Car design's next great step won't come from a sketch but from a substance. Jalopnik readers know ten materials both new and old, that could change car design for the better.
Welcome back to Answers of the Day — our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!
For the past four or five decades, the basic shape and design of production cars haven't really changed. We still mostly have front-engine layouts built with unibody chassis. What has changed are the materials used in car construction.
We have seen significant reductions in the weight of cars with new construction materials like high-strength steels and aluminum. Unfortunately, all of these savings have been counteracted by stouter, bigger car designs, as well as heavy new safety features.
Still, we hold out great hope for new materials to cut the weight of everyday cars, and renewable materials to make interiors nice again. Somehow we have to get away from the plastic cocoons we drive in today.
Are there any bleeding-edge materials we forgot to put on this list or just haven't heard about yet? Let us know in Kinja below.
Photo Credit: Rizk
You can't say ‘carbon nanotubes' and not instantly get an engineering boner. First off, you can grow them, and they're stronger than steel, yet orders of magnitude thinner than a human hair. We look forward to seeing them in smaller, lighter, faster computers, but NASA has figured out how to make them into a kind of light-absorbing paint. It reflects less than 0.5% of light that hits it. Forget matte black, this is Spinal Tap-levels of dark.
While we don't think the world is quite ready for bamboo cars like the Rinspeed above, bamboo is cheaper and more renewable than wood. We'd love to see more bright, light bamboo interiors.
For something that people just throw away, coconut husks make pretty good seat cushioning and sound deadening. Mercedes already uses them in the S-Class.
Aerogels are among the lowest-density, lightest solids known to man. Holding an aerogel in your hand does indeed feel like holding a bit of a cloud. They're actually very good insulators and have already been used to line the inside of the Rizk RA. Again, another awesome, effective, lightweight material we want to see more of.
Believe it or not, there have been multiple car engines made out of plastics. The most famous was the aborted Polimotor project, which was much lighter than a metal engine, but just couldn't stand the stresses of its application. Yes, it was a racecar motor. So cool.
That was decades ago, though. New composites could make the plastic engine feasible.
You'll forgive us for not mentioning a specific material, but we long for the days of simple, Bauhaus-esque plain metal interiors. Car companies these days coat every conceivable surface of interiors with plastic in the hopes that we'll see it as soft and luxurious, like leather. This is bullshit. So long as we're not bashing our heads on a hard dashboard in a crash, give us our classic, solid, metal interiors back.
Suggested By: Patrick Frawley, Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove
The idea of printing your own car components from free, Google Books-style manuals is one of the most liberating concepts we've heard of in recent years. It would liberate car construction to the point that we could be downloading whole cars.
First of all, we want to see more high-quality cloth interiors. Tartan seats like the kind you get in the GTI need to be in everything, and we would throw out half of the plasticky, squishy leather interiors in their favor.
On the crazy future side of the scale, we want to see cloth exteriors, like the unfortunately-named BMW GINA concept from a few years back. Cloth isn't exactly structurally strong, but it is absurdly cheap, light, and can be stretched into just about any shape. It looks sweet, too.
CNCs are produced from wood by-products like sawdust and woodchips, but are stronger than carbon fiber and Kevlar. Not only that, but CNCs are significantly cheaper to produce. The problem is that they swell with water, so you'd need some kind of stain, paint, or other coat to keep them dry. Still, we dream about seeing more of this stuff.
Ultimately, carbon fiber is the next carbon fiber. We still are waiting for affordable, mass produced carbon fiber cars to come to market. CF isn't cheap (yet), but the weight savings will raise fuel economy and make cars (dare we say it) more fun to drive.