Pioneer's work fuels today's innovations
Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.
It's tempting to assume that development of high-performance cars -- not to mention race cars -- is contrary to automotive sustainability.
Mark James, director of Lotus Engineering, begs to differ.
The Norfolk, England, engineering firm couldn't be more steeped in racing lore. It was founded in 1952 by legendary British auto-racing pioneer Colin Chapman, and its sibling, Lotus Cars, won its first Formula One championship nearly half a century ago, in 1963, and the Indy 500 two years later.
Chapman pioneered a raft of innovations such as monocoque bodies, ground effects and spoiler wings.
Although Chapman's breakthroughs were in service of competition, James says they transfer directly to efforts to increase the efficiency of mass market daily drivers.
Lotus' biggest impact in recent years has been in weight reduction. Last year Lotus Engineering rattled the assumption that building lighter vehicles would require sharply increased costs for pricey materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber. In a study released by the International Council on Clean Transportation, Lotus said a 38 percent weight reduction in a vehicle with sales volume of 50,000 units a year would cut fuel consumption for that nameplate by 23 percent -- and increase cost by a mere 3 percent.
Lotus is working on a second phase of the study for the California Air Resources Board focusing on the body-in-white, which was not included in the original. James says that use of advanced materials and joining methods could help automakers cut weight by another 36 percent.
Sounds like the heirs of Colin Chapman are ready to shake up the industry again.
BMW will take another step in blending sportiness and electric powertrains with a roadster version of the i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe, due in 2014. According to Automotive News Europe, the roadster will have upward-swiveling doors and two onboard electric scooters.
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