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When it comes to automotive styling numerous design trends are popular today, but future vehicles are guaranteed to look very different. Functional styling elements will likely play a bigger role in exterior design, things like integrated air vents and spoilers. Naturally vehicle interiors will receive major updates as well, but arguably government regulations are the most important things driving change. Ever-increasing safety and fuel-economy standards are impacting automotive design in major ways.
It’s a virtually unknown entity on this side of the Atlantic but in Europe MAN (Machinenfabrik Augsburg-Nurnberg) is a heavyweight contender in the commercial vehicle segment.
At the top end, where 44 tonne trucks rule the roost, MAN enjoys a more than 60 percent market share, but like other commercial vehicle makers, in an effort to improve fuel economy, it’s turning its attention to aerodynamics. Given that length restrictions are a significant factor in commercial vehicle design in Europe, conventional big rigs (those with hoods) are almost non-existent, with cab-over-engine (COE) trucks being the norm (a stark contrast to North America today, where drivers clearly prefer the conventional).
Cabover trucks, due to their flat fronted design, present significant problems in aerodynamic efficiency, but MAN is attempting to address them with the Concept S.
Although details are sketchy, the design features a cab with a narrower cross section than most current European large trucks, with flat top fenders, designed to improve airflow around the sides of the vehicle. It is in some respects a modern interpretation of some 1940s and 50s American Cabovers, including the heavy-duty Ford COEs and H-series Macks.
MAN says that the aerodynamics of the Concept S are said to reduce fuel consumption by around 25 percent, over a standard 44 tonne tractor on the market today. Given that truckers pay significantly more for diesel in Europe than they do over here, that in itself is worth noting. The Concept S will be on display at the IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Hannover, Germany which takes place this month.
Making a pit stop on a road trip can eat up a lot of driving time. Perhaps that’s that drove Craig Henderson to create the Avion, a high-mileage vehicle that he drove from Canada to Mexico without stopping for gas.
Henderson took his prototype, which he helped build in 1984, from Blaine, Washington (on the U.S./Canada border) to Mexico. On this 1,478 mile trip, he burned 12.4 gallons of fuel in a record-breaking 119.1 mpg car.
He had plans to sell the car commercially, but that didn’t pan out for him and his partner, Bill Green. So, he kept the car, worked on perfecting it, improving the powertrain and making it more aerodynamic.
In order to keep its weight down, the Avion is built with an aluminum monocoque frame with steel front/rear crash and suspension subframes, allowing it to tip the scale at just 1,500 lb. Its wind tunnel-shaped body is made of carbon fiber, kevlar and fiberglass that is riveted and bonded in place, making its structure very stiff. Mounted behind the driver is its 800-cc diesel engine, and the rear wheels are powered through a five-speed gearbox.
Since it’s so light weight and offers low-resistance aerodynamics, the Avion only need 3 to 4 horsepower to keep a 55 mph pace. Henderson also secured a sponsorship from Goodyear – he used their low rolling resistance “Fuel Max” tires which help him reached 115 mpg averages. It turned it into a promotional stunt, starting from the U.S./Canadian border and driving all the way to the Mexican border without filling up.
Henderson’s odyssey started on August 29th. He drove the entire length of Interstate 5, only stopping for food, bathroom breaks and to sleep. When he reached his destination near Chula Vista, he’d burned an officially measured 12.4 gallons for an amazing 119.1 mpg fuel economy. His journey broke the 103 mpg Guinness world record the car had set on the same border to border run in 1986.
2015 vehicle to achieve 0.20 cd rating
Mercedes-Benz is working to bring a vehicle with a drag coefficient of just 0.20 cd to market by as early as 2015. The company has been hard at work improving the aerodynamic efficiency of its vehicles in an attempt to reduce overall fuel consumption.
The 0.20 cd target might seem ambitious, were it not for the fact that the German luxury automaker currently produces the world’s most aerodynamically efficient vehicle: the new E-Class coupe. With a 0.24 cd, the new E-Class Coupe even maintains a “normal” design – or at least a design that one might expect in such a segment.
Surprisingly, this design is more effective at cutting through the air than those futuristic-looking hybrid models like the Toyota Prius, with its 0.25 cd rating. To put this in to perspective the original Honda Insight had a rating of 0.15 cd.
Rainer Tiefenbacher, the man behind the E-Class, told U.K. pub AutoCar that, “There is still plenty more to come as we explore ways of improving fuel efficiency. Designers are still learning about what works aerodynamically and are having to consider it more and more when they think about how a car will look.”
“There are big steps to be made, especially around and under the engine hood. Twenty years ago we celebrated a 0.30 Cd, in five years we will reach the next big step.”