Auto Manifesto

February 1, 2008

Advantages of Lighter Vehicles

Clearly there’s a need to reduce mass. Here are some reasons why lighter is better:

-Takes less energy to move.
-Takes fewer resources to manufacture.
-Takes fewer resources to recycle, dismantle, and dispose.

If people feel that heavier is safer, it simply won’t matter in the distant future of driverless vehicles. There simply won’t be collisions like we have today.

In the shorter term, everything will start to get lighter in small increments. We’ve probably seen cars as heavy as they’re going to get unless the issue of greenhouse gases suddenly goes away or an abundant source of clean energy is commercialized.

Smaller displacement engines will be lighter and use less fuel. New technologies will contribute to ever increasing efficiencies of the IC engine until the electric motor supplants it.

Lightening the engine will have a knock on effect with the rest of the car. Lighter engines can mean lighter drivetrains, wheels, brakes, tires, shocks, and chassis. According to Gordon Murray Design that’s going to have a meaningful impact on the environment beyond fuel savings:

The energy consumed to produce a car is multiples of what that car will use in one year and this energy is approximately equivalent to the size and weight of the vehicle.

Combine that thought with the points John McElroy points out about new car sales leveling off in the US despite population growth, and you get a sense that new cars are expensive, somewhat gratuitous, and entirely unnecessary from a personal finance point of view. Tens of millions of people say so each year by buying a used car.

The world doesn’t need so many cars. Especially having so many parked most of the time. Then hauling all that deadweight when they’re in use. It’s a shrine to excess consumption. Don’t get me wrong. I like consumption, but on the scale that it’s being done now, it simply isn’t sustainable.

The industry has already started thinking outside the box and will eventually stop doing what’s always been done. Cars of the near future will probably lose a few hundred pounds from today as they head toward 2020's CAFE standard (among others). Beyond that we're going to see dramatic weight reduction as the "one size fits all" mentality gives way to more specialized modes of transportation. My next post will address the auto lifecycle.

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