Maybe There Are Some Reasons For Why Those Echoes Fade

The year is 1993. At the Geneva show Pininfarina presented the Ethos2 concept car, Aston Martin showed the Lagonda and BMW the supermini Z13.

1993 Fiat Downtown: source

Fiat offered the Downtown, a three-seater with two motors driving the rear wheels. It had sodium sulphur batteries and a 118-mile range. When driven at 30 mph, the range increased to 186 miles. This one came from a time when car manufacturers were more willing to consider different engineering approaches than they seem to be today.

I presume that this in part has to do with there being a lot less to do to optimise the private car. The other day I saw a Panamera parked next to a Duster and they were equally well-finished in terms of panel gaps and flushness. There was just a lot more Porsche than Dacia on the pavement.

1993 Fiar Downtown: source

In 1993 electric vehicles were still very much in the realm of blue-skies thinking. The Downtown also has an unusual seat-layout: driver forward and central with the rear passengers sitting behind, facing out and at an angle so as to allow the seats to be more central.  The Downtown had a plastic body and an aluminium sub-structure making it a reasonably light car for its size, though it would have been quite expensive too.

1993 Fiat Downtown interior: source

The Coupé Fiat came out in the same year, introduced at the Brussels motor show which is not that interesting. But what is is that Chris Bangle is credited for both vehicles. If this is the case, it shows a fascinating variety in his approach to shaping cars. Most designers tend to hover around the same kinds of tropes and even if they are good ones they can get stale.

You can’t call the Downtown conventionally attractive or even attractive in any way. It does however have some neat touches. I notice the way the C-pillar is interrupted by a dark strip is a touch that foreshadows the Opel Adam:

2015 Opel Adam: the Truth About Cars

The car also has sliding doors, not a unique idea but one seldom deployed on small cars and which went on to appear on the 2005 Peugeot 1007.

Bangle went on to some rather more conventional cars in the interim (comparatively speaking) but he returned to the electric city car with this 2017 proposal, below. You have to admire its daring, with almost every rule of car design upended.

2017 Red Space city car by Chris Bangle: source

One doesn’t quite know where to begin with this one. About the only places where it conforms to the expected is the flow of the front wing into the base of the A-pillar. After that it’s all sharp corners and straight lines. If Frank Gehry has been complimentary about Bangle, this car would appear to the be compliment repaid. This is a Post-Modern car by dint of its inversions and witty re-arrangements of elements.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “Maybe There Are Some Reasons For Why Those Echoes Fade”

  1. Easy to see why this car was never produced: 19 hp and 1550 pound weight empty. 120 mile range.

    By contrast, the orginal Mini was on the order of 1400 pounds and had 34 hp and 4 seats. With 35+ mpg and a 5.5 gallon tank, which could be refilled in minutes, not many hours.

    1. Progress is done at a crawl, though but can eventually outpace the status quo.
      The weed can grow faster than an oak but an oak can grow a hundred times taller, as the wise man said.
      Solar cells have taken a while to get to where they are but now the price per kilowatt hour is lower than coal. The Indians stand to save 240 bn dollars in imported fuel if they switched to locally-solar cells.

    2. My late father was a research physicist who spent most of the first 20 years of his career on batteries. He abandoned it about 1980 and moved on to catalysis because he concluded that lithium ion batteries were a dead end, as well as having safety issues.

      Proved to be a correct analysis. There have been no battery research breakthroughs since 1980, only optimization of the lithium ion batteries discovered in the 1970’s.

      The incremental gains in lithium ion batteries since then has been less than the fuel efficiency, power and weight gains for the internal combustion engine.

      Electric cars are a dead end. The energy density of batteries is insufficient and any car with a reasonable range will be an overweight pigmobile.

      eg Tesla with decent range. The battery and associated powertrain of the Tesla weighs more than the powertrain of a 1959 Cadillac – that is, more than: 700 lb cast iron engine, 250 pound cast iron hydramatic transmission, 150 pound tank and fuel, 200 lb rear axle, steel driveshaft, 30 quart radiator… etc

    3. While there are disadvantages to battery technology, and I think mass private transport in general**, there are bigger disadvantages to proceeding with hydrocarbon-based energy generation.
      Turning to batterty tech, off the top of my head I am pretty sure some e-cars can go for 250 miles without recharging. That´s not perfect but good for a lot of people , much of the time. Some petrol cars can´t go more than 250 miles without refuelling but nobody declares them pointless.

      **what the hell am I doing writing a blog about mass-private transport??

    4. Easy answer to that. Early Mini…brilliant car, I’ve had a few, great to drive, fantastic interior packaging and very good mpg for an old stager. My joint favourite old banger.

      However. Electric car…even if it’s a crappy one…0 mpg, because it doesn’t use fossil fuel. Fossil fuel burning is bad for the individual and bad for the planet. That’s not fake news by the way. Yes, I know, we can debate how the electricity’s produced, but the bottom line is obvious I’d have thought…

  2. One of the attractions of EVs is that they are most likely to be recharged overnight, when domestic and much commercial electrical consumption is at a low ebb. This would even out the demand for electricity over the 24-hour cycle, allowing generators to run more efficiently. Electricity is difficult and expensive to store, even ignoring the weight issue with batteries. A reliable minimum 200 mile range in all weather conditions, together with a comprehensive recharging network, would make EVs feasible for very many users, including me. However, the switch away from fossil fuel generation would need to be greatly accelerated, otherwise the CO2 problem just gets moved up the supply chain.

    I intend to hang on to our current ICE petrol cars for as long as possible, until it becomes much clearer how EV technology is going to evolve. In the meantime, we restrict our mileage to journeys we cannot do on foot or using public transport, and reward ourselves with the occasional “just for fun” drive.

    Here’s a puzzle for those with more knowledge and energy than I have this morning: my partner and I are going to Ireland for a week next month. We could:

    a) Drive to Stansted, a round trip of 200 miles, then fly to Dublin via Ryanair


    b) Drive to Holyhead, a round trip of 680 miles, then catch the ferry to Dublin

    When in Ireland, we will cover the same distance, either in a hire car if we fly, or our own if we take the ferry, so that’s a wash. Which is the more environmentally friendly way to travel? (I’m not interested in the comparative £ cost.)

    I know roughly how to do the calculation, but don’t have the raw data about the different modes of transport to do so. I couldn’t even guess at the right answer but would wrlcome others’ views.

    By the way, the ferry’s already booked.

    1. I suspect you´d beed a carbon calculator. You´ll need
      The grams per kilometre for your car
      The grams per km for the ferry
      The grams per km of plane.
      While I don´t know the exact answer, I think the difference might be marginal, with increased fuel used in the ferry/car option balancing the shorter distance/intensity of energy use of car/plane.
      SOme might say the plane produces cleaner emmissions than the ferry (which is a stinker).

  3. Battery powered vehicles are a blind alley and only suited for use under very restricted conditions. Whenever payload or range come into play, they’re beyond consideration. The same applies whenever long daily use is required like in taxis because a car requiring ninety minutes at the charger for every sixty minutes of driving is not suitable for professional use. That leaves short distance passenger only transport as their sole purpose which most probably makes them a third or fourth car for wealthy customers (aka urban Greens).

    A distant relative is head of design of bicycle power units at Bosch. He told me that the current fashion for e-powered bicycles is a godsend for Bosch because they can experiment with new battery concepts without breaking the bank in case of a recall because of defective batteries. Bosch is currently preparing production start of batteries giving twice the capacity per volume/weight than current concepts. Which would allow cars with acceptable range at still absurd weight. What won’t go away are the physical limitations for charging the batteries. For an acceptable range a car would need batteries of 180 to 200 kWh capacity and to recharge these batteries in an acceptable time of five to ten minutes electrical voltages or currents would be needed that are downright dangerous in the hand of private people.

    A chap I know is working for the company operating the biggest fleet of Teslas world wide – around fifty of them. When the (corporate lease) contract for his current Superb estate was up for renewal he took a colleague’s Tesla S 85 (the one with the biggest battery, supposed to have a range of about 400 miles) and drove it like he drives his Superb. The disillusioning result was that the Tesla had about 200 to 250 kms(!) of range when driven at normal speed and not slipstreaming behind lorries.

  4. Dave, A quick internet search for “Tesla S 85D range” tends to differ with your accounting. Nevertheless I agree with the fundamental points you are making.

    Furthermore if the world suddenly decided to modify its driving habits to accomodate EVs, we would run out of the cobalt needed to make Li-ion batteries rather quickly and their prices would skyrocket. Nevertheless in the spirit of praising incremental progress we should note that Tesla batteries use less cobalt than the industry average.

    On the ICE front, the biggest news of late seems to come from Hiroshima, but Skyactiv-X isn’t quite a holy grail either, and Mazda is being cautious about making claims for it after the initial publicity explosion may have raised expectations a bit too high.

    Skyactiv-X also represents incremental progress, and I think we all should wish it well.

    Do all the negative prognostications about Tesla and EVs in general make one wary of what VAG and others are getting themselves into?

    1. “Do all the negative prognostications about Tesla and EVs in general make one wary of what VAG and others are getting themselves into?”

      Yes, they do. I’ve been thinking that the huge pressure on VW to clean up their act as it were and the resulting knee jerk response of mass electrification could well in the short and maybe longer term come back to bite them rather hard. Consider, if you will, Tesla. The Teslerati would have you believe that the demand for EVs will rise infinitely, ICE vehicles are the work of Satan and doomed to eternal damnation, all EVs not bearing the Tesla logo are “compliance cars” and not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Teslas and only Tesla have figured out battery production and charging on the go. Oh, and the sun shines from “Elon’s” lower regions. In reality the Model S and X are fading and the 3, having met pent up demand in its bigger markets, is now looking for buyers. Officially, Tesla’s woes are a result of difficulty in getting cars to buyers, unofficially they’re piling up on dealer car parks.
      We still don’t see any reduction in the price of EVs to a level that people would be willing to pay without incentives. Take the Hyundai Kona, the non-Tesla of the moment. It offers a range which would satisfy most people most of the time, but it costs €37,000. You can buy a petrol Kona, slower and more basic it must be said, for around €21,000. But here’s the thing. The Kona costs €37,000 AFTER incentives of €10,000. Would you pay €47,000 for one? It’s a hell of a lot for a small car.

    2. You con’t compare the battery capacity of a new car vs a used car. Lithium ion batteries have significantly impaired capacity after a few hundred discharge cycles.

      Whatever range limits an EV had when new, it gets worse as the car ages. Also, deep discharges deteriorate battery capacity faster, as does extreme temperatures.

      Figure 1: Capacity drop as part of cycling. Eleven new Li-ion were tested on a Cadex C7400 battery analyzer. All packs started at a capacity of 88–94% and decreased to 73–84% after 250 full discharge cycles. The 1500mAh pouch packs are used in mobile phones.
      Courtesy of Cadex

  5. Dave,

    Battery powered vehicles are a blind alley? Hmmm…they’ve only just got started.

    And not sure you’ve driven a Tesla based on your comments.

    Or if you have, not sure how far.

    I own and drive a Model S, and I average 30k miles per year. Zero problems with range, or range anxiety (whatever the hell that is). I get an average real world range of 300 miles range on a 95% charge.

    People respond with “well, I get 600 miles range in my diesel xxxx (insert favourite diesel-mobile-thing here). I reply: so, you drive 600 miles without pulling over for a piss or a sandwich?).

    People ask if I get bored while waiting for the car to charge. I laugh, and ask if they get bored while they sit waiting for the ready meal in their oven to defrost and then cook. I mean, do people seriously think you sit in the car looking the charge-o-meter and doing nothing productive? Get real.

    Before my Tesla, I had two happy years driving a Skoda Superb 280 Estate. Ace car, a real sleeper. Real world range was about 325 miles though.

    1. Since CO2 output is growing massively in china, India, Africa etc… what is the purpose of all this hair shirt, carbon vow of poverty stuff, especially in Europe ?

      As far as I can tell, it’s a futile Canute-like gesture with the main outcome to further immiserate low income people.

  6. “Since CO2 output is growing massively in china, India, Africa etc… what is the purpose of all this hair shirt, carbon vow of poverty stuff, especially in Europe ?”

    The point is that we all have to take responsibility for reducing our carbon emissions. Saying it’s not worth taking any action because of what others are doing or not doing is a massive cop-out. We all have an individual responsibility to do what we can.

    1. Anyway, I’m aware DTW is not a political site, and I respect that, so I’ll shut up now and only talk cars;)

  7. Angel,

    Immiserate low income people?

    That’ll be the least of their worries- not to mention the worries of middle and even high income people – if the human race doesn’t get its collective backside into gear.

    The brown stuff is approaching the climatic fan…it’s time to ditch old thought patterns and do something.

    Honestly, the attitude that doing something intuitively and individually right is a waste of time because the masses aren’t doing someting intuitively right is such a 20th century attitude.

  8. Renault’s Twizy is v pop in small French towns, for pizza deliveries and also estate agents. There are accessories to rainproof them.

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