Aerodynamic vehicles, and the industry that came late to the party

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A formula race car sits in a wind tunnel.

Like a dolphin. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Hosseinkazerooni/Wikipedia)

Aerodynamics can make a vehicle more fuel efficient by reducing the drag coefficient, a measure that indicates the degree of wind resistance a car body creates. Automakers like Chrysler Group are spending more design time than ever in the wind tunnel, because the most aerodynamic vehicles not only appear sleek, they save consumers money on gas. That being said, why are automakers sounding a mighty wind over something they should have had wrapped up many years ago?

‘Sculpted by the wind’

Automotive News reports that Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles recently told an audience of political and business leaders at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan that aerodynamics have become an “increasingly important” design factor for not only Chrysler, but across the automotive industry. Why automotive designers haven’t paid more attention to this in the past is anyone’s guess, but now even mid-sized sedans like the Audi A7 and redesigned Toyota Avalon can bring design elements previously seen only on sports cars.

“The wind is starting to sculpt these vehicles,” Gilles exclaimed, breathlessly.

Thinking out of the boxy

Boxier designs like the Chrysler 300 aren’t exactly made to provide the downforce and low drag needed to tame the wind. Some would argue that they’re hideous to behold when compared with more aerodynamic rides, but industry insiders like Gilles would have us believe that even in 2012, automakers are just discovering that sleek is better. Even in a minivan or SUV, consumers want a sexy line that allows for decreased drag and fuel savings.

Gilles’ assertion that Chrysler is only now considering more aerodynamic designs for the next-generation 200 and 300 models smacks of an automaker (or an entire industry) being out of touch or semi-incompetent. “Make it sexy” should have been the mantra a long time ago. Perhaps the pain of the industry’s collapse and subsequent bailout would have been lessened, somewhat.

“We’ll have no choice but to be some of the most wind-swept vehicles that you’ve ever seen,” Gilles exclaimed in a flourish of breathtaking hindsight.

More on the wind tunnel

Per vehicle, Chrysler reportedly spends between 200 and 300 hours in the wind tunnel, testing factors of aerodynamics. Previously, only 100 hours would be spent on such a function, which apparently was not enough to convince automakers like Chrysler to “make it sexy.” Applying that same logic, if one were to triple one’s time on a projects such as, oh, I don’t know, lancing boils from their skin, would that be what it takes to convince them to develop a more effective skin cleansing regimen? Of course not. Yet it appears to have taken Chrysler that much time to figure out that aerodynamics are important enough to be a driving force in a larger array of car model designs.

“It’s amazing the details, especially if you look at the back of a car,” Gilles said. “There are a lot of little flicks and bends that simulate aquatic animals almost.”

Speaking of aquatic animals, the famous television dolphin “Flipper” committed suicide by ceasing to breathe. This is something dolphins can do, according to the documentary film “The Cove.” If the state of automotive design is such that engineers are only now discovering that the rear end of a vehicle can shimmy like an aquatic animal, perhaps breathing has ceased, and ideas are now dead on arrival.

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Should-be-vintage wind tunnel car porn with a Ferrari 458 Italia


Automotive News

Chicago Tribune

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