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Cadillac Aera and smart 454 take out LA Auto Show Design Challenge

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November 21, 2010

Cadillac Aera and smart 454 vehicles tied for the 2010 LA Auto Show Design Challenge

Cadillac Aera and smart 454 vehicles tied for the 2010 LA Auto Show Design Challenge

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The 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge – which asked designers to come up with an efficient 1,000lb (454kg), four-passenger vehicle that maintained comfort, safety, driving-performance and style – has finished in a tie between GM’s Cadillac Aera concept and the Smart 454 from Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design. Previously, the Design Challenge was restricted to major Southern California automotive design studios but this year saw the field widen to include studios from Germany and Japan, resulting in entries from Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Maybach.

Cadillac Aera

The Cadillac Aera’s win marked the third win for the General Motors Advanced Design California studio in the competition’s short seven-year history. Although it’s designed as a small urban vehicle, the designers approached the Aera (Aero + Era) from Cadillac’s luxury perspective. The 2+2 touring coupe is powered by compressed air via a Pneumatic Drive System that has a 10,000-psi composite air storage tank with a capacity for a 1,000-mile range.

Cadillac Aera Concept Vehicle

Instead of conventional body panels and glass, the exterior of the Aera is made of a flexible polymer skin that is ultra-lightweight and optimizes aerodynamics. Additionally, pressurized air cells in the skin, which is similar to material developed for the NASA Mars Rover airbags, help cushion the blow in the event of an accident.

The exterior skin sits over the top of a 3D lattice, mono-formed frame that was designed to be similar to configurations consistently found in nature. The lightweight frame is manufactured using a “unique, alloy-utilizing, semi-solid freeform” process, while all major body parts, including interior components, are essentially “grown” into a single part lattice structure.

Cadillac Aera Concept Vehicle

To decrease the mass of electrical components, the vehicle includes a drive-by wire system, while an all-in-one wheel system combines rotary actuator propulsion, steering and suspension functions. There’s also a vehicle-to-vehicle communications system for added safety.

smart 454

From the outset, the competition’s requirement for a four-passenger design marked a departure from smart’s usual two-passenger vehicles. The smart 454, which refers to the Design Challenge’s 1000lb (454kg) weight limit, is driven by two 15 kW electric motors that are housed between the rear wheels and are powered by a replaceable lithium-ion battery.

The smart 454

Inside, it’s a case of BYO instrument panel with all functions such as speedometer, battery charge indicator, navigation system and air conditioning controlled and managed via an iPad.

But it’s the method used to create the tridion cell that forms the main structure of smart’s vehicles that is really unique. The vehicle would be produced by so-called “Smart Granny Robots” (SGR) that knit the tridion cell from carbon fibers using huge knitting needles. The designers say this process would allow the vehicle’s geometry to be optimized in terms of weight and strength.

The smart 454 is 'knitted' from carbon fibers by so-called Smart Granny Robots

Fitted to the cell are windows, fenders, and bumpers made of recyclable, colored plastic and a roof made of thin, yet durable recycled textile fabric in various printed and woven patterns. Carbon fiber tires would rule out the risk of a flat tire, while SGR technology would enable the production of truly unique and lightweight rims. The familiar smart modular “clip on” design principle would also make the doors, roof, engine and transmission simple to exchange.

Brand fitting winners

“This year’s design challenge was extremely difficult to judge because of the quality of all of the entries, but I believe that the executions that won exemplified everything that we were trying to achieve with this competition,” said Stewart Reed, chair, Transportation Design, Art Center College of Design. “The concepts that won were really spot on for their brands, which was one of many reasons for the victory.”

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
4 Comments

The two winning cars are beautiful in design; I wonder if they could be produced economically to compete with standard cars. I think that if each could be made a bit heavier, they might become practical. The weight seems too little at the present time for safety purposes during any collision. They are also low to the ground which, though excellent for aerodynamic purposes, constitutes a problem of visibility for other cars in some driving circumstances.

Adrian Akau
22nd November, 2010 @ 11:11 am PST

Thank you Adrian, for the almost heretical view that a car can be too low. I thought I was the last one and am a constant ranter about too low to be safe recumbents (my vision for them is as tall as cars- but cars seem to want to reverse the order of things by being even snakelier)...am I worth a designers salary? for the bikes I have considered something like their "pressurized air cells in the skin, which is similar to material developed for the NASA Mars Rover airbags, help cushion the blow in the event of an accident" I have considered egg crate, packing bubbles, recycled sodapop cans and a few more for the down and dirty DIY bodyworks division. Glad to see some overpaid types thinking beyond weight and crashzones up front.

On the next to last graphic I kept looking for a "big block (454 c.i.d. ) in there somewhere

waltinseattle
30th November, 2010 @ 04:53 pm PST

Waltinseattle,

I think that cushioning for accidents might be best accomplished either by deployment of an external air-bag system or by the use of foam steel, developed by a lady PHD research worker from Iran working in the US.

For external air bag systems, dual sensors (laser type) must be used in conjunction with a computer system to determine if the collision is to be certain because the distance of impact varies with speed.

I think that foam steel will prove simpler in the long run because it probably can be sculptured so as to bring out the best in aerodynamics.

Adrian Akau
3rd December, 2010 @ 04:03 pm PST

I love the Cadillac, It looks like something from the movie Blade Runner. G.M. need to make more futuristic designs, it's2012 afterall.

Gargamoth
8th February, 2012 @ 06:13 pm PST
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