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Lovins 22 (2:33)
Topic(s): Auto Industry / Car Culture
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There have been two traditional concerns about making
cars lighter: cost and safety. Let's take safety first. When a heavy car
hits a light car, other things being equal, the light car will come off worse.
This means heavy cars actually are hostile; they're mass aggressive if
you might say. If you're in the heavy car, you can be safer but the folks
in the lighter car you hit will be proportionately more at risk. So
you're transferring risk from you to them and this ability to export your
risk to somebody else drives a mass arms race in which you drive an SUV and she
drives an eighteen wheeler and he drives a locomotive—this is nuts. Now a
good way out of the mass arms race is to understand what Henry Ford told us:
that you don't need weight for strength. If you did, your bicycle helmet
would be made out of steel, not carbon fiber.
So lets start with the properties of the materials. It
turns out that a good carbon composite part can absorb six to twelve times as
much crash energy per pound as steel can and it also absorbs that energy more
smoothly, so you can use the crush stroke or crush length up to twice as
effectively. Now this shows up nicely in a SLR McLaren, which is a hand-made
half million dollar carbon fiber kind of street license formula-one, very high
speed car made by Mercedes and in the front corners of it there's a pair
of about two foot long woven carbon fiber crush cones, each weighing 7-1/2
pounds. So all together they weigh 0.4 percent as much as the car and yet they
can absorb the car's entire crash energy hitting the wall at sixty-six
miles an hour because of the incredible energy absorbing capacity of these
materials. Now, with such light but strong materials, you can make cars that
are big, which is protective and comfortable, without also making them heavy, which
is hostile and inefficient. Therefore you can save oil and lives and indeed
money all at the same time.
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Created April 2008