Later this month, the Nissan DeltaWing is scheduled to race at the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) final race at Road Atlanta.
While you may not be familiar with this carbon-fiber bodied car, take a look at the accompanying image. The driver sits way back, almost on top of the rear axle. The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged direct-injected engine is mounted back there, as well, which provides a rear weight bias, beneficial for maneuvering via the special narrow front tires developed by Michelin for the car.
Dimensionally, the car weighs 1,047 lb, is 183.1 in. long; has a 120.1-in. wheelbase; is 81.9 in. wide in the rear and 29.2 in. wide in the front; and is 40.5 in. high.
It is quick and light.
Of the vehicle, Peter DeLorenzo of Autoextremist.com wrote on his site: “First and foremost Ben Bowlby's brilliant design vision, which was brought to life in the DeltaWing, should have a lingering impact throughout the racing world for years to come, that is if the powers that be in the various racing series can extricate themselves from the prevailing lemming mentality brought on by spec car racing long enough to make a real difference in the sport.”
He isn’t the Autoextremist for nothing. (Click here
to read the whole thing.)
But my point here isn’t about the car. Nor is it about racing.
Rather, it is about technology development in the auto industry at large.
There is certainly a considerable amount of work going on in the arena of electrifying the powertrain. This means everything from the boost provided to a 15-kW motor-generator by lithium-ion batteries housed in the trunk of the 2013 Malibu Eco (eAssist system) to the Prius hybrid to the fully electric Nissan Leaf. This is work that is both necessary (miles per gallon is the name of the game) and laudable (who doesn’t want to buy more oil from countries whose leaders may not like us?).
What I wonder about, however, is whether enough is being done to transform the auto industry into something that is more sustainable. I mean sustainable as a business. There are several factors at play, ranging from the politics of petroleum to a fairly large indifference among the Facebook generation vis-à-vis car ownership—or even car driving, for that matter.
To be sure, there are some straightforward fundamentals when it comes to designing, engineering, and manufacturing cars and trucks. Heck, the DeltaWing, which seems to resemble an aircraft more than an automobile, still has four tires.
If we go way back to the age of Henry Ford, we see that in order to get the automobile widely accepted, Model Ts were fitted such that they could do a wide variety of tasks, from transportation to farming. Get a car and do damn near anything.
And that idea of multifunctionalism has, in some significant ways, continued. No, we’re not hooking up drive belts to our engines to run saws or lathes, but we do think that our cars should be able to drive through Death Valley during July and up through the Yukon in January. Our cars should take us more than 300 miles before refueling. And they should carry us and our stuff (generally several of us and lots of stuff).
But what if there was a greater emphasis on more purpose-built vehicles? Vehicles that could do fewer things, but do them exceedingly well. Cars meant for cities. Cars meant for distances. Cars meant for fuel economy. Cars meant for high performance. Cars built for people who love cars. Cars built for people who could care less about cars.
What if flexible manufacturing really came into play and companies would be able to meet a variety of needs while keeping costs comparatively low?
Look at the DeltaWing. It isn’t meant to haul the kids to soccer or to pick up the groceries. It is designed to run fast and long, to carve through the curves in ways that other cars can’t.
Because its form and its function are aligned in ways that other cars only feign.