Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trade offs for car manufacturers

When you build a car you typically have to do many compromises and trade offs. For example there are trade offs between fuel economy and safety, or between fuel economy and usability, but also between usability and safety and so on. In many cases car manufacturers ask their customers or do extensive research to find out what the best (and more profitable) compromise could be. But maybe it's not even the right thing to ask the customers as they rarely are ready for big changes and innovative new approaches. With all this mechanism in place a Volkswagen Golf doubled in weight during the last 30 years. Well, yes, it also doubled in power and yes, thanks to the continuous development this didn't lead to twice the fuel burnt, but if you imagine what could have been, it still looks like a dead end. If we had stayed nimble, kept the cars as big as they were in the past and hadn't added all the electrical helps and electronic gismo, we could have an 850 kg Volkswagen Golf today with a fuel consumption of less than 4 liters per 100 kilometer. It might be less luxurious than what we are used, but it would move us from A to B. Even the sports cars (except maybe the Lotus Elise and a few others) went down the wrong path. Extra weight has been compensated by extra power and advanced technology to keep the car behaving like a sports car instead of a truck. But still. If you ever have driven a true race car, you know that minimum weight is the highest objective. And with all the electronics people have stopped to know how to drive cars. Why should you learn how to accelerate a car from zero at a hill if you have an electronics's help called "uphill control" or so. Why should you know how to change gears or operate a clutch if you have flabby paddles? But all these things that seem to make our live easier have their contribution to the weight. And then there's the safety piece. Of course when everybody gets heavier you need more protection than if everybody was below 1'000 kg. And so on. I could go on forever. I just hope that there are manufacturers out there like Lotus, Artega and others who haven't forgotten the ancient art on how to safe weight.

No comments: