Monday, June 15, 2009

Car Technology Works to Protect Us and the Planet

I would like to provide a couple of examples to demonstrate how technology works in beneficial ways, and how vehicle functionality, safety and economy can improve over time. The examples below are the result of natural evolution in the absence of a major energy crisis. These vehicles were finalized in design between 2005 and 2007, well before the 2008 oil pricing crisis and the current recession were in effect. In other words, the improvements highlighted by these four sample vehicles can be realized in 10 instead of 20 to 25 years in response to strong pressures for fuel efficiency dictated by market prices or regulations.

First we look at the evolution of Honda gas misers, the very economic 1985 Honda CRX HF and the advanced hybrid 2009 Honda Insight which also have comparable pricing in terms of purchasing parity with the 2009 Insight priced at about $20,000 now and the CRX priced at $6,500 almost 25 years ago.

Units 1985 Honda CRX HF 2009 Honda Insight Change
Seats number 2 5 150%
Footprint sq.ft. 64.2 79.8 24%
Cargo sq.ft. 13.0 15.9 22%
Weight lbs 1713 2723 59%
Transmission type 5-speed manual CVT Easier
Fuel octane 91 87 -7%
EPA City mpg 38 40 -5%
Safety estimate Basic Very Good Much Better

The 2009 Honda has much more room for people, it is 24% larger, and 59% heavier. Part of the latter has a lot to do with safety features which make a 2009 Insight a very safe car to be in a collision, whereas the consequences from a rear angle (T-bone) accident in a compact 1985 vehicle are rather dire even at moderate speeds. Despite all the increases in size and functionality, the 2009 Honda delivers a 5% improvement in fuel consumption and it runs on a less expensive fuel. Also the Insight has a convenient Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT, which is a state-of-the-art "infinite gear" automatic gearbox.

Then we take a look at relatively popular performance vehicles made by BMW: the notoriously square best seller 1989 325i, and its modern re-incarnation the 2009 128i, both with similar six cylinder inline engines and manual gearboxes. In terms of pricing the 128i at about $30,000 is a relative bargain now compared to the $25,000 sticker price of the 325i about 20 years ago.

Units 1989 325i 2008 128i Change
Seats number 4 4 0%
Footprint sq.ft. 76.6 83.3 9%
Weight lbs 2811 3252 16%
0-60 mph sec 8.5 6.1 -28%
EPA City mpg 16 18 -13%
Safety estimate Good Very Good Better

The above comparisons show that the 2009 car is 9% larger and 16% heavier, but 28% faster and 13% more fuel efficient!

As I concluded in my previous post, the outlook on future vehicle technologies is bright and many improvements will come from developments that do not even exist today. The two examples above show that progress is constant and in the right direction.

This progress is not possible or probable; it is certain. The worldwide auto industry is a giant part of technological, industrial and economic significance. For example, vehicle production during 2008 was 66,000,000 units. Here is a breakdown of vehicle production from some non-U.S. brands which also depicts the significance of these industries to regional economies and countries, and indeed the wrold as a whole. (Worldwide data do not include production from China and India, both of which have booming car markets.) The table below represents about 50% of world production:

Manufacturer Country 2008 production
BMW Germany 1.4 million
Opel Germany 1.5
Mercedes Germany 1.9
FIAT Italy 2.2
Peugeot + Citroen France 3.3
Honda Japan 3.8
Hundai + Kia Korea 4.2
VW Germany 6.2
Toyota Japan 9.0

(Base country shown but all manufacturers have plants in multiple countries.)