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Lotus Shows Carmakers How To Shed The Pounds, CARB Agrees

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A lightweight Lotus chassis

A lightweight Lotus chassis

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There's a phrase oft-quoted in the automotive world when the topic of lighter cars is discussed.

The phrase, "add lightness", originated from Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars and builder of some of the best sports cars and racing vehicles ever made. And the influence has remained--Lotus still builds light cars, to the benefit of performance, handling, and of course--efficiency.

The company now believes that by cutting down on components and using special materials, the weight of a "body-in-white"--that's a bare car shell--can be cut by almost 40 percent with little increase in cost.

What's more, the California Air Resources Board is studying Lotus's research with a view to encouraging automakers to adopt the same techniques.

Using a Toyota Venza, Lotus Engineering was able to make a body-in-white 36 percent lighter, by replacing the standard steel frame with aluminum, magnesium, high strength steel and other composite materials.

Normally, that would increase costs significantly, but Lotus offset those costs by eliminating unnecessary components and making others do multiple jobs. Lotus Engineering managed to cut the number of parts in the body-in-white from 400, down to only 170.

According to Automotive News, CARB plans to use the results of this research to extol the benefits of reduced weight, encouraging other automakers to build lighter, more efficient vehicles.

Lotus Engineering's North American head Darren Somerset believes that a 10 percent reduction in weight overall increases fuel efficiency by 6 to 8 percent. Previous research by Lotus has shown that slashing weight by 38 percent would reduce fuel consumption by almost a quarter--and if you could sell 50,000 or more units, overall manufacturing costs would rise by only 3 percent.

Until now, lightweight and exotic materials have been the preserve of supercars--and the expense of cars like Honda's original aluminum Insight hybrid illustrated the difficulty of cutting weight cost-effectively.

With modern engineering methods however, that cost disadvantage can be minimized, and it may not be long before your average family sedan is lighter than it's been for generations.

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Comments (5)
  1. Well done Lotus. I always find it shocking that my main-stream Toyota Corolla weighs 2400 lbs. That is a lot of weight for a not very large car. It would be nice to see that under 2000 lbs.

    Of course, X-prize winner VLC (very light car) knows these lessons as well as anyone.
     
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  2. The Citroen 2CV designed in the 30's, weighed only 1327 lbs in its last years of production. At twelve and a half feet and four seats it was not especially a small car but still weighed less than any of its competitors. This was accomplished without the use of any exotic materials just clever engineering which still fascinates today.
     
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  3. That's great but there were no safety, crash, or structural ridgity standards to comply with back then. That said, this area of reducing the weight of the vehicle without sacrifice of safety, function, performance, etc.(indeed...a lighter vehicle should improve all those characteristics) is very ripe for the taking. Hyundai has n Mazda is doing some good work in these fields but not with the total big picture perspective of what Lotus has done. The major auto manufactures should incorporate the tried n true lotus weight saving practices asap into their newly redesigned vehicles. This area will be probably be persued greatly within the next 10 - 15 years as we transition more n more to electric drivetrains.
     
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  4. @Erik: You beat me to it! For some images of how another lightweight vehicle fares in accidents, check this fascinating and somewhat horrifying site:
    http://www.retronaut.co/2012/05/beetle-wrecks-1940s-1970s/
     
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  5. It's interesting the safety card was played as there was no mention of it in Antony's article. If you notice I was comparing like for like by mentioning its competitors,ie the same era cars of which none had the safety items of today and yet Citroen made a "large light car" when no one else did. You mention Hyundai and Mazda and yet Daihatsu has trumped both within the same model category for lightness and performance. Hyundai and Mazda haven't got a clue!
     
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