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Efficiency? Think Racing Cars, Not Hybrids 1320

Gordonjcp writes "A renowned racing car designer has said that car manufacturers should be looking at making cars lighter to improve efficiency, rather than adding complex drive trains. In this article on the BBC News website, Professor Gordon Murray explains that a weight saving of 10% in a normal car would make more difference than switching to a hybrid engine and motor combination. Could this be the next nail in the SUV's coffin?"
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Efficiency? Think Racing Cars, Not Hybrids

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  • by kalidasa ( 577403 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:19AM (#23726625) Journal
    Because they're afraid they'll be crushed to a fine pulp when they get hit by a big honking SUV.
    • by cephah ( 1244770 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:21AM (#23726673)
      And their fears aren't exactly unfounded. Only way to get the majority of people to stop driving heavy cars is to increase gas prices to the point where lighter cars are the only option, or having a flag day where everybody agrees to switch, i.e. not gonna happen in the near future :)
      • by pohl ( 872 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:52AM (#23727493) Homepage
        Amory Lovins, in his excellent TED Talk on Winning the Oil Endgame [], makes an argument that weight savings need not lead to descreased safety. An example that he cites is a hand-built McLaren that has a couple of woven carbon-composite cones in the front that absorb the energy of a crash. Well worth a listen.
        • by Scootin159 ( 557129 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:03PM (#23727769) Homepage
          Worth mentioning.... the aforementioned McLaren was designed by Gordon Murray... the author of the article. He's also been a very successful designer in Formula One.
          • Mod parent up! Not only is the 12-year-old McLaren F1 still one of the quickest and fastest cars ever built, it does it without resorting to 4 turbos [] and 1,001 horsepower simply by being lighter.

            Not only that, but Murray also worked to finalize the design of the (already nearly complete) Caparo T1 [], which is even quicker (0-60 in 2.5 seconds), and with less horsepower than the F1. How? It weighs about half a ton.
            • by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:02PM (#23729229) Journal
              Current hybrids include storage batteries that weigh a lot. They can be replaced with a much lighter flywheel that also has a higher efficiency than batteries, at storing and releasing energy (and also works with regenerative braking). Do not confuse this with other decades-old ideas of using flywheels to fully replace the car engine; we cannot make them strong enough to hold energy for 300 miles of travel. But we can easily make them able to hold enough energy for a few bursts of rapid acceleration. The only reason a smallish car has a 100HP engine is to get rapid acceleration. Any hybrid can replace that with a much lighter 15-20HP engine, which produces plenty for cruising at a fixed speed, plus some extra to charge up the storage unit for the desired rapid acceleration. A hybrid that uses a flywheel might weigh about the same as the ordinary car, but it will get better gas mileage because of the smaller engine.
              • by rcw-work ( 30090 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:37PM (#23730067)

                The only reason a smallish car has a 100HP engine is to get rapid acceleration. Any hybrid can replace that with a much lighter 15-20HP engine, which produces plenty for cruising at a fixed speed, plus some extra to charge up the storage unit for the desired rapid acceleration.

                I'd size it a little bigger than that, unless you can really cut down on weight. 70mph up a 15% grade is 4.7m/s of vertical lift. If the car weighs 1000kg, that's 61hp [], not counting air drag or rolling resistance.

                • 15% grade is insanely steep. 70mph up such a grade is VERY fast. Consider that the start putting up signs warning about steep grades at anything above like 7-8% (depending on the length though, a very short grade may have no signs even if steeper) At that speed and grade you're climbing 900 feet/minute. Yeah 15-20 may be a little low, but certainly much less than 100hp should do for a 1 ton car.
                • by taharvey ( 625577 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @08:13PM (#23738911)
                  My Geo Metro has a 51Hp engine, gets 50 MPG, and cruses at 75 MPG on the highway. I live at 9000 ft elevation and commute down a mountain to 4500 at steep grades. It goes as fast as you'd want to on mountain roads with 3-4 passengers. Yes its no drag racer, but it goes from pt. A to B efficiently and reliably. Besides it cost me 1/10th of a hybrid and gets the same milage. We love it.

                  Now imagine making it lighter and hybrid. No Doubt 20 Hp is sufficient.
              • by SEAL ( 88488 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:18PM (#23734321)

                They can be replaced with a much lighter flywheel that also has a higher efficiency than batteries, at storing and releasing energy (and also works with regenerative braking).
                I think you need to look up precession [].

                This is the reason flywheel energy storage is not used in vehicles. The flywheels turn at super-high rpms, amplifying this issue. AFS Trinity (formerly American Flywheel Systems, I think...) worked on the AFS-20 as a prototype flywheel car back in the mid 90s. They never got it working. The problem is that when you are driving, and you turn, precession causes a large amount of friction against your flywheel bearings as it resists the turn.

                Last I heard, they were working on magnetic bearings, instead of physical ones, but there's been little progress released to the public so far.

                The main advantage of a flywheel is that it can handle rapid charge / discharge, but ultracapacitors are another way to gain that benefit without the disadvantages of flywheels.
          • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:07PM (#23729367)



            Pick any two.

            You can make a safe, lightweight car, such as a Formula 1, but it's going to cost you. Carbon composite isn't cheap. You can make a safe, cheap car. Just add a few hundred pounds of metal to the frame to strengthen it. But your fuel efficiency is going to be lousy. You can make a light, cheap car. Just strip away the frame until there's almost nothing left, but if you get into a serious crash, it's gonna be a coffin on wheels. There are other compromises too. Comforts like well-padded seats, and sound insulation that keep noise down, also result in increased weight. A larger engine is going to increase weight. And so on.

            That's not to say that we couldn't find some relatively inexpensive, safe ways to improve mileage. We may not be able to fill the highways with cheap cars that get 50 mpg and survive like a tank in a crash, but shaving a few mpg off every new car produced over the next 5 years would do a hell of a lot to reduce consumption and emissions. And of course the other question is, are there other ways to get to our destination other than driving?

            • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:18PM (#23732579)
              The problem is America picks heavy and cheap without bothering with the safe.

              Take a look at this picture []. Same speed. Same impact.

              The Mini crumpled its whole engine bay. A total write-off. But the passenger compartment is barely touched.

              The F-150 has a beautifully intact engine. It's unfortunately inside the cab where the people-puree would be oozing out.

              Add on pickups having a consistently 20% higher fatality rate per million miles driven and you suddenly realize that stupid engineering combined with being in a hulking great target that can't get out of the way really doesn't compete with a small, light, quick to accelerate car that's simply not where the accident happens in the first place.

              Case in point: About two weeks ago, my wife was in her Mini Cooper S in a parking lot, looking for a space. A Dodge (oxymoron if ever there was one) Ram (ah, far more accurate) reversed out without looking, straight at her. Had she been in an SUV, the back end of the Dodge would have gone through the side of it before the idiot had time to react and hit the brakes. The Dodge would have been trashed, she'd be dead or in a coma from the injuries. In the Mini, he put her foot down and was somewhere else while her SUV driving friend in the passenger seat asked, "How the hell did you do that?"

              So, given the choice, I'd rather be in a well built car that folds the parts I'm not in when it gets hit, light enough to avoid more of the accidents anyway, than the hunk of American steel that deforms that steel in to right where I'm sitting.
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:32PM (#23728465)
          The crash statistics alone indicate that feeling safer in an SUV is a false sense of security. Could have something to do with many soccer moms not being able to see over the dashboard. That and the tendency to roll over when driven like a sports car.
        • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:42PM (#23728703) Homepage
          The problem with this approach is that the light cars need to be at approximately the same height as the vehicle they hit.

          More specifically, it's not the SUV's I worry about so much, it's the huge jacked up pickup trucks where their bumper is at approximately the level of my head in the Talon TSi I used to drive. All the crush space between my bumper and me will do me absolutely no good if the first thing to hit the other vehicle is my windshield pillar because the rest of the car goes *under* the other vehicle...
          • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:16PM (#23729571)
            That's why those vehicles are illegal, but try getting a cop to actually enforce those laws instead of mild speeding violations!
          • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:05PM (#23730699)

            All the crush space between my bumper and me will do me absolutely no good if the first thing to hit the other vehicle is my windshield pillar because the rest of the car goes *under* the other vehicle
            In fact, this is precisely why heavy trucks (the ones with air brakes and separate detachable trailers) have a safety bar on the rear on the trailer, to prevent the underside of the trailer deck from being the first solid object to contact the windshield pillar of the typical passenger car in a rear end collision. The safety bar was added to reduce fatalities which occurred because of the height difference in rear end accidents (usually the fault of the passenger car drivers following too closely). The lifted SUVs and pickup trucks that are commonly encountered on southern California freeways present many of the same dangers to more typical passenger cars.
      • by khendron ( 225184 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:01PM (#23727711) Homepage
        I can just envision an Apple commercial for the switch

        SC: I'm a smart car
        SUV: And I'm an SUV
        SC: You look a little thirsty, SUV.
        SUV: I am. Ever since the price of gas went up, my owner started rationing my gas consumption.
        SC: Aww, that's too bad, SUV.
        SUV: Tell me about it. I mean, I was thirsty enough before. I could drink gas like there was no tomorrow.
        SC: Well, SUV, if you kept drinking gas like that, there probably would be no tomorrow.
      • by dingen ( 958134 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:17PM (#23728069)

        And their fears aren't exactly unfounded. Only way to get the majority of people to stop driving heavy cars is to increase gas prices to the point where lighter cars are the only option, or having a flag day where everybody agrees to switch, i.e. not gonna happen in the near future :)

        Gas prices increasing to the point where driving a light, efficient car is the only option is not going to happen you say? I beg to differ. Here in The Netherlands, it's already happening. There has been an extreme increase in gas pricing the past year. You now pay E 1.65 per liter, which is about $ 9.21 per gallon. Yes, you read that right. For a full tank in a small to medium sized car (40 liters), you easily spend over 60 euros. That's $ 100 for a tank of gasoline.

        Over here, even in the rich suburbs people are selling their SUV's and buying small cars like Mini's and Fiat Panda's. The number of SUVs sold is dropping rapidly. It was recently in the news that last year, the amount of SUV's sold was only 1/5 of the year before that.
      • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:22PM (#23728173) Homepage Journal
        The concerns are real, but I don't know if they're valid concerns when I looked at the actual crash stats. What I've seen in the stats is that SUVs and trucks were statistically more dangerous to ride & drive in than a mid-sized car.

        It's the weight and the high center of gravity that play against the safety of the trucks. The mid-sized cars can swerve better and brake faster, and the cars are far less likely to roll over than trucks & SUVs. Basically, while trucks & SUVs can better protect the passengers in the event of a collision, they're more likely to get into collisions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There's an easy solution for that: start prosecuting agressive SUV drivers for vehicular manslaughter and/or attempted vehicular manslaughter. Problem solved.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:29AM (#23726873)
      Safety devices in cars are the major reason that fuel efficiency hasn't significantly improved since the 70s. Since the 70s and 80s up to 500 kg have been added to cars in the form of safety devices. For example, a 1979 Honda Civic had a curb weight of 680 kg. A 2008 Honda Civic has a curb weight of 1180 kg. A 1980 Toyota Camry had a curb weight of 1000 kg. A 2008 Toyota Camry has a curb weight of about 1500 kg. This 500 kg rule applies across a broad range of vehicles.
      • by Thornburg ( 264444 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:10PM (#23727919)
        I'm sure all of that increase in weight is SAFETY equipment, right? It isn't the fact that even dirt cheap cars come with air conditioning, electric windows, fancy sound systems, etc, right? And none of that weight has to do with the increase in average wheel size, either, right? And none of it has to do with the huge engines they put in cars, either, right?

        The safety equipment argument is a load of hogwash pushed by the American auto industry.

        A 2008 Chevy Aveo has a curb weight of just over 2300lbs. A 1997 Geo Metro has a curb weight of just over 1800lbs. How much of that 500lb difference (a lot less than 500kg) comes from the fact that the Aveo has a 1.6L I4 while the Metro had a 1.0L I3? Certainly not all of it, but what mileage would the Aveo get if you dropped in a 1.0L engine and took out the air conditioning? I would imagine it would be quite a bit better than the pathetic EPA 24 City 34 Highway it is rated for now.
      • by mclearn ( 86140 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:12PM (#23727963) Homepage

        I did a UI course back in 2002 and we happened to be talking about steering wheels as the UI input device. The prof happened to be a Psychology/Comp. Sci. cross, and he went off on a tangent wrt a certain thought experiment:

        The hypothesis says: the higher the chance of death, the lower your speed. If the chance of death in a moving car were 100%, no one would drive. If the chance of death were 0, then everyone would drive as fast as the car could go.

        What happens if you put a spear sticking out of the steering wheel aimed at your chest?

      • by Thomasje ( 709120 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:18PM (#23728093)
        I find it hard to believe that a few air bags add 500 kg to the weight of any car. Rather, in the eternal bigger-is-better orgy, car manufacturers feel compelled to make every iteration of any model a bit bigger than the previous one. That 2008 Honda Civic, for example, is larger than a 1979 Honda Accord, and let's not even talk about the fact that the smallest engine you can get it with (in the U.S.) is a 1.8 liter 145 hp monster...
    • by wattrlz ( 1162603 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:48AM (#23727349)

      Because they're afraid they'll be crushed to a fine pulp when they get hit by a big honking SUV.

      Which is amusing because most of those SUVs are over half crumple-zone by volume. There was a time when an SUV was a 4x4 vehicle made of steel that you drove because you needed to be able to go off road or lug all your belongings somewhere in the snow. Those days are long gone. Now it doesn't snow here anymore and an SUV is a minivan with a six-liter v8 purchased for ostentation and to satisfy latent napoleon complexes.

    • by OldeTimeGeek ( 725417 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:52AM (#23727469)
      Not necessarily, if you design the cars in the right way - with a strong inner shell and everything else disposable.

      A good example of this is an F1 car - they are designed with crashes in mind. They have strong central component to protect the driver with everything else breakable to take energy away from the tub that the driver sits in. Take Robert Kubica's accident in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, for example, After contact with Jarno Trulli, his car hit a bump, lifting it and rendering him unable to steer. His car hit a safety wall at approximately 28G decelaration and then tumbled down the track, finally coming to rest against another safety wall on its side. Most of car was strewn along the track, but the tub protected the driver. He not only lived to race again, but suffered little injury.

      Noted, these are very, very expensive cars, are single seaters, don't have doors (making the carbon-fiber tub that the driver sits in much easier) and not really designed to run on the street, but the concept of sheddable body around a strong central area still could apply

      Of course this makes the car more costly to fix which will annoy insurers and leaves a nasty very sharp mess on the street if you use the baked carbon fiber that they use on F1 cars, but if you want to make cars lighter and still protect the driver and passengers, it's worth looking at...

  • Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thyamine ( 531612 ) <thyamine@ofdragons.ELIOTcom minus poet> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:20AM (#23726643) Homepage Journal
    People are still buying SUVs, and really, I still prefer the idea of an SUV than a minivan or station wagon to try and haul people/stuff around. Maybe I'd feel different if I had a few children to get in and out, but I don't see the SUV going away anytime soon. Plus why not just make a lighter SUV?
    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Informative)

      by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:27AM (#23726815) Homepage Journal
      Lighter SUVs flip over easier. How could you prefer any SUV when it's far less safe? Minivans and station wagons at least have better crumple zones to protect you in a crash. Even those half-SUV/half-car things use car frames with proper crumple zones and have a lower center of gravity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      People are still buying SUVs

      Well, err, they are but sales are falling. As an example, this quote from the NYT []

      Ford, which last month abandoned its long-standing goal to be profitable in 2009, has been hurt by the shift in U.S. consumer demand toward smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles and away from large trucks and SUVs.

      Ford relies heavily on sales of its SUVs and full-size pickup trucks in the U.S. market, but the U.S. demand for the large vehicles has been shrinking for several years and the declines accelerated in the last couple of months as gas prices rose above $3.50 per gallon.

  • by bugnuts ( 94678 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:21AM (#23726685) Journal
    ... but how many coconuts can an SUV carry?
  • Two things (Score:3, Informative)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:22AM (#23726709) Homepage Journal
    Cars need to be lighter and more aerodynamic []. The drag on a standard automobile is just ridiculous. Rear ends today are typically vertically flat! Who are these designers that aren't familiar with the teardrop shape?
    • Re:Two things (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) * on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:29AM (#23726869)

      Cars need to be lighter and more aerodynamic []. The drag on a standard automobile is just ridiculous. Rear ends today are typically vertically flat! Who are these designers that aren't familiar with the teardrop shape?
      Well, the teardrop shape is less space efficient than a box, and most vehicles don't go fast enough often enough to make use of quality aerodynamics. If it's just a mom driving her kids to school, and around town, she's rarely going to get over 35mph and likely not waste much fuel in wind resistance. But the fact the vehicle is boxy means she can get more kids / stuff in the back end and much easier. To have the same space but a slopey backend would required adding several feet to the overall length of the vehicle.
      • Re:Two things (Score:4, Informative)

        by fizzup ( 788545 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:12PM (#23727983)

        Actually, the Kammback [] is better than a teardrop, aerodynamically and functionally. It's more aerodynamic, because it still has the same smooth flow as a teardrop, but it doesn't have all the surface drag. It's more functional because it's shaped more like a box.

        We're already seeing lots of them. Expect more.

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:38AM (#23727095) Journal
      Because basically a long time ago, someone discovered that you can cut off the tail of that teardrop, and the air flow will still be largely the same. Only this time without the added mass and drag of that teardrop tail.

      And especially if you read the RTFA, weight is a big problem. Increasing the car's weight with a useless tail would negate any aerodynamic benefits anyway. If you save, say, 0.5 litre per 100 km in aerodynamic drag with a tail, but pay 1 litre per 100 km to move that extra weight, it's not worth it.
    • Kammback (Score:5, Informative)

      by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:43AM (#23727237) Homepage
      A truncated teardrop with a flat back (like the Prius or the Insight) is actually more aerodynamic than the teardrop. It's called a Kammback [], and it's named for the gentleman who noticed that if you chop off the back of the teardrop, the air keeps flowing the same way, except without the drag of sliding along the surface of the parts of the teardrop you just chopped off.
    • Re:Two things (Score:4, Informative)

      by kryptKnight ( 698857 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:44AM (#23727269)

      Who are these designers that aren't familiar with the teardrop shape?
      This is kinda tangential, but a raindrop (which is considered the ideal aerodynamic shape) is shaped like a slightly squashed sphere rather than the traditional teardrop shape.

      For comparison, the drag coefficient of a water droplet is 0.04, a Honda Prius is 0.24, an H2 Hummer is 0.57 and an open parachute is 1.75. Smaller numbers represent less drag, obviously.

      Here are a couple articles about cars that have been designed to be shaped like water droplets, one from Mechanical Engineering Magazine [] and one from from Popular Science []
  • by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:23AM (#23726727) Journal
    "If it can be made out of black plastic, make it out of black plastic!"

    (I had a crack in my radiator - sure enough, part of the manifold for the radiator was made out of black plastic as well. Surprised the engine block itself isn't black plastic, at times.)

    Weight and cost savings. Nothing new (my car is a '97 Saturn; alive and well with 160k miles and between 30-40 MPG city).
  • by PrimeWaveZ ( 513534 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:25AM (#23726759)
    I'm just saying...

    It might be helpful.
    • How about this. You force people to walk more, and you solve two problems at the same time :)
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:59AM (#23727645) Homepage
      What about not driving absolutely everywhere? I see a lot of people drive from my apartment complex to the convenience store next to it. Total time to walk is about 2 minutes. When you add up going to the underground parking, starting your car, exiting the underground parking, waiting for traffic to turn onto the main road, drive down 30 feet of road, and then wait for traffic again as you drive into the parking lot of the store. It takes more time to just get to the store than if you walk. Sure that short drive isn't going to cost too much in gas, or cause too much harm to the environment, but the whole attitude of having to drive absolute everywhere is just terrible.
  • Surprising (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nodamnnicknamesavial ( 1095665 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:26AM (#23726773)
    So aerodynamics and weight make a difference when trying to propel an object?!

    This is going to revolutionize everything!

    Maybe if we drove cars in space we wouldn't have those pesky problems.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:28AM (#23726827)
    What's wrong with the idea of making cars lighter AND looking for alternative (and cheaper) fuels? Is there a reason for either/or, or can't we just build lightweight hybrids?
  • Partially right... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:30AM (#23726889)
    I like bigger autos. I'm 6'3" with a family history of back problems. I DON'T want a car, I want a fuel-efficient pickup/SUV/Crossover that doesn't bounce around like a jeep and I don't have to deal with the up-and-down motion of getting in and out of. I like hauling crap around. I like being able to see OVER traffic.

    GM is on the right path with the Hybrid Silverado they are making, but I would like to see something a little smaller, along the lines of a Ranger or S-10/Sonoma (I LOVED the 1994 Sonoma I drove through college). Americans are going to buy small cars in the near future, but the REAL money will be made when we can drive larger SUV's and trucks that get 30+ MPG's.
    • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:38AM (#23727091)

      I like being able to see OVER traffic.

      This amuses me to no end, and I've heard it repeated from people at the Budget rental place as well as talking heads on TV. What possible use is seeing over traffic if you're still stuck in it? Are you following too closely and not paying attention to your surroundings or something?
      • by NeoSkandranon ( 515696 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:57AM (#23727609)
        Well for one thing, (for example) you see the idiot who's passing the person to your left at high speed and is about to dart across two or three lanes (the one to your left, and yours, and however many are to your right) to make it to an exit ramp.

        You also see brake lights a little sooner so you know traffic is slowing ahead.

        In other words, you can see more of what's going on around you. You can't "pay attention" to something if you can't physically see it to start with.

        The downside of course, is that the more tall vehicles there are on the road, the more people think they need tall vehicles to see clearly.
      • by mhamel ( 314503 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:32PM (#23728477)
        The funniest part of the "seeing over the traffic" rant is mostly that it is an ego trouble. What if the others also want to see over the traffic? They'll get a higher car? Then what?

        You have to understand that getting a higner car to see the traffic has the effect that everybody around you sees less of the traffic.

        It harldy sounds like a solution to me.
    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:49AM (#23727385)
      Most people drive SUVs because they like the way they look, and then they rationalize it by coming up with other reasons.

      Most smaller cars have a lot more head and foot room, especially for the driver, than you give them credit for. I'm 6'2" and drive a 2001 Toyota Corolla. I have plenty of head room without slouching over or anything, and leg room is not an issue either. Heck, I have two kids and they fit just fine in the back seat of the thing, so the hauling kids excuse is silly too unless you happen to have 5 kids or more. It makes me crazy when people with 2 kids say they need an SUV to "haul the family around".

      As for seeing over traffic, I have no problem seeing the traffic ahead of me so long as I keep a safe distance between me and the person in front of me (2 second rule, remember?), and have only even been close to having an accident (which I was able to maneuver to avoid) once in my 15 years of driving.

      The hauling stuff excuse may be valid for some people, but you have to ask yourself how often do you really need to haul around so much stuff that you require an SUV. Most people haul stuff like that so rarely it would be far more cost effective to simply rent a pickup truck when they need to do that rather than spend all that money on the SUV full-time. Even small cars like mine can fit a surprisingly large amount of stuff in them.

      I wish people would just admit that they really wanted an SUV, so they came up with reasons why they should get one, rather than insisting that no other type of car could possibly work for them.
    • by prefect42 ( 141309 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:34PM (#23728511)

      I like being able to see OVER traffic.
      And there's the reason I end up staring at bumpers in my (33 US mpg) Corolla.

      I'm entirely unbothered by what you want; having cars that are taller than average for the purpose of getting a better view is antisocial.
  • Who knew? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by voislav98 ( 1004117 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:33AM (#23726957)
    Lighter cars use less gas? What's next? Telling people that they shouldn't live 200 miles from where they work? I heard a kind of a funny fact this morning on BBC, average energy consumption per capita in North America is double that in Europe. It's not like the standard of living or climate is that much different, it's all about the culture.
    • Re:Who knew? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:42AM (#23727199)
      I don't know about most American cities, but where I live gas would have to be $10 a gallon for years before it would be concievable to move close enough to work to walk or ride a bicycle. American cities are failing to provide the infrastructure to do anything like that and the few people who might be interested are far outweighed by the majority. Further, companies are more than willing to send their employees to other locations ad hoc with little regard to their personal needs. I was once next to a man on a plane who took an 8 hour flight to work every monday and flew back every friday because his was a specialized field and the company wanted him to work somewhere far from home.
      • Re:Who knew? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by akadruid ( 606405 ) <slashdot@thed r u i> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @03:29PM (#23732911) Homepage
        I work in London, UK. Gas is $10 a gallon.

        Our public transport is OK, not great, but it costs $15/day and takes 45 mins on the train, compared with $35 fuel, $15 congestion charge and $25 parking to drive - for 1 hour 50 mins.

        (And the housing beyond insane - you could not buy a home of any sort for less than $1 million within 30 miles of my office)

        You will get this eventually in your big US cities. LA is the size of London, and starting to run of space to build 10 lane highways. New York is probably already like it.
  • by e2d2 ( 115622 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:33AM (#23726961)
    One could hope that the coming oil problem and the focus on energy use will spill over to the general public's energy use. We have up to know, had almost unlimited energy and we've thrived in that environment. But now that we see a huge energy resource shortage in the oil markets we're starting to rethink this policy of unabated energy use. Hopefully in the coming years there will be more focus on energy efficiency in all aspects of life.
  • Lotus Elise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quila ( 201335 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:35AM (#23727007)
    The original Lotus Elise got almost 30 mpg with 1.8l, 120 hp, and it was a high-performance car.

    Put a little 1 liter, 60 horsepower engine in there and it'll probably get 50 mpg, but have regular car performance.

    The secret? Weighing only about 1,650 lbs.
  • Regenerative Brakes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hardburn ( 141468 ) <[hardburn] [at] []> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:38AM (#23727113)

    Hybrids get their benefits in two ways: reclaiming power that would otherwise be lost during braking, and the fact that electric motors have a flat torque band. You generally can't do either that with an internal combustion engine alone.

    However, there are a few ways to do both the above without an electric motor. One way is to have a flywheel connected to a CVT on the drive shaft. When you hit the brakes, the flywheel spins up. You can then release that power again when you accelerate. The flywheel will also act as a gyroscope, so you need to have some way of tilting it so you can go through corners with it spun up (which has the side effect of increasing handling). This method is being put on F1 cars soon.

    The other way is to have an air compressor, which again is run off the drive shaft when you hit the brakes. On acceleration, the compressed air could either run the drive shaft, be dumped into the intake to increase boost, or dumped into the exhaust manifold to eliminate turbo lag. This is probably easier to design than a tilting-flywheel system, though it won't make handling better.

    The compressor could also run off turbines using inlets around the car's body that are opened when braking. This particular use is probably illegal for F1 and other types of race cars (which often ban variable body shape systems), but could easily be used in road cars.

    Both the above don't require any particularly exotic materials (though carbon fiber or nanotubes would be nice for the flywheel), and shouldn't be as heavy as an electric motor/battery system.

  • by katorga ( 623930 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:40AM (#23727135)
    The majority of "SUVs" are light pickup trucks, and they are the lifeblood of the working class. Landscapers, yard cutters, painters, plumbers, etc etc all require pickups.
  • by starglider29a ( 719559 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:57AM (#23727595)
    Life forces me to commute. period. Gas > $4.00. Too bad. I drive a 25MPG car because I have a few kids, one of which is 6', and 20 stone. I can't have a SMART car. I drive too far for an electric. I can't afford a Hybrid (see number of kids) What i NEED is an additional vehicle. A commuter only vehicle.
    1. One that I only drive to and from work, maybe grab a 12-pak of Diet Dr Pepper®
    2. One that has ONE seat, maybe 2 in tandem for carpooling, thus a narrower front for lower drag coefficient, maybe a tripod
    3. One that gets a55-load MPG, on regular gas
    4. One that is enclosed against rain, maybe even snow.
    5. save weight by removing the automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, Bose Stereo, the GPS, the air bags, spare tire. Make the tank small enough to weigh little and still get me through the work week without refilling
    6. Actually, remove ALL safety features except the brakes and the brake lights! Save weight. no OnStar, no Lojack, no side curtains.
    7. Cut us some slack on emissions. Yes, commuters are the bulk of the problem, but not if we are burning half of the fuel that we would have been.
    8. it has to be CHEAP! Like $2000. Cheap to insure. Cheap to replace panels if we bump each other. Easy to park.
    9. if you want to get REALLY froggy, give us tax breaks, or our own LANE on the freeway. Watch people buy em like hotcakes.
    Ok, so I just described a 1982 Suzuki, full face helmet and a rain suit, except for the 3-wheel stance.

    My point is really this. We need a small, commuter-only vehicle, unfettered from the legal burdens that add weight and reduce gas mileage. And yet still capable of highway speed and 200 mile range. Take an F1 car, make it 3-wheeled with a Jet cockpit. End of problem. It's not rocket science...
  • If you want to give up weight in cars.

    a) get rid of the catalytic converter
    b) shorten the tailpipe and shrink the muffler
    c) get rid of airbags
    d) get rid of power heated super seats
    e) get rid of side impact safety beams

    that right there gets you some good weight savings.
  • by Adeptus_Luminati ( 634274 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:24PM (#23728255)
    With gas prices sky rocketing, I'm surprised more people aren't paying attention to inventors who have *already* created water powered cars that actually run. People, this isn't about 1 or 2 fringe scientists coming up with some hoax in their basements; this is something being discovered, built and used by people all over the world already. From US to Japan to Australia and beyond, if you don't believe me, just watch the videos below.

    "A closed mind is a good thing to lose"

    Main Website: []

    Genius US Inventor (water car): []
    From Australia: []
    Water Car Inventor Murdered -news channel report: []
    Ford Conversion: []
    From Japan: []
    Company selling water cars: []

    WAKE UP AMERICA, your government lies to you! Well, ok, so does every other government, but this particular issue (water car) is worth fighting for.

  • by TRRosen ( 720617 ) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @04:03PM (#23733899)
    Weight has very little to do with the efficiency of a modern car. Most energy is lost to wind drag. then you have rolling friction which is not nearly as effected by weight any more due to much better bearings and firmer tires (just compare pushing an 1980 car to a new car). The primary area weight will effect is kinetic energy. of course this is what makes hybrids work so well they can store kinetic energy during stopping and release it on take off. By this idiots theory having two passengers (or one big guy) would reduce the milage of a car the same amount (adding 10% to weight - 300 lb to a 3000 lb car) ... Doesn't happen on my car.

    problem is, this guy has no knowledge of real world driving, formula one cars spend all there energy accelerating and decelerating like crazy and have ridiculously low drag coefficients. Because of this weight effects them tremendously. Many times more than any average car.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama