Twenty Years From Now

What will automobiles be like, twenty years from now? Toxic exhaust gases alone will make us discard the present piston engine as population growth puts more cars on the road. Cutting down on waste space will yield more interior room, even though most, cars will be smaller also faster and safer. Raymond Loewy is internationally known as an automotive and industrial designer.

THE unscientific inefficiency of today’s automobile can best be assessed by looking at the vast amounts of wasted space within the entire vehicle at a time when so many fabulous discoveries are the direct result of superlative space utilization. The family’s sedan is primitive in concept compared to the new automatic-exposure cameras, miniature television receivers, electronic computers, or plastic valves used in heart surgery.

To note but one example of extravagant wastefulness, all one has to do is to examine the door of the average car. This example of monumental Babylonian architecture could have been thrown together by a boilermaker; its massive bulk - thick, heavy, wasteful of space — must be supported by hefty hinges worthy of a safe-deposit vault.

Why the bulk? If the door is intended to keep the passengers from falling out, or to seal out the weather, consider the slim, light door of a wellknown European small car. It is three times as thin, five times as light. The door of a private aircraft must not only keep the passengers from falling out but also protect them from freezing or getting drenched, yet it does the job very well and weighs a tenth as much as a car door.

Starting with an analysis of the door and going over and around the entire body, one soon discovers a wasteland of empty sinuses of parasitical nature. There are grottoes in the fenders, and caverns under the seats and in the sidewalls of the body. It is difficult to explain to bright-eyed youngsters why the car must lug around all this dead space, which weighs a lot and is transported at considerable expense in fuel. When I redesigned for the use of our family a large well-known American car, I found inside the front fenders, back of the headlights, empty spaces sufficiently large when outfitted to carry four small travel cases.

What would be the advantages of a body based upon the principle of thin doors and thin walls? There would be two different possibilities, the first being to retain the outside dimensions of the body and by so doing to capture a large amount of added seating width, luggage space, and headroom. A first study indicates that the front seat, for instance, could be made nine incites wider. The second possibility would be to retain the interior clearances as they are now but to shrink the outer skin of the body, making it nine inches narrower, automatically lighter and therefore cheaper, because one must not forget that automobiles, like steaks and turnips, are sold by the pound (approximately ninety cents per pound in 1965). When narrowed down to the limit, the empty space within the sidewalls would still be ample to circulate cool or warm air to maintain an even temperature throughout the car.

Streamlining is inadequate. How can we any longer avoid correcting this fault? Aerodynamics applied to the passenger automobile does not necessarily mean higher speeds; it can produce important advantages such as improved stability, roadability, noise reduction, and increased economy. And let’s not forget that a properly streamlined body is always a good-looking body.

Aerodynamic ally speaking, today’s automobile is an anachronism. At present cruising speeds over our improved network of superhighways, the automobile is wasting a great deal of fuel on account of its high coefficient of air resistance, and this waste is bound to increase as legal speed limits are raised all over the country. Superhighways are safe highways, as stated in April of last year by California’s Commissioner of Highway Transportation, Robert H. Bradford, when he announced that the speed limit over the improved arteries would be raised to 70 mph. “There exists perennial evidence,” he said, “in accident statistics, that speed per se is not the prime cause of trouble that some safety campaigners have depicted.” It is interesting to note that statistics for 1962, according to the New York Times of April 26, 1964, show that the accident rate per million vehicle miles on freeways was 1.22 compared with an average of 3.28 over other types of roads.

As legal speed limits increase, the present automobile becomes increasingly wasteful. At the 1963 Congress of the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit, W. H. Korff, aerodynamic engineer from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, read a most interesting paper titled “The Body Engineer’s Role in Automotive Aerodynamics.” (Before I quote this excerpt, let me say that the degree of aerodynamic efficiency of an automobile is called the drag coefficient; the lower it is, the better the forms of the vehicle. Prior to World War II the drag coefficient of most cars was 0.70. Now it is 0.50, and Mr. Korff believes that it can be brought down to 0.21 by further streamlining.) Mr. Korff lists the advantages of streamlining:

1 — A greater degree of quietness from wind buffeting

by smoothed out air paths.

2 — Elimination of lift which adversely affects stability

and braking control.

3 — Improvement in fuel economy will be sufficient in

many instances to reduce fuel bills by 35% with no
reduction in performance.

4 — Remarkable improvement in acceleration in the

passing ranges without additional engine power.

5 — Higher maximum speed (25-35%) to permit the

vehicle to operate with less effort at cruising speed.

6 — A lower cost vehicle for equivalent performance

because a smaller, less powerful engine and power train may be used along with resulting lighter
chassis components. Initial cost of the car may be
lowered by 10% or more in most cases.

No wonder Mr. Korff refers to streamlining as “the greatest variable left in automobile design.” How long can these advantages be ignored? I believe that when the industry goes the scientific way, it will enter the most successful era in its history.

It is a pity that the past decade has shown no really fundamental advance except the fender fins and other examples of styling vulgarity whose only noticeable effect was to make the American car look ridiculous. It gave our critics abroad, always on the lookout for some shortcoming, a welcome opportunity to make nasty remarks about America’s low aesthetic standards. We could answer in kind and make some vitriolic counterstatements about most of Europe’s highly regrettable contemporary architecture, but that kind of response would not help anybody. The fact remains that the automobile industry has been comfortably sitting on its fat, rubber-foam rear end far too long.

A review of the technological results of 1963, according to a survey by Automotive News published last year, disclosed that the significant engineering changes, the source from which styling should evolve, were almost pitiful and their reflection in styling was nil. These were the meager developments cited by the survey in the same year in which several men orbited the earth: “1) a return to body and frame construction on some small models; 2) a change in emphasis from small, modestly equipped cars to slightly larger and more elaborately equipped models.”

In a desperate search for other sweeping innovations in 1963, the list added: “3) fewer aluminum and more cast-iron engines; 4) higher roof lines; 5) engineering progress in the area of quiet operation; 6) more bucket seats; 7) fancy trim; 8) air conditioning; 9) power equipment.”

Except for “quiet,” all this is merely marginal stuff. What happened in the multimillion-dollar studios and research centers? What about better brakes to replace those now plagued by disastrous brake fade, one of the chief reasons for declining export sales abroad?

RESEARCH AND APPEARANCE

The really new look in automobiles will come from major engineering and social change. What about the eventual disappearance of the internal combustion engine, the trusted old friend that has served the industry so well for so long? But how much longer? We have been waving good-bye in word and article for about twenty years.

And why will this engine finally go? Not because the automotive industry itself decides to give the motoring public a new motive power source, but because municipalities all over the world are finding the emission of toxic gases to be dangerous to their citizens. In the meantime there is a great deal of talk about adopting some temporary devices for eliminating fumes, and those gadgets will probably affect in some way the appearance of the automobile — until we get a really modern power plant that operates without smog so that Los Angeles can breathe again.

Then there are other factors which will force automotive revisions, such as automation, with resulting increased leisure time, and, of course, more opportunity to travel. As the family trips become longer the luggage space must increase. To keep all the footloose people moving, speeds will be increased, and networks of superhighways will increase too. All these increases, as I talk about them, make me nervous. In my opinion we need some decrease. If these are the forces to which automotive styling responds, we are in for trouble. All the talk is about growing needs interpreted into growing size, weight, complication, and cost. Couldn’t we reach the goal by reducing instead of increasing?

The better automobile of tomorrow could be built in a very short time without wanting for great discoveries. Lacking major engineering breakthroughs, there are at hand indications of trends in design that could be used now. For instance, a smooth undercarriage would be a step in the direction of better streamlining. Citroën has had this feature for many years, and it is very successful. To achieve the sleek, graceful, efficient look of a car that respects aerodynamic principles, all glazing would be installed flush with the body skin. Add to this a light, slim door that opens easily, effortlessly, and far over into the roof panel for better accessibility.

Inside the car, seats—bucket or not — look slender and friendly, not like bulky Turkish pillows but suggesting the human form. Their contours are welcoming. A network of plastic tubes might be embedded in the foam or polyurethane padding. By regulating a control knob on the instrument panel, air pressure supplied by the power plant inside this network could be applied to make the seat or the backrest soft or firm at will, without bulk.

Now let’s sit at the wheel. Lower the window. It goes far down, much lower than a window does now. This allows you to drive with your elbow resting over the ledge, a wonderful sports car feel that has almost been forgotten and is probably unknown to some car owners. The interior of the car gives a feeling of airiness when this beltline has been lowered by five or six inches.

According to some blue-sky Sunday-magazine writers, the car of tomorrow will be a “living room on wheels.” I hope we will be spared this fate. As long as people think of automobile travel as a form of modern gypsy caravan, we might as well tie the cow on the back of the new car and store the chickens in the back seat.

If, however, we think of an automobile as some new-powered device which only modern materials, superlative technology, and ingenuity can produce, we may be near to achieving something close to the sensation of effortless movement over the road. This easy motion need not be bland and boring; on the contrary.

The blue-sky boys are trying to promote the idea of a supercar that is based entirely upon supercomfort. This is dangerous, because comfort is already reaching critical limits. In today’s car the steering is soft, the seats are soft, the springs, too: and the combination gives one the sensation of gliding, a bit wanderingly, on sponge rollers over a smooth highway covered with a layer of mayonnaise. No wonder some drivers sailing along at 90 mph for hours over straight, dull, uneventful speedways fall asleep and end up in the ditch or crash head-on into an innocent ten-ton truck. Whatever we do to the car of tomorrow, please let us restore that essential element, the feel of the road. Also, let’s try to keep the driver awake.

Returning to our description of the new car, we notice that the windshield pillar is very thin, yet sturdy, reducing the blind spot, improving visibility. A new type of mechanism for the window lift is very flat, obviating a thick door. Instruments are readable at a glance, and the instrument panel does not crowd you. Also, to improve visibility further, the windshield is brought much closer to the driver, as it used to be in the early days of the automobile, and as it is in the latest racing cars. It is a most pleasant feeling, as it gives the pilot a panoramic view and makes for safer driving.

As for reducing waste space or using it more efficiently, the trunk is larger because its walls are thinner. The lid has been constructed without cross members and girders, an outmoded way to give rigidity to a panel. This half solution is an example of the kind of study of every component that ought to be made by the industry.

The spare wheel is gone; possibly it is somewhere under the hood, again as Citroën has done successfully, liberating luggage space in the trunk. Incidentally, some new tire designs and repair devices widely used in Europe make it unnecessary to carry a spare, freeing trunk space, reducing cost and weight. Storage compartments are found in other locations besides the glove compartment. Standard interior dimensions are maintained, but the total car has lost its fat, complacent look. It is effective. It is light, fleet-looking, fresh and young in appearance; truly a modern vehicle.

What kind of design team would bring maximum results in a minimum time? First, we shall propose that the personnel selected for the research and development project be very imaginative, conversant with racing cars and racing events all over the world. The men ought to have experience as race pilots — if not in pure speed Grand Prix races, at least in road races and rallies. This is not an unrealistic requirement; many of these engineers and stylists have had such experience in small local racing events.

The R and D team should be rather small and should work free of interference. Their assignment should be clearly established: the development of a passenger automobile free from preconceived ideas and restrictions, even cost limitations. At this stage it is too early to consider cost. The conception of the car should be based upon the latest scientific and technological knowledge. A time budget ought to be established with a date limit for the first working prototype — eighteen months, for instance.

The vehicle ought to transport four passengers safely and in comfort, because it is known that the great majority of cars seldom transport more than that number, and the new car to be built is intended for the majority of the public, not the minority. Those who want a larger car will always be able to get one.

Specialists ought to be part of the team, never forgetting that the automobile’s size must be kept small. For this reason and in order to give the planners all necessary assistance, every important branch of technology should be represented by one carefully selected individual: an aerodynamic engineer, a specialist in airframe and stress calculation, a plastics engineer, a metallurgical steel engineer, a metallurgical light-metals engineer.

Safety ought to be built into the car, not tacked on as an afterthought. This would require the presence of several nonengineering specialists who are usually left out of an R and D task force: a highway builder, a surgeon with extensive experience in ambulance work who is aware of the state and conditions of injured motorists at the time and site of an accident, a physician specializing in traumatic lesions, a neurosurgeon, a psychoanalyst, a statistician from an insurance company, a specialist and practitioner in hypnotism. All these nonengineering specialists would not need to be in constant attendance but would be available for consultation without delay.

Perhaps the inclusion of a practitioner of hypnotism ought to be explained. The most effective method of placing an individual in a state of hypnotic trance is to expose the subject to a rhythmic visual experience repeated slowly until he is asleep, sometimes accompanied by rhythmic, synchronized sound effects. It is interesting to note that some driving conditions have all these characteristics: for instance, the monotonous rhythmic beat and sound of the windshield wipers, the recurrent sound of tires going over expansion gaps on the highway surface, the effect of shadows rhythmically thrown across the road by trees planted along the sides. Add to these the monotony of smooth-running machinery operating at constant speed. Together they produce a dulling, lulling effect that may reduce a driver’s alertness to the threshold of a condition of hypnotic trance.

Few drivers have been spared the nerve-racking experience of feeling unable to control an irresistible urge to fall asleep at the wheel, awakening just in time to steer away from a ditch or an oncoming truck; an agonizing experience all too common. It is the cause of a great number of serious accidents, but things can perhaps be done to alleviate the condition. The latest available information seems to indicate that changes take place within the nervous system of an individual falling into sleep. It is conceivable that some electronic device connected to the driver’s wrists could register these changes and translate them into a warning signal.

I strongly advocate freedom in research provided that the individuals involved are men of the highest professional caliber. Does this mean that they are to be left absolutely free from any restrictions? It does not. There must be restrictions in one area: the choice of the right power plant. There are fascinating possibilities now being experimented with — the gas turbine, the Wankel motor, fuel cells — but none has reached the sufficiently practical stage, and we want results quickly. We cannot wait ten or even five years. For the present, the gas engine is a highly perfected, reliable, inexpensive power plant. The time will come later to adopt some new source of energy whenever it proves better in every way.

OTHER DISCERNIBLE TRENDS

America will soon enter the three-car-family stage, and there are indications that car number two and eventually car number three will be specialized cars. The special-purpose car may be a station wagon equipped for family touring or camping, with utilities such as refrigerated space, cooking unit, flexible seating arrangement, allowing variations in the nature of the interior. It may incorporate a built-in shelter (tent) easy to install and fold up, dial telephone, and storage compartment for folding chairs and table.

For two people living in a city or town where parking is a problem, the second car would probably be a very compact vehicle, short enough to be parked perpendicular to the curb. The power plant may be an electric motor. The curb itself could be energized, somewhat like a continuous insulated electric plug rail into which the parked car could be automatically plugged to keep the batteries fully charged. A meter installed in the car would register the amount of electricity consumed, and a bill sent to the owner every month would be paid by check like any household electricity bill. Such a compact automobile would occupy about one third the street area required for the present automobile, thereby reducing traffic congestion, exhaust fumes, and noise.

Finally, there is an area of improvement that seems unusually challenging. We have all read in the newspapers that American organizations concerned with automobile safety release a forecast about the number of fatalities to be expected during a coming holiday. These prophecies, based upon a study of past statistics, weather forecasts, and particular season, are extremely accurate, within fractions of the actual accident numbers released after the holidays.

It is a fact that a detailed, intelligent study of a large amount of existing data pertaining to a specific type of event, such as the start of a fire, for instance, will often permit one to forecast how many fires may be expected to break out during a certain period of time. It is well known that major insurance companies are able to establish with accuracy the expectable life-span of people of a given age. Moreover, they are able to supply different estimates based upon such factors as race, sex, profession, marital status, or geographical areas. The advent of electronic computing machines and the progress made in programming them greatly facilitate the analysis of such mass information, with far more speed and accuracy than were heretofore possible. Cybernetics elucidates the relationship between the brain and nervous system and the computing machines.

It would seem that the science of forecasting coming events of a given nature through analysis of past statistical data has possibilities not yet fully explored and that such extrapolations will eventually be applied in many areas. This science deserves study in depth, and an organized effort is justified and rather urgent. Among the most intriguing applications of this science is the possibility of reducing traffic fatalities on a nationwide scale, and my company is making such a study.

It may become possible in the future to establish the time at which any particular driver, in the act of driving, reaches a critical point at which he appears ready to become involved in an accident. By a flashing signal in his own car, he may be warned that he is approaching his “accident threshold.”

It is estimated that by 1967 one half of the American population will be under twenty-five years of age. These young people, brought up in the satellite era, scientific-minded, are bound to ask searching questions about the automobile as a pleasing, logical vehicle for economic transportation. Maybe these questions have been ignored until recently, but they will have to be answered now.