This is a transcript of an episode of Public Address Science which was originally broadcast on Radio Live, 12th May 2007, 2 pm - 3 pm.
You can listen to the original audio version of the programme by clicking on the 'Play the audio for this post' link at the top of this page or the 'Audio' button at the bottom of this page.
[Sound of Ford GT40 engine ignition]
Many listeners will instantly recognize this sound as the 4.7 litre V8 engine from the Ford GT40. Now I must admit that at some subconscious level, in the primeval reptile part of my brain, I'm tremendously impressed with the stupendous noise and power output of this type of engine.
However, I know in the rational scientific part of my brain -- the bit that's developed over the last million or so years of evolution -- that this car, and others like it, are nothing short of environmental and economic disaster areas.
Luckily for us, the standard passenger vehicle in New Zealand is nowhere near as grossly inefficient and gas-guzzling as the GT-40. Nevertheless, there's still scope to vastly reduce the amount of energy we use, and the import dollars we spend, on travelling from 'A' to 'B' in private passenger vehicles.
The standard car in New Zealand consumes about eight litres of fuel for every hundred kilometres travelled. Compare that with the 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 from Bavaria, which -- fifty years ago -- only required 3.2 litres/100 km, and you can see that there's still considerable room for improvement. Or, for a more modern car, what about the 2005 Audi A2 5-door -- also, coincidentally, from Bavaria, which only requires 3.0 litres/100 km.
It may surprise you to hear this, but a vast amount of energy is consumed by New Zealand's private passenger vehicles. For example, if everyone in this country simply changed their car for the super-efficient Audi A2, then it would not only cut the transport fuel consumption of New Zealand households by more than half -- and would slash New Zealand's total energy consumption by more than ten per cent.
That translates to a total savings at
the pump of around 2.8 billion dollars, most of which would otherwise be leaving the country, and adversely affecting our balance of trade. And all this huge savings [is possible] without reducing our total distance travelled by so much as a centimetre -- it's all down to the efficiency of the car we use.
But now the goalposts for automotive fuel consumption have been moved again. Realizing that most driving is merely commuting with one (or perhaps two) adults in the car, Bavarian auto-manufacturer Loremo have recently produced an innovative and sporty-looking two-seater -- which can trundle along the autobahn at 160 kilometres per hour, has ample room for luggage in the back (or, alternatively, a couple of children), and has a truly astonishing fuel efficiency. At only 1.5 litres/100 km it slashes the fuel efficiency record for a production car, and all at a retail price of only €10,990.
Let's try to put all these fuel efficiency figures into perspective. Imagine driving a car down the whole of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff. In one of those black supercharged Range Rovers that I see parked outside Christ's College every weekday, this would cost around $720 in petrol at the pump. In a standard Toyota Corolla the same trip would cost you a little under $300. In the Audi A2 5-door it would set you back a mere $67 -- only about the same as your diesel road-tax for the trip.
And in the Loremo it would cost you less than the CD you listened to on the way -- only about $33.
The Loremo company have just been exhibiting their new car at the massive Hannover Trade Fair, and I spoke on the phone to Uli Sommer, their head of Concept Development. I asked him how the
Loremo had been received...
The response was great. We had a lot of people [at] our booth, and we had many TV teams. And everybody spoke [favourably] about Loremo.
That's very heartening...
The basic principles involved in the design of fuel efficient cars have been known for many years (going back to cars like the Messerschmitt KR200), but automakers haven't really seen it as being particularly important. Why were you inspired to design a car for fuel efficiency -- rather than, say, speed or power as with other car companies?
From childhood I was a fan of any individual mobility -- especially cars. And [also] from childhood my parents made me [aware of] the problem of [finite energy] resources. So I had a conflict. And [eventually] I tried to solve this conflict by making emotional cars which are really sporty, but really efficient.
What were the main engineering challenges that you had to overcome in terms of designing the Loremo car?
[From a] certain [perspective] I did [nothing] new. The [most] important [part of the] invention was the idea to make an economic car.
That sounds really simple, but [over] the last [few] years [people] have so often spoken about alternative [fuels] or high-efficiency [motors]. And engineers today know that the efficiency of [motors], or the potential of alternative [fuels]... isn't as large as the potential of an efficient body and chassis.
So we only have two main targets. First target: reduce wind resistance. Second target: reduce weight. And any energy wasted is combined within those two [parameters].
Okay, so your main design objectives were to minimize weight, aerodynamic drag, and -- I guess -- cost. How did you approach these problems in an engineering sense? Did you rely on wind-tunnel
testing, or computer modelling...?
We used [both]. But the most important thing is that we are 'consequent' [(a literal translation of the German word 'konsequent')] in designing.
So we don't use expensive materials [to make] the car lightweight. We are not the best aerodynamic specialists in the world -- we made the car long, narrow, and flat, and gave it a 'consequent' form. So at the first attempt we had a very good drag resistance.
And we reduced [the weight] by using a linear cell structure made of steel plate -- so that the selling price can be [very low].
So "consequent design" [(a literal translation of the German 'konsequente Konstruktion')] is what we'd refer to in English as 'stringent design' or 'design without compromise' -- where every single design decision must be consistent with the final goals. And, interestingly, this has led you away from the traditional monocoque approach?
It's not a monocoque [design], but it has some similarities.
The structure has three longitudinal girders [at] the height of bumpers, so you cannot open the door at the side. The doors are opening to the top, and because the car is so flat the entrance is [actually] more comfortable than with side doors.
The [resulting] structure is rather simple -- like a nail which doesn't have bending forces and so is rather rigid.
So you've used a small amount of steel in the linear cell structure -- and then the rest of the body is presumably another material?
That's thermoplastics -- which are cheap, simple, and recyclable. [Our] main construction principle is simplicity.
Loremo's achievement of 1.5 litres/100 km is truly remarkable (even more so for a car costing under €11,000) -- you're certainly to be congratulated on that! Given
the interest that your car has received in Europe, other auto manufacturers have now got a new target to aim at -- do you expect them to try and beat your efficiency in the near future?
The car has some special aspects, which perhaps wouldn't pass any marketing department of a normal car producer!
[However] we are expecting some competition -- there's no question. [The] future will change many things, but we think our concept is very attractive. With or without [competition from] a big OEM [(Original Equipment Manufacturer)] we will survive.
I certainly hope that Loremo survives. They will be producing a right-hand drive model suitable for New Zealand. And, translating the current price into our currency, you'd expect to pay around $20,000 for a brand new Loremo. While this vehicle might not be suitable for everyone, it must be hoped that other manufacturers will be motivated to lift their game, so that far less energy is wasted in moving us from 'A' to 'B' by car.
- Read more about the Loremo.
- Read about the Messerschmitt KR200 a 1950s production car with a fuel consumption of only 3.2 litres/100 km.