of the enemies to the reduction of emission is weight. Although car
makers have been improving powertrain efficiency noticeably in recent
years, a large part of the gain is offset by the increased size and
weight of the cars. Car makers know this, of course, but to be
competitive they have to make their cars roomier, stronger, quieter,
insulate vibration and harshness better and offer more luxury, safety
and infotainment equipment than ever. In 10 years time, our cars gained
around 15 percent in weight.
Apparently, facing the great challenge of emission reduction, our next
generation cars have to be smaller and lighter. Consumers have to be
told the fact that we cannot increase interior room forever. Somehow a
compromise between accommodation and fuel economy has to be made. Just
like when the world was hit by Energy Crisis in the 1970s, people
shifted towards small cars. Similarly, the governments should be told
that any plans for raising crash safety standards should be frozen if
they want to put emission reduction on first priority. You can’t have
your cake and eat it too.
The rest of the improvement will be responsible by manufacturers. They
can employ more lightweight materials such as aluminum, magnesium and
composites wherever cost effectively. They can cleverly design the
chassis structure to lose weight without losing rigidity. They can set
a weight target for each component and give incentives to component
suppliers which can design components lighter than the targets. They
can integrate different audio and infotainment systems into one unit.
They can combine various microprocessors into a central brain. They can
develop lightweight seats and fabrics… Every sector can trim weight.
In fact, under the pressure of emission reduction, the trend of weight
increment is arriving the U-turn now. The latest BMW 3-Series, 5-Series
and Mini are no heavier than the cars they replaced. Ditto the new
Mercedes C-class. The new Audi TT is even lighter than the first
generation thanks to the aluminum-steel hybrid chassis. However, a more
important indicator is probably the next generation Mazda 2, which has
been shown in Geneva motor show and will go on sale later this year.
The Mazda 2 is slightly smaller than the old car (40mm shorter, 55mm
lower and only 15mm wider) and it is 100kg lighter. Expect more cars
will follow suit.
Nevertheless, a greater problem lies in the mix of our car population.
Since the late 1990s, customer taste has been shifting towards heavier
vehicles like sport utilities, multi-activity vehicles and crossovers.
As a result, car makers develop, promote and sell more these vehicles
and lead to a dramatic increase of greenhouse gas emission. In the
United States, the increase actually canceled out the reduction
achieved by the progress of green technology. Both consumers and car
makers should be responsible for the problem.
Undoubtedly, we have to stop the trend towards heavier types of
vehicles in order to reduce overall emission. This is exactly where
legislation may help – for example, a tax system according to emission
level will drive consumers away from sport utilities and crossovers
etc. so that manufacturers can concentrate their resources in
developing smaller cars and greener technologies. Rearranging the mix
of our car population is probably the easiest and cheapest way to cut
the overall emission drastically. If half of the sport utilities and
light trucks in the USA are converted to cars, the average fleet
emission could be reduced by more than 10 percent immediately !
One thing is very interesting: by making our cars smaller and lighter,
they could be actually more fun to drive ! As I always said, more power
does not equal to more fun. A Porsche 911 Turbo (307g/km) is not
necessarily more pleasurable to drive than a Cayman S (254g/km), Lotus
Elise S (196g/km) or Mazda MX-5 (183g/km). Lightweight cars are more
agile and easier to place in tight roads. Their lack of sound
deadening, NVH suppression and driver assistance usually bring more
direct feel to the drivers. In the future, legislation against emission
will push manufacturers to shift their high performance cars towards
smaller ones. Lightweight roadsters and coupes will rise again.
Super-powerful performance sedans like BMW’s M cars, Mercedes’ AMG and
Audi’s S lines will suffer the hardest blow. At least their numbers
will be limited to avoid lifting the average fleet emission level. The
top super cars like Ferrari or Lamborghini, however, will not be
influenced much, because they are already very limited in numbers. They
can be exempted from legislation.
There is worry that fuel saving technologies could hurt driving fun. To
certain extent, yes. A diesel engine is nowhere as eager to rev as a
gasoline engine. A hybrid powertrain adds weight to the car. An
electric power steering is not as feelsome as a hydraulic one. On the
positive side, diesel engines provide superior bottom-end torque for
instant acceleration. Diesel technology is also progressing much
quicker than gasoline technology so that one day it might just match
gasoline engines for subjective feel. Hybrid powertrain might bring
extra weight to the car, but on the plus side we can place part of the
weight, say, the battery pack and inverter, at more favourable position
to balance the car. The flat torque curve of electric motor also helps
the car to get off the line more quickly than internal combustion
engines can do. As for electric power steering, there is no reason why
it can’t be improved to provide real feel in the future. In short term,
any dramatic changes in automotive technologies will inevitably cause
some drawbacks, just like the series of new safety and smog control
regulations worsened the cars in the mid-1970s. Anyway, sooner or later
car makers will overcome the problems and make better use of the
benefits brought in by the new technologies.
In the future, the key to survival is technology. Developing green
technologies require substantial and long term investment. Only the
biggest manufacturers can afford. Smaller companies will be eliminated
if they fail to form alliances to share technologies and costs.
Mitsubishi and Proton are in the risk. UK sports car specialists had
better to pray for an exemption for low volume car makers, otherwise
they will be the victims. Well prepared companies like Toyota and BMW
will be the winners. The same goes for small car specialists like Fiat
and Suzuki. GM, Ford and Chrysler will survive anyway, but they will be
seriously hurt because they are still building very large cars and
trucks today. Hyundai group could also face difficulties to persuade
people buying its cars at higher prices. So far it has shown little
commitment to green technologies. Porsche could be a big loser because
it produces only performance cars while its production volume of
100,000-plus units is unlikely to get exemption. Luckily, it bought
Volkswagen recently. Other players like PSA, Nissan-Renault, Honda and
Mercedes will be able to survive through alliances or working with
Global warming is going to change the view of our motor industry, our
cars and our driving habit. Like it or not, you have to prepare for its