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Imagine a mid-sized family sedan as roomy as a Ford Taurus, but weighing less than a compact Ford Aspire. You can drive up to 80 miles on one gallon of gas–nearly triple the mpg of a Honda Accord. And, the finish on this environmentally friendly car is much like the powder clearcoat on upscale Harley Davidson motorcycles, more durable and highly resistant to stone chipping.
Those are highlights of the car of the future, which promises to deliver the pep, performance and style American car buyers crave. What’s the bottom line for consumers? Simply put, the Big Three U.S. auto giants are pooling resources to accelerate development of just such an affordable, fuel-efficient, lightweight, family sedan with the hightech components previously exclusive to the aerospace and defense industries.
“This will not be a weekend-garage type of thing,” says Keith O. Carson, a former manufacturing consultant at Ford. “We are looking at a highly technological 300-volt system.”
That’s a lot to deliver, and the deadline is rapidly approaching. In the year 2000, the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV)–a broad research effort including Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and 400 U.S. automotive and technological projects–will introduce the technology for the concept vehicle, which is expected to be as revolutionary as the first “horseless carriage” was 102 years ago.
“The whole effort of PNGV is comparable to our race to the moon in terms of the coordinated effort,” says Roy Collins III, staff counsel of commercial affairs at Chrysler, and one of several African Americans working with Carson on this collective project. PNGV was founded in 1993, a year after the Big Three formed the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR). Its goal is to strengthen the technology base of the domestic auto industry.
How can consumers benefit? Car buyers naturally want to siphon as much mileage from a tank of gas as possible. One way to increase fuel efficiency is to reduce the vehicle’s overall weight by using other materials in addition to steel. Gil Chapman, an advanced materials consultant at Chrysler, says, “This could be a true composite car–using steel, aluminum and fiberglass reinforced plastic.”
More importantly, Chapman says car buyers won’t have to sacrifice vehicle safety in exchange for a lighter-weight, more fuel-efficient car. In fact, under the USCAR umbrella, the three U.S. auto companies established a program to develop collision-avoidance technologies. “Customers are much more informed now,” Chapman explains. “If a vehicle does not have the roadworthiness and safety, it won’t sell.”
In addition, drivers don’t want to give up power and performance–if a car can’t accelerate to merge onto fast-paced highways, it will never be produced. The future car will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 12 seconds or less–comparable to today’s mid-size family sedan. However, the traditional fossil fuel method of powering vehicles and the standard acid-battery energy storage system may meet the same fate as the dinosaur. Still, while alternative technologies show a lot of promise–like jet-propulsion systems–automakers still must meet customer expectations.
Appearance is equally important. Gary Christian,
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