My wife and I are mad birders. Our passion has taken us to remote corners of the globe in search of rare and beautiful birds. But, birding trips often come with strict limits on the size and weight of luggage, so we’ve learned to pack judiciously. Do we really need X? Can we do without Y?
Planning our most recent expedition made me think of the automotive industry. ASSEMBLY has been running many articles on lightweighting lately. OEMs are implementing new fastening, welding and bonding technologies to cope with a host of new, lightweight materials. In some cases, OEMs are completely rethinking the design of the body, frame, power train and even the electrical system. If the width of a flange on a metal part can be reduced to save a few ounces, that’s a victory.
So here’s a heretical question: Wouldn’t it be easier to eliminate some of the creature comforts offered on today’s cars? Do we really need two or three electric motors to adjust the driver’s seat? How much weight could be saved if power windows were replaced with hand cranks? Would consumers go for that?
I posed the question recently on the Automotive OEM Network on LinkedIn. With nearly 300,000 members, the group consists of current and former employees of automotive OEMs, suppliers and related companies. The responses were interesting.
“My dad had a 1962 850-cc Mini when I was growing up,” recalls Graham, a business consultant and former manager at an auto parts manufacturer in the UK. “It weighed about 500 kilograms. It had hand-powered sliding windows and a transverse engine with the gearbox in the oil sump. He meticulously kept costs and was pleased to achieve 42 mpg (US) on a regular basis. It was a wonderful car for its time, and it did the job he asked of it very well indeed.
“A career in the automotive industry has taught me that I can’t work out why people buy cars. One thing I know is that I would not exchange my Lexus for a Mini. And, by the way, my Lexus also does 42 mpg. So, I don’t believe most consumers would sacrifice creature comforts for improved fuel consumption.”
Jeremy, a technical consultant for an automotive OEM in Canada, had this to say: “Customers today are obsessed with unnecessary features and gadgets that are making drivers lazy and distracted. They add weight and decrease vehicle reliability. In the end, they make vehicles harder to recycle, and in most cases they actually increase fuel consumption.”
Anthony, an automotive repair instructor at a technical college in Alabama, agrees. “A simplified car may just make it today,” he predicts. “Today’s car market is similar to the market 100 years ago in that so many manufacturers are building cars for a higher-end market. I believe a Model T moment could be around the corner. My ’94 Honda Civic got much better mileage than a new one gets today.”
What do you think? Good idea or am I for the birds?