these cars, but I'll be darned if I can get really excited about the look of any of them. Perhaps that's why the new retro Dodge muscle cars (Charger etc) are such a kick. They're they only ones that stand out from the crowd.
I agree Alex. I love the look of those updated muscle cars and I have to say, I thought the Lexus concept car was pretty sweet looking. Some of the others in this display just looked like more of the same same aerodynamic takes on mini vans and "jelly bean" shapes as you suggested.
Alex, I'm wondering if we are stuck with the jellybean shape for a while. I recall the X-32/X-35 Joint Strike Fighter competition in which Lockheed claimed its X-35 had an advantage over the X-32 because it looked like "a next-generation fighter". The X-32 had a radical design that ultimately did not win for a host of reasons. But I'm wondering if its looks doomed it from the get go. The cube cars made small inroads, but we are still waiting for the era of mass customization. With the economy being as it is, it looks like conservative, tried and true jellybean wins the day.
Bill, I think I heard this timeline description on some History channel show. Car design started off with the first cars being designed as analogues of houses (big square bodies). Then they looked like boats. Next came airplanes (for example, the "winged" fenders in the 1950s, and even now the cockpit-like consoles, and heads-up displays are coming). I'm not sure where today's combination jelllybeans and Fiats puts us. What would we call it? Maybe we're just in anti-design era. As for aerospace, the flying wing would be so cool if only the could get it to work. I guess the B2 Stealth Bomber is indeed a flying wing. You gotta have a lot of computing power to keep that thing stable, though.
I supoose that the days of 'box' cars and cars with 'wings' were the days where nobody thought about wind resistance. These days, I think we will live with very similar shapes because the MPG mandates make a low wind resistance necessary. Does this mean that a lot of cars will look the same? Seems to me that we are there now. Until someone imagines something really radical that has MPG benefits.
That car shape timeline is funny, but it certainly sounds true. Although I remember that the winged look during the 50s was supposed to make people think of rocket ships at least as much as airplanes. This was, after all, the Sputnik era.
Wait. Isn't design about efficiency? Isn't "styling" equal to Decoration? You can borrow my hotglue gun if that's the definition of design. Aerodynamic design is about efficiency. Nature does it by survival. It's the 21st century. On that note: Why do they still build in those HUMPS the length of the car?
I'd be surprised if the "sameness jellybean" factor didn't have something to do with automakers trying to keep costs down in some areas, especially when building hybrids and EVs. That being said, while cars like the charger are cool to look at, they are dangerous to drive; at least in my experience/opinion - wicked blind spots.
That explains it--thought I was looking at the same car from one EV/hybrid story to the next. They do seem to have pretty much the same shape. And to Jenn's point, I still think they're all too small to be safe.
Even as I write about more composites in cars to make them weigh less, to reach federal gas mileage goals, I keep wondering if they are too lightweight to be safe, not just in the crash-resistant sense, but if they are more likely to fly up in the air when hit.
Beth: Your comment about the DODGE DART... It was a popular model in the 1960s. So that may be "grandpa's generation" to you. Actually, the DART was a "compact" vehicle, competing w/ the Chevrolet CHEVY II (Nova), Ford Falcon, Mercury Comet, Plymouth Valiant, Buick Special, Oldsmobile F85, & Pontiac Tempest (later GTO & LeMANS). When did all this happen? It started w/ the 1960 model year.
Rob: The current crop of designs harkens back to the 1970s when GM decided to make all their vehicles clones of each other. Remember the midsized Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles & Pontiacs. You couldn't tell one from the other, except up close when you saw the brand logo affixed somewhere on the sheetmetal. Even the full-sized Chevrolet Impala shared a complete body design w/ the Pontiac Bonneville. It was the same for the Chevy Monza, the Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile (?) & Ponitac (?). Even the Cadillac brand marketd a model which wasn't much different than the Chevrolet Nova! It's been so long ago that I've forgotten the names of the Olds & Ponty cars in that series. My point: Detroit HAS been down the "clone" road before, and in a BIG TIME way.
Sorry Mr. Jones! I wholeheartedly DISAGREE! The Cadillac CIMARRON was not a rebranded Cavalier. It was as I stated a gussied up CHEVY II NOVA. I know them well because I had an uncle who had one, and a cousin (on the other side of the family) who had a NOVA during that same timeframe. The cars were identical, except for the Caddy's gussied up interior seating, dashboard appointments & exterior chrome.
Disagree all you like, but the Cimarron was based on the Chevy Cavalier. I know them very well, I was working at a Chevy dealership when it was introduced. The Nova wasn't even in production when the Cimarron came out. The Nova was an X-body car that ceased production in 1979. The Cavalier was a J-body car that was introduced in '82, as was the Cimarron.
The Nova was reintroduced in '85, I'm guessing your cousin's car was an '85 - '88 Nova. This Nova was built as a joint venture between GM and Toyota, and was actually a rebadged Toyota Sprinter. It did resemble the Cavalier/Cimarron, but under the sheetmetal it was a completely different car.
Yes, Curmudgeon, I remember the Pontiac 2000 was the exact same car as the Olds Cutless. Chrysler did the same thing with its Dodge line. But usually it was fairly easy to tall a GM car from a Ford or Chrysler.
Rob, I remember the Cutlass all too well. I had a '77 Cutlass with a catalytic converter problem that caused to vehicle to balk when I'd hit the accelerator. After a 15-minute warm-up, it would operate normally, but I didn't always have time to warm it up for 15 minutes. It also had widespread, unrepairable electrical issues. Other than that, it was a pretty good car.
1977 was likely one of the worst years for American cars. I owned a mid-1980s Cutless and it was a very good car. Before that I owned an early 1980s Pontiac 6000. It had more problems than the Cutless, but it was a pretty good car. Looking back, the Cutless was probably superior to the 6000 simply because it was mid-1980s instead of early 1980s. Detroit was begining to improve through the 1980s.
You're right, Rob. Detroit started to improve in the '80s. But they also wouldn't admit they had had quality problems until about 10 years later. Because they refused to publicly acknowledge their earlier problems, many Americans refused to trust them, even when they started building good cars.
For a whole variety of reasons, I believe American consumers trust Detroit again -- either that or they have let go of their preference for Japanese cars. When GM became the top automaker again last last year it came as quite a surprise.
Rob, I hope you're right about Americans finally trusting Detroit again. American automakers improved their quality tremendously in the mid-'90s, but just couldn't get Americans to believe their cars were any good. I think they ruined their credibility when they refused to admit they had problems in the late '70s and 1980s.
Some of those concept cars are scary! The Toyota NS-4 almost scratches the pavement it is so low to the ground. With those extremely low profile tires It would never survive typical urban street pavement, pot holes, or muddy country lanes.
If distracted driver accidents due to smart phone usage is a problem, will smart cars with large LCD dashboards make driving any safer?
LED light trim is becoming all the rage probably due to past popularity of after market "street lights" you can buy for your hot rod. Heck, just buy some 12 VDC LED rope light and away you go. :-)
I agree Bdcst. My city has a lot of speed bumps in parking lots and on residential streets. That could be a problem, as many of the speed bumps are surprisingly high. You can see scrapes on the bumps were fast-moving cars have bottomed out.
Indeed, the low profile of the NS-4 is scary. But concept cars are notorious for being impractical. In 1988, I drove a Pontiac concept car around the old Riverside race track in Riverside, CA, and was asked not to go any faster than 5 mph.
Experts do not anticipate the hybrid and EV section to develop considerably this year the mixture of gas costs below $4 a quart and higher advance costs for the vehicles is not gaining customers. But that is not stopping Toyota, Honda, Ford Motor and several Western auto body parts carmakers from presenting new multiple and plug-in designs.
I agree, Ckit1477. It is surprising the emphasis on hybrids and EVs given that the market for these vehicles doesn't seem to be growing considerably right now. Perhaps the car makers anticipate a growing market in coming years.
That's funny, my grandfather owned a Dodge Dart...
Getting back to US quality... I owned a 1988 Toyota 4Runner that I ended up rolling and had to replace with something... Ended up with a 95 Chevy Blazer because of my wife. I thought that it would be terrible compared to the 4Runner but it has been one of the best cars we have owned. And it has been somewhat abused off-road.
George Leopold's talk at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis helped restore astronaut and engineer Gus Grissom's role in the beginnings of NASA, and outlined how Grissom played a pivotal role in winning the Space Race.
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