Future Wheels

Future Wheels
Date:28 February 2009 Tags:, , , ,

What will tomorrow’s US automotive icons look like? From muscle cars to shape-shifters, here’s what the winners of the 2009 Michelin Challenge Design predict.

Ford’s Model T, the Jeep and the Chev Corvette have this in common: they’re as American as the Stars and Stripes. But the world of cars is changing. Fuel prices are see-sawing, and the Big 3’s dominance is no more. In a few years, will there even be such a thing as an iconic, distinctively American car?

That’s the question that taxed entrants in this year’s Michelin Challenge design contest. Their brief: “Brave and bold: America’s next iconic vehicle.”

Angelinos may yet be grateful that Eric Seung Hun Beak decided against pursuing his dentistry studies. Born in Korea, he is currently majoring in transportation design at Art Centre College of Design in California. His Metro Cell (1) PDD (pickupdrive- drop) presents a view of what the city of Los Angeles might need to do to reduce the load on its legendary crowded highways. Users of this one-person semi-private vehicle system pick up a vehicle at a central “stack”. After driving it anywhere in the area, they drop it off at their nearest mobile stack. This system will be operated by the city, but driven by each user.

SunTruck (2) from Hungarian Gabor Magyani is a new-generation transatlantic highway cruiser. Magyani attempted to combine a “king of the road” persona with a friendly, safe image that doesn’t intimidate other roadusers. SunTruck will be quieter than existing designs thanks to its diesel-electric power-train. A big-capacity diesel charges lithium-polymer cells, which in turn power electric motors that drive the wheels via a frictionless electromagnetic field. Supplementary solar panels completely cover the semi-trailer.

We’ve become used to increasingly complex (and far-fetched) abbreviations when describing cars. At least Bob Marvin is accurate in calling his entry Mohawk MCV (3) (for multi-configuration vehicle). Product innovation and marketing specialist Marvin holds patents in consumer goods, medical products, toys and transportation, and communications. He points out that American engines are just as iconic as the bodies they’re mounted in. So, he’s created a high-torque V-8 hot rod. But it’s also a modular, flex-fuel hybrid, and can morph from 2-seater sports car into 4-seat family car, or even a pick-up.

The Mohawk’s front-mounted V8 has staggered cylinders, like a radial aircraft engine. It’s a little more than half the length of a Caddy Northstar equivalent. As a result, electric drive motor/generator and transaxle fit in front of the motor. The engine itself is modular, allowing 4-cylinder units to be built from the same tooling.

Base configuration is a two-seat pick-up with sliding sections for extra flip-up seats. Optional roofs allow a 2+2 or SUV configuration. “The new reality is that there are limited resources so a flexible platform design is required,” says Marvin. “Less environmental impact, more convenient features and a good dose of fun, all while emphasising the spirit of American highperformance.”

The new icon will be an upmarket touring car, according to Colin Pan, a 20-year-old third-year student of vehicle engineering at Wuhan University of Technology, China. His Nebula (4) uses classic American-car cues such as a low, wide windscreen. LCD screens surround the driver to enhance visibility. Supersize wheels reduce vibration and improve fuel efficiency. The front-mounted luggage compartment helps create a longer front buffer area and more aggressive proportions.

Beirut-born architect David Roger Frem, 26, showed his passion for supercars in the first Lebanese car, the Frem F1 (5). Tech features include a panoramic glass roof, four cameras for better view, and an onboard fire extinguisher system. Body construction is of carbon fibre over an aluminium chassis.

Uruguayan astronomy teacher Fernando Gomez, 48, brought considerable mechanical drawing and technology background to his concept. His research into the history of American cars showed the strong influence of tradition, innovation and quality. This inspired his Packard (6) concept. He proposes a modified version of Packard’s wartime V12 aero engine, with articulated connecting rods to 3 banks of 4 cylinders. The running gear uses wheels with supplementary external hoops of rubber-like aluminium for a whitewall effect. His modern spin on Packard’s torsion bar suspension uses electronic management; articulated links control camber angle. A rear transverse transaxle aids mass distribution.

Argentinean industrial design student Marcos Ignacio Madia, 23, envisages a car that will be able to transit through the USA’s varied terrain. His hydrogen V12 Terrena (7) uses special wheels that adapt their dimensions to suit driving conditions. Its body is a development of Madia’s 2007 Michelin entry, Caparazon: it’s covered with a flexible material that absorbs impacts.

The theme for next year’s challenge is “Electrifying! Beautiful, innovative and radiant”. Entrants will need to combine energy-efficient concepts and minimal environmental impact with consumerfriendly design. Their vehicles will need to be equipped with an alternative powertrain that integrates one or more electricdriven components, and uses innovative technologies, materials, electronics, size and shapes in new and unprecedented ways. For more information, visit www.michelinchallengedesign.com or email: design@emcpr.com

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