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Revolutionary Efficiency

Hyundai i10(Note from Chris: We're very proud to welcome Virgil Exner Jr. as an official Car Lust contributor. Mr. Exner is of course the son of famous designer Virgil Exner of Forward Look fame, and a distinguished automotive designer in his own right. He previously contributed a rebuttal to Cookie the Dog's Owner's original Stutz Blackhawk piece.)

Hello Car Lust readers, I'm very happy to be aboard as a contributor to the blog and hope you will enjoy my input.

My wife and I recently returned from a short vacation in St. Martin in the Caribbean, and I had an opportunity to rent a virtually new India-produced Hyundai i-10 four-door hatchback. It had all of the accessories as our 2008 two-door Ford Focus, and both of us thought it was really great. It got 27 mpg for more than 200 miles around that hilly and traffic-jammed island and drove and handled just as well as the Focus. Our Focus gets 19 mpg in more favorable traffic and on flatter roads. I thought the Hyundai would make the Focus feel heavy when we returned to our car, and it did.
I have always been a proponent of the small car, and I have designed several for Studebaker, Ghia, and Ford. Americans still average about 1.65 persons in a car at one time. Why have a Hummer? I think cars like the Hyundai we drove should be available to all Americans; but made in America by the Big 3, and today, not in the distant future.
In the the future, we must be energy-independent, utilizing all of our clean resources combined to feed an electric grid infrastructure. No more hybrids or internal combustion engines (though I'll miss the roar!), just electric motors. Of course, we first must improve battery technology. At any rate, I can not design a really efficient future automobile without knowing what single type of power to depend on, and any manufacturer needs to have the same assurance in order to build one. Our government and the American public should stop quibbling now and stand up to the task of developing a real energy independence, fast. Otherwise, we will forever be held hostage for oil and we will have an even worse economy.

Dartabout Just as a teaser, I hereby submit a very preliminary design for a plug-in electric runabout. Yes, it's very sporty and not a replacement for the very utilitarian Hyundai mentioned above, but it would be more fun. I have developed it much more than just this pretty picture, but I will take more time to more fully design a proper chassis and structure, as I like to do for every design that I dream of. Should you be interested, I'll show you more as I go ....slowly.
The Hyundai picture comes from Dance With

--Virgil M. Exner, Jr.


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First of all, welcome to Mr. Exner.

I like the styling concept; it has some strong 1970s styling flourishes, which I like. I like the angularity and the fact that it's a hatchback, of course. I also like the Fiat X1/9-like quasi-targa bar, and the fact that visibility to the front looks fantastic. The electrical-themed wheels are fun too.

I'd be interested in seeing a front or rear drawing just to see how wide it is; the headlights and taillights make me think it's a pretty narrow car with external fenders, a bit like a Lotus Seven or an Ariel Atom.

The idea of a lightweight, fun commuter sports car is a great one; it was done well as the Honda CRX and mangled a little initially as the Fiero. But I think it has potential.

As you mention, an all-electrical car is an interesting idea because at that point it is agnostic to how the electricity is generated; our power plants could become friendlier without necessitating constant fundamental changes in running gear. As you note, storage is the real challenge.

I'll have to do a separate post on electrical cars and internal-combustion cars, because I think it's a fascinating topic. Personally, I think the internal-combustion engine still has some life in it - but more on that later.

I'd be interested in seeing more as you continue teasing the design. I'd especially be curious to see how such a car could clear the high bar of crash regulations.

Welcome to Car Lust, Mr. Exner!

I'm all for clean fuels! But there are already people trying to block them, by passing laws forbidding "Ugly" windmills and such, comparing them to cell-phone towers. These people don't believe in global warming and want to keep their big cars, citing small cars as "Unsafe and unnecessary".

Burning coal is not the way to produce electricity. We just had a major ecological disaster here in Tennessee without even lighting a match. $100 million is the first estimate to clean it up.

I'm not a tree hugger, but I believe in conservation. I've always had a small car or truck, and I always will. Hopefully some soon day, we will conserve our resources like the rest of the world.

Welcome Mr Exner. The Hyundai's a cute little bug and so is the runabout concept.

rant begins...

On other topics. I can't tell you how bored I am with crash standards and the cumbersome design solutions that accompany them. Yes I know this will draw heat from everyone who's lost someone near and dear in a car accident. I ride a motorcycle, so enough said. Or maybe not. I wear a helmet, body armor, and leather from neck to toe, and I'm super careful about everything from the roads and route I ride to the pressure in my tires. What that means is I take my safety and that of others very seriously and I engage in a considered risk management assessment before I even kick start my moto. Meaning I use my head and i think and ride well ahead of where I am at any given time. It is an active form of safety.

The safety standards we are currently burdened with are all about passive safety. Safety for the unthinking. Overdesign to save lives. There's a reason you wear a helmet and protective gear in a race car or on a moto... aside from the obvious next step in logic, I'd like to point out that people who do wear helmets and safety gear are taking personal responsibility for their own safety. Too bad that so many of the cars designed today are lacking in one of the most important features of safety, something that was common on German and Japanese cars from the 60's through about 1992... good visibility. Tell me how many cars, trucks and SUVs you've seen where there are obvious scratches and dents because the drivers can't see out of the vehicles.

rants and more rants.

I know we can eventually figure a way to get electric or fuel cell cars working. We've talked about these before. I also don't want to subsidize farmers into dropping real food crops in favor of alcohol production crops. BUT I can get an alcohol jet for the mikuni carb on my motorbike tomorrow. And alcohol - ethanol - works exceptionally well on honda powered indy cars. It has very high octane and I don't think anyone is complaining about the performance of indy cars. That stuff burns exceptionally clean and it is renewable.

No I don't work for the corn lobby - and I don't want any more corn getting grown to make this happen. Practically everything that's carbon and chlorophyl based will ferment and produce alcohol. There's a huge amount of green material that just goes in the dump and is lost.

There are obvious problems with any solution that tries to address personal transportation . But let's look at it square in the face. Lighter cars, smaller cars, more fuel types, more vehicle options, more transportation options. Old cars fixed up to run well. Old cars converted to alternative fuels. New cars that are as small and efficient as those sold in the rest of the world. Walk. Ride a bike. Tune up your car and get some new spark plugs. We've all got to take some responsibility and an engage in an active approach to our lives rather than going into a passive condition in which designers are required to do it for us.

I was in Nicaragua last week. Talk about diversity of transportation. Everything from donkey carts to flat bed bus trailers towed by trucks. Motorcycles under 200cc's were everywhere. Vespa 3wheel taxis were in every corner of the country. Did things go very fast? No. Was it a particularly safe driving environment, not on your life. But that had more to do with the way pedestrians and animals seemed to be oblivious to the fact that there were roads and cars. Cars and trucks were mostly Japanese and old. Lots of Toyotas. The thing that struck me was how much was being conserved... high efficiency, light, sturdy, vehicles that got the jobs done and used a minimum of fuel.

end rant :)

solution to crash standards for the runabout... shift the CG forward and down, if necessary reverse the profile to a tear-drop "cab forward" design with a tapered tail. Shift it to a single rear wheel, and classify it as a motorcycle. Lower drag, rolling resistance, and weight. Done.

PS: I love wind farms. They are fantastic beautiful things. We need more of them. right on TCG.

Sadly, I feel the immediate solution (Though temporary) is further development of the gasoline engine. The Wright Brothers' plane flew on 37 octane. An Acura RSX-Type S had a 2-litre engine, normally aspirated, that put out 210 hp, using 93 octane.

What about aviation fuel, around 110 octane, in a 1200cc turbo or supercharged engine (Or less) designed to burn it? That should get us at least 150 hp, enough to tote around any 2800-lb. car, like a Civic, with better mileage. Less weight = better mileage, etc.

Until we have clean fuels, we have oil. Let's make the best and most of it as long as we have to. Drilling for more oil to sustain today's driving style is not the answer.

Chuck, of course you are right that in the immediate we need to focus on improvements to the IC engine, but that does not exclude alternate fuels. Alternative fuels are already available. The problem has been production and distribution, and an economy that has been wedded to oil. The trick is shifting production. If we are going to have public works initiatives, why not make that a one. The oil companies could distribute alternative fuels as easily as gasoline or diesel - the infrastructure is there and ready to go. The gas stations, the tankers. I think the one big issue might be keeping water out of the alcohol, but is that really an issue when it has clearly been solved on the race track where alcohol is used already.

Oh! and Honda already knows how to make super powerful engines that run off alcohol based fuels. Think of it, Honda reliability putting out huge hp on a completely renewable fuel, and it's still an IC engine. It's clean burning to boot! Tell me that's not better than some electric vehicle! Oh yeah and you can still make a hybrid that runs on alcohol.

I can have my moto running on Ethanol by the end of next week. In fact with a 12:1 compression ratio it really wouldn't mind the extra octane. I know that engines are a little thirstier running alcohol - I know I would be. So I can always put a larger tank on it. Those are readily available and they look frackin' cool.

I think most alternative fuels produce about 85% of the same amount of power as gas. My theory, if plausible, is to use much less gas and get more horsepower per gallon. That way, fewer diesel tractors will be needed to bring crops to the gas pump.

Running a car on clean biofuels is still in its infancy. We've come a long way. Let's keep going!

Welcome Mr. Exner! Cute hyundai, seems like a cheaper alternative to a smart car.

Question about you though: Do you have a studio? Are you looking for interns? I graduate with an industrial design degree in 1 month, and I've done work for Harley Davidson, Fiskars, Masterlock, Empire Level, and I'm currently an intern at Milwaukee Electric Tool designing powertools. I have a few designs in production, which are available at home depot. Very exciting stuff! Unfortunately that internship ends when I graduate, so I'm looking for work. You can see a sample of some of my work here:

Let me know! Sorry for the intrusion guys!

biofuels are not really in their infancy. They've been getting used extensively for years and they are proven. Drive around LA and see how many diesels are running on veggie oil. There are lots of factory vehicles - like fork lifts that run on alcohol - they do that in enclosed environments - and they are safe! All those harvesting machines can run on bio-diesel.

I'm all for smaller more efficient IC engines. You don't have to give up oil - just expand possibilities. Newer engine and control technology has definitely created more power. But engines tuned to give more HP don't necessarily give better fuel economy. Engine tuning can go in several directions and power vs gas savings are not always going in the same directions from a tuning perspective.

But I do love the idea of small cars with small engines that make as much HP as bigger engines. Sounds like a blast. Everything gets lighter and faster in that equation. If there is gas savings all the better.

There are three primary elements out there in the automotive vista: IC running on gas/oil, IC running on alternative fuels, and electric. It does not have to be only one. It can be all of them. I love the fact that the switch to ethanol can have so many great advantages over the other two alternatives. But they are all good.

Regarding the 85% energy figure. I think you need to remember that's for the exact same IC engine design. The thing that is forgotten is that gas engines pretty much lose any HP benefit for compression rations over 12:1. However Diesels go way above that to achieve higher levels of efficiency (21:1). Gas engines start to detonate uncontrollably over 12:1 and lose power. If ethanol can achieve higher octane ratings than gas then it can be pushed to compression ratios over 12:1 and in doing so achieve higher levels of efficiency and power... potentially making up for that 85% you mention. I'm going to have to go back to my thermodynamics texts to prove this but on the whole I believe it's correct.

@Mochi - I feel your pain about visibility. I own a Scion xA. Nice car. Good pickup and decent fuel economy and all that - and craptastic rear visibility. The first thing I did was remove the headrests from the back seats. Nobody sits back there anyway, and they very nearly completely blocked my view at six o'clock. Bad. Bad. Bad. Especially for a hatchback that probably wouldn't have looked out of place twenty or thirty years ago.

And then there's the other thing that over-engineering does for you, added weight. It seems that no matter what you buy, you're getting these really beefy pillars that always seem to be in the way. It's gotten worse, since it seems we now absolutely must have airbags tucked into every possible crevice, lest Consumer Reports might slap the Scarlet Letter of Unacceptability on the hood. Yeah, I would probably appreciate them more if I were ever in a rollover accident, but I have no intention of ever driving my xA like a drunken idiot with a death wish, so I just have to say WTF? They make the car unnecessarily top-heavy and once again, reduce visibility, especially at five and seven o'clock where there are TWO beefy pillars about a foot apart. I appreciate the fact that my car is really, really short, which has its advantages, but I think that makes a really thick D pillar unnecessary. Is anyone going to be sitting in the cargo space? Why protect it?

Finally, I would just love to have a two-seater electric vehicle with minimal trunk space - like my xA, which has enough room back there for five bags of groceries - to drive to work. I drive 12.5 miles each way, so an electric car with even a paltry thirty mile range would be just the ticket. For the hippies out there who think everybody has access to a bus, subway, or flat roads and good weather that's ideal for bicycles, public transportation in Upstate New York is spotty to nonexistent, and I won't bore you with the details about the terrain and climate of the Northeastern US, so I absolutely have to drive. I should at least be able to do it better and cheaper.

First of all, welcome aboard Mr. Exner! I like the Dartabout.

There's a fascinating discussion going on here in the comments about alt-fuels and design issues. SP's comments about electric cars and visibility and what might be called "airbag mania" read like he hacked my cerebral cortex and downloaded my brain! I've had some thoughts rattling 'round in there on electric and alt-fuel cars and their "utility envelope" (analogy to "performance envelope") which I plan to turn into a post at some point.

In the meantime, SP, have you looked at the Smart Fourtwo? Aside from not being electric, it seems to fit your commuter-car specs. I'm 6-foot tall and 300 pounds, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well I fit in it.

Looks like a DeLorean which I hate. So much for an article about the Hyundai...more of a political piece of crap. Keep your politics and tell us about cars.

@Cookie - Well, I'm probably good for transport until at least 2013. By then, maybe there's a whole new design ethos for cars, kind of like the difference between 70s and 80s cars.

The Smart Car space cage/frame is genius. It will out-survive the human body in crash forces. But is the gasoline mileage as good as it really could be? Doesn't the Prius get better mpg?

If this car or something like it offered electric power or was even a hybrid, what a great city/commuter car it would make! Too bad Daimler and Chrysler got divorced. Imagine filling up empty Chrysler plants with Smart Car production.

Make mine a Smart Roadster please. Better aerodynamics and handling. There's a problem in this world when a Smart Car can make it to these shores and a Smart Roadster can't.

If that's more political commentary then so be it guilty as charged. Personally I consider it good old fashioned common sense.

Oh and regarding alternate fuels and electric cars... there's a very successful conversion to electric for one of my personal favorites: the porsche 914. Light agile and cute, plenty of room for batteries, runs nicely on the freeways. I've seen a few in Los Angeles. So really we don't need more or newer designs, we need to capitalize on some of the great cars built in the last 40 or so years and just do a little update on them... new fuels or batteries, your choice.

The VoltPorsche kit sounds pretty nice:

Mochi, I've done a post on the MG Midget, and they were or are trying to get the Smart Roadster here, renamed as the Midget. Maybe a few cosmetic changes, but still the same car. Top Gear named it their most fun car in 2005.

Oops, better quit spoiling the post LOL.

Ok - if the Smart Roadster gets here and it has not been screwed up in the translation (and I can fit in it) that might actually force my new car buying hand... we'll see.

The fact that the Smart FourTwo (sp?) gets worse gas mileage than a Geo Metro says everything that needs to be said about the trade-offs we're making in this country. People need to realize something - we can have cheap cars, great gas mileage, power, or safety. Pick two... if that.

As for an energy solution, I think that alternative fuels and the like can certainly help stretch our existing oil supplies, but we're not going to replace oil anytime soon. To generate enough electricity to replace fossil fuels, we'd have to build dozens of nuclear power plants, as many "green" power plants as we can possibly manage, and probably a few dozen coal plants, too. Even if we could eminent domain our way to victory there, you're still talking about somewhere just south of $1 trillion to crank out the necessary infrastructure, not including a heavily upgraded power distribution network. Meanwhile, renewables are great and all, but it's nearly as hard to create plentiful vegetable oil as it is to come up with corn or sugarcane-grown alcohol. There's just no way to grow enough to make more than a 2% dent or so without adversely affecting the rest of our food supply. Of course, you could use things like waste grasses and wood, but there hasn't been much success at coming up with a reasonably economical way of pulling that off. Even if you did, alcohol is VERY corrosive. There's a reason E85-compatible cars have to be labeled as such.

great points David. I'm all for GEOs and old cheap cars.

Initially any solution is only going to be a "dent". It does not matter what it is... oil, alt fuel, solar, electric, hybrids, fuel cells, hydrogen. There's a limited supply of oil. So yeah one day it will be gone and the only thing you'll have are your feet, donkey carts, and the alternatives I just listed. Will it take trillions of dollars and years before we get it right - yes. But the point is we need to start some time, and sooner is better.

Yeah ethanol is corrosive. But have you ever gotten a good dousing of gasoline on your skin? Pretty nasty too,

One of the great things that is seldom mentioned about alcohol is how it burns. Super clean. Forget about CO and a host of other nasty pollutants. Forget about exhaust gas recirc or catalytic converters. Correct me if I'm wrong about this but I believe this is true.

We can always say this wont work or that is hard to do. I think JFK gave a speech about doing the things that are difficult. The space program and the national highway system got a lot of their funding as parts of national defense. I don't see how alt fuels and the like are any different. Is it safe to be so dependent on oil and foreign suppliers? It really is about national defense. The monies we have already dumped, burned, or otherwise lost in Iraq would have done a lot to move towards your trillion dollar investment mark, and actually have something in the end that would be a significant and important capital investment for this country and the world.

No. Cost and difficulty are no reasons to avoid the effort. Shutting our eyes and saying "too hard, too expensive" is just no way to face a problem that we all have to admit exists. Sometimes you face a mountain, you've got to move it, and all you have is a shovel. What do you do? Drop the shovel and walk away? or start digging one shovel-full at a time. It's amazing how much people can get done if they just keep their heads down and start digging.

Regarding public works projects and stimulus packages. A national effort in alternative fuels, or a NASA for electric vehicles, would generate a lot of interesting jobs ranging from the top to the bottom of the skill spectrum. I know our roads need fixing, but so does our energy and fuel supply.

Mochi, I don't think David was saying "don't do it" with respect to alt-fuels--and I wouldn't say that either. I do think we have to be realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished in the short term. Electric cars and alt-fuels get talked about as if all we need to do is appropriate a few billion dollars here, issue a couple of regulations there, and suddenly everything is sweetness and light and groovy love vibrations.

Not gonna happen.

The change will be slow, and incremental, and will depend on a combination of solutions: improved efficiency in gasoline and diesel engines, better hybrid technology, better batteries, improved processes for converting waste biomass to fuel, and probably a few out-of-the-box things that haven't been thought up yet.

Unfortunately, we seem to be in a cycle where everyone seems to want to identify The One Big Solution and commit the government to it as a matter of industrial policy. These are complex issues of science, and engineering, and economics, and they shouldn't be resolved based on whose lobbyist knows which senator's chief of staff or plays better inside baseball in the White House.

"Unfortunately, we seem to be in a cycle where everyone seems to want to identify The One Big Solution and commit the government to it as a matter of industrial policy."

Bingo. One week it's ethanol, then food prices skyrocket, and it's back to hydrogen. Or batteries. Or whatever. And usually those proponents are simply not acting out of any kind of selfless altruistic motivation. No surprise a lot of corn-belt Congressmen are supportive of ethanol.

Though frankly, I don't think this precise sort of discussion belongs in Car Lust. The relative merits of different sorts of powerplant designs maybe, but not US energy policy. Just my $0.02.

Neat design!!
As time goes along and the future of fossil fuels for automotive becomes more and more questionable, electric is more attractive. We have to face the future and encourage the development of other sources, such as wind and nuclear. In the case of nuclear, a major problem seeems to be excessive regulation, with exceptionally long times between the application for a license and the granting of such. Reactors get more efficient all the time, so those who are against them should wake up.

Re: "One Big Soluition" Yeah - agreed that's more of a problem than anything else. "Incremental Steps" are the only possible course.

Shifts of single solution focused thinking get in the way of making significant advances. Not having a cohesive agenda or program to address the issue is another problem. Typically the press and politicians just don't have enough technical expertise to know what the better directions are and what the pitfalls are. They are as vulnerable to the marketing spin of special interest groups as anyone else.

I'm not debating the merits of a political agenda or position. I'm not critiquing US energy policy, except to say that the US does not now have one, and has not had a coherent policy for a significant period of time. It is not a political statement to say that energy is a national issue which affects national and international social and economic conditions and interests, it's just a simple fact. For any nation anywhere in the world to not take energy and transportation into serious account from a policy perspective seems lacking in common sense. That's as true for Uganda as it is for the US, the EU, or Russia.

My point about alcohol was really meant as a reminder that electric cars are not the only solution. Electric cars and hybrids are the buzz of the day. Hybrids are proven and they're advantages and problems are largely known... and because they are gas based, hybrids they are a step a long a road to a solution. Fully practical electric cars are one of the next goals to achieve, at this point it is unclear how effective that will ultimately be and what the down sides are. Looking at how well the hi-tech battery in my laptop performs makes me a little uneasy. It seems like any future solution for a vehicle has to include some capacity for generation rather than only consumption.

IC engines are here and are known, AND they are already running off alternate fuels which can burn exceedingly clean to the point of eliminating cumbersome pollution controls. This is a point that often gets lost in contemporary discussions of transportation energy solutions, since the focus has been so intently aimed at Electric and Hybrid vehicles in recent years. Electrics and hybrids are sexy, alt fuels are not. (unless you're a congressman or farmer from the corn belt.)

I'm not saying one is right or one is better. With one small exception that should interest CarLust readers. Performance. The performance capabilities of existing alternate fuels are significant and known AND they are adaptable to existing (read: old) cars. I find that exciting. Donkey carts don't handle all that well, nor do electric golf carts. They are both a bit lethargic in terms of performance. Knowing that I can get ethanol jets for the carb on my moto is pretty exciting and fun. I can do something with that even if I only run my bike on track days. I'd like think that the spirit of hot rodding and back yard performance tuning is as fertile and innovative as it has ever been, and is even a place where issues of fuels and conservation can be explored.

On a personal note, I have spent most of my life interested in or obsessed with cars, motorbikes, and performance. Driving or riding are fun and I think of them as an art form. Some people like to dance on the dance floor, I like the dancing that happen on a road or the track. Discussions of fuel shortages and "advances" in electric cars invariably sound to me like something that's going to take the fun out of driving in the future. That's depressing! I don't need to be a speed addict to enjoy a good car or bike. My 50cc Honda MB5 is as exciting to ride fast as my 500cc Yamaha. But I personally need to look at options for the future in order to be happy. Perhaps my early training as an engineer makes me ever the optimist when it come to problems like these. I want to confront them and overcome them, especially when it comes to something personally important or meaningful to me. If there's something I can do in my backyard on the machines that are dear to me, this all becomes very exciting and positive.

This is probably one of the reasons I find "passive safety" regulations for cars and trucks so maddening. These are things which legislate design conditions, and which may solve one problem, but simultaneously create a host of others. Any one of us should be able to walk out the door tomorrow and buy a car that weighs less than 1800 lbs and doesn't cost $70K. right now the only way you can do that is with a used car. We used to be able to do that with our future used cars, but due to marketing decisions and passive safety regulations that's not possible.

I hope I'm not coming across as monolithic or argumentative. Alt fuels are just interesting to me, I don't see them "the solution". I've just seen so many projects frozen in place because design teams were overwhelmed by the scale of the "can't" and lost sight of the "can". Optimism and looking for what you can do - finding ways around the things you can't do - is how solutions are created. I value all the ideas that have been presented and appreciate the perspectives and knowledge here. Thanks.

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