After seven years of pitting the best U.S.-based design teams from major automakers against each other, the Design Los Angeles competition has finally attracted some international competition.
Each year, the competitors are given a new challenge to design their vehicles around based on the latest trends in automobiledom. This year, they've been asked to address "society's shift toward minimizing consumption of the earth's resources" via the Colin Chapman less-is-more approach.
"The objective is to envision an efficient, light-weight, four passenger vehicle (not to exceed 1,000 lbs.), that is both comfortable and safe, while delivering satisfactory driving performance without sacrificing the styling consumers demand."
While typically limited to U.S.-based design studios, this year's event has picked up entrants from Japan and Germany as well. Listed below, in alphabetical order by automaker, are the 2010 entries. General Motors: The Cadillac Aera (a combination of the words "aero" and "era") is a 2+2 four-seater that weighs 1000 pounds and offers a range of 1000 miles before its air tanks need to be refilled. That's right, air. As in, a pneumatic drivetrain powered by a 10,000-psi composite tank delivering compressed air to the All-In-One wheels that combine the pneumatic motors, steering and suspension. Composite body panels, wireless communication between vehicle components and a latticework frame made of ultra-light alloys all help keep the weight to a minimum.
Honda: The Honda Air is also pneumatically powered, but with a twist. Rather than a bulky tank, Honda took a page from the Buell Motorcycle playbook and made the frame the air tank. They also upped the ante with a sort of regenerative braking system that would pump air back into the frame tank to extend the range up to 100 miles. Various composites, alloys and renewable materials help keep the two-seater's weight just under 800 pounds.
Maybach: The Maybach DRS (for "Den-Riki-Sha") is meant to evoke the traditional rickshaw, but with a very futuristic twist. Maybach envisions a seriously high-tech and seriously expensive bio-mechanical system in which the vehicle is "born" out of a "coded-DNA cocoon." Presumable, this means the car will be somehow grown from organic material rather than assembled. Somewhere along the way, it'll get a self-balancing electric drive system similar to the Segway. Should you run low on juice, you can hike up your Armani suit and pedal to extend the DRS' range. Mazda: Since Mazda already knows a thing or two about lightweight cars, the team set out to re-engineer the MX-5 Miata into a lighter, faster sports car of the future called the MX-0. The process involved redesigning each of the MX-5's components to reduce complexity and overlap and save weight. Composite materials further reduce weight while an unspecified number of electric motors offer an impressive power-to-weight ratio for blistering performance. Mazda sees the car as marketable by 2020 and selling 500,000 units per year, or several times Mazda's total annual U.S. sales.
Mercedes-Benz: The Biome is about as eco-friendly as you can get, running on solar power and emitting only oxygen. A technology called Symbiosis collects solar energy and stores it in an imaginary fluid called BioNectar4534, or in a material called BioFiber that's stronger than steel but grown from plants. The vehicles themselves will be grown from "Stars" and seeds in the Mercedes-Benz Nursery in two parts, the interior and exterior. The wheels are grown from separate stars and seeds. When you're done with it, the vehicle can be made into building materials or simply composted. Mercedes will also retrofit trees with Symbiosis technology. No word on how it will solve hunger and world peace. Nissan: Built on the assumption that the new Leaf takes off and a charging infrastructure springs up around it and other EVs, the Nissan iV is a high-performance four-seat EV due out in 2035. Super-lightweight "organic synthetic" parts are grown like plants and is a blend of ivy mixed with a spider silk composite for strength. Photovoltaic windows capture solar energy while weighing some 90 percent less than glass. A bio-battery provides power while regenerative brakes supply a super-capacitor that recaptures 60 percent of kinetic energy spent. Like the Cadillac, all the propulsion, steering and suspension work is done right in the wheels with magnetic propulsion and levitation. Nissan's proactive "Safety Shield" technology makes collisions impossible, so heavy reinforcement isn't necessary, thus saving weight. Smart: Sure, grandma can knit a sweater, but can she knit a car? Smart's "Smart Granny Robots" can, and they're supposedly "as friendly and cuddly as our grandmothers." Specifically, they knit the "Tridon-frame" chassis from carbon fiber. With parts made from recycled plastics and walking a fine line between functionality and absolute minimal weight the Smart 454 by Weight Watch Technologies (454 referring to the car's weight, 454 kilograms, or about 1000 pounds) will feature body panels and drivetrains that can easily be swapped out for customization and updating.
Toyota: NORI (the Japanese word for seaweed) is a vehicle that saves weight by reducing a complexity we often forget exists. After all, why have both a chassis and separate body panels when you can have one "Podular" piece built from bioplastics reinforced by woven carbon fiber? And as long as you're weaving in carbon fiber, why not weave in photovoltaic cells to capture solar energy? Personalization comes from "partial shape insets" that can be attached to the exterior while the color can be changed by electronically manipulating the surface of the vehicle. Power comes from a battery pack and four in-wheel electric motors.
Volvo: Also jumping on the compressed-air bandwagon in the Volvo Air Motion, which gets is compressed air from Air Replenishment Sites powered by turbines floating (somehow) 1000 feet in the air and capturing wind power. With no bulky gasoline powertrain and its necessary accessories to deal with, Volvo is free to craft an airy clamshell body from carbon fiber with room for four.
Check back in with us at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show on November 17 and 18 to find out who won.
Source: Design Los Angeles