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Auto designers compete to create 1,000-pound car


October 21, 2010

The Nissan iV concept

The Nissan iV concept

Image Gallery (48 images)

For the past six years, the Los Angeles Auto Show has invited automobile designers to participate in its Design Challenges. The challenge for this year’s show was to come up with a design for “a 1,000lb [453.6kg], four-passenger vehicle that is both comfortable and safe, while delivering satisfactory driving performance without sacrificing the styling consumers’ demand.” Entries are being judged not only for meeting the weight constraint (no more than 1,500 pounds/680 kg with passengers), but also for artistic beauty, comfort, uniqueness of design, roadworthiness, sustainability, performance and user-friendliness. The winner will be announced at the show, on Nov. 18. Here’s a look at some of the higher-profile entries...

General Motors Advanced Design California – Cadillac Aera

This 2+2 coupe features a polyhedral, 3D lattice, mono-formed frame with a flexible pressurized polymer skin, which optimizes light weight, aerodynamics and safety. It would have a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 km), running on alternative fuel.

Honda Advanced Design Studio, Pasadena, CA – Honda Air

Inspired by roller coasters and skydiving wing suits, this sub-800lb (363kg) vehicle would be powered by a compressed air and pneumatic regulator system.

Mercedes-Benz Research and Development Japan: Advanced Design Center Japan –MAYBACH DRS

DRS stands for “Den-Riki-Sha”, which is Japanese for “electric powered rickshaw.” This car(?) would be powered by a self balancing electric drive unit and controlled by an onboard computer plugged into a city’s transport infrastructure.

MAZDA Design Americas – MX-0

Each component of this automobile has been designed to carry out the functions of several components on the existing Mazda MX-5, resulting in fewer total parts and thus lower weight. It would be powered by high-torque electric motors, delivering “impossible acceleration and instant cornering.”

Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, Inc.: Advanced Design Center California – Mercedes-Benz Biome

The Biome would be grown in an ecologically sustainable nursery from two seeds (no we are not making this up). One would create the interior of the car from Mercedes-Benz DNA, while the other would create the exterior. Both seeds would be genetically engineered, as per the customer’s specifications. Don’t expect to see this one on the roads any time soon!

Nissan Design America – Nissan iV

Not unlike the Biome, parts of the iV would be produced through “organic synthetics,” in which “automotive parts are cultivated like agriculture.” Its ultra-light yet robust frame would be made from an ivy/spider silk biopolymer.

Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Germany – Smart 454

The Tridion-frame chassis of this vehicle would be knit by “Smart Granny Robots” (known as SGRs, naturally). They would weave carbon fiber into complex shapes, optimized for strength and low weight.

Volvo Car Corporation: Monitoring and Concept Center VMCC – Volvo Air Motion Concept

The Air Motion would require thousands fewer components than traditional cars, due to its use of powerful yet simple compressed air motors.

Calty Design Research, Inc. – NORI

Sushi eaters will know that nori is seaweed, and that’s just what would be combined with carbon fiber in the creation of this car. Its body and frame would be combined in one homogeneous pod, which would reduce weight and parts, while capturing and generating energy.

LA Auto Show Design Challenge website.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

These imbeciles could not find a practical 1000 lb car with both hands.

The big car companies should fire the science fiction fantasy artists, and hire a bicycle or better, a velomobile mechanic, then an aerodynamics engineer. We just had the automotive X-Prize awarded to Edison2, why isn\'t their very light car among those on display?


how do you know it is

Tomáš Kapler

A 1923 Amilcar 4 seater sounds ideal on all accounts.


I like innovation- I think it spurs creative thinking out of the box, which is the purpose of this contest I\'m sure. Some of these designs are thoroughly impossible or impractical, but some I would have right away.

Facebook User

Wow, I can\'t wait for one of these concept cars... They\'ll run on zero point energy, clean the air, are edible, have no moving parts and when you buy them from new they start as a seed you plant in your backyard that grows into a full car over night. Amazing... :P

Facebook User

I concur with TogetherinParis, if we look back in recent history, Lotus designed and built an 1100lb. car in the late 1960-early 1970 period called the \'Elite\" and today\'s Mazda Miata is styled from it, granted it is grossely overweight as it is almost twice that of the Elite. With modern materials like carbon fiber and nano structures the new graphene, it should be relatively simple, albeit expensive at first, to build a lightweight. -Pete, in Tacoma WA


I agree with Pete & TogetherinParis. The styling and engineering is not the problem. The will or should I say the \"foresight\" is lacking. Even if they started with an ICE it would be a much needed innovation if some company would build an ultralight, aerodynamic 2 seat. The demand has been around for 40 years but goes unrecognized.


with 80000lb trucks on the road i don\'t think so. maybe i could send the robot out for bread and milk!!!!!!!!!


Why do you ALWAYS start your slideshows either at the end or in the middle??? Pretty f\'in annoying.

Rolf Hawkins

Whats funny is they say \"artistic\" ... Since when are the cars we drive artistic? They are utilitarian. Id drive a school bus if it got 50mpg and was safe. I dont care what my car looks like, it gets me from point A to point B. I want something thats safe for my family, and saves me money. Why do I care if my car goes 180mph when the legal limit in the US is 65, or 75 in most places? So long as I can accelerate upto highway speeds on an on ramp, im good to go. Give me a rollerskate if its gonna be safe and benefit me where it matters most, my wallet.

Nick Thompson

So next they\'ll have us riding around in something that looks like one of those low class looking sneakers that they have most people wearing.

pieter prall

The Elan was the Lotus which the Miata was designed to emulate. The Elite was a later model, a coupe not a roadster. Too bad Colin Chapman is dead, he knew how to shave weight from a vehicle.

Guy Macher

The idea of a 1000 pound car sounds good but I think it would be better to improve the mpg of the cars presently being manufactured by lowering their Cd and frontal area. It would not be difficult. There are plenty of designs on the internet which show it can be done. To design a car by weight does not seem like a step in the right direction.

Adrian Akau

Most of these designs are smoke and mirror concepts, not real practical cars and what happened to the criteria for four passenger? A fair number of the designs are one or two seat! Less parts does equal less weight most of the time. Why don\'t they forget the box altogether and go with three or two wheels? Since most states classify motorcycles as less than 1500lbs, there are a lot of small startups producing two and three passenger trikes with two wheels in front and one rear weighing way under 1500lbs! reduction in weight also means you can user smaller motors and/or hybrid power systems. The reason there can be so much creativeness going on in this area is that \"motorcycles\" don\'t have to meet such restrictive safety requirements, thank God! or perhaps the US could adopt a special class of car like Japans success with the kei-car classification!

Will, the tink

The 2-wheeled Maybach design is idiotic at best. Glad to see where Chrysler\'s money went. Maybach and Smartcar, the two most worthless things Chrysler ever finance (unwittingly or not).


It\'s extremely easy to build a two seat 600 pound sandrail with a VW drivetrain and mild steel tubing. Even with a stock 60hp bug engine, you can chase down Mustang GT\'s and get close to 40-45mpg.

Stretch the chassis to add two seats and then skin it like an airplane. Where\'s my money?


What they really need is a power train contest. Styling and body engineering are secondary.

What we need is a contest with a required amount of work performed, horsepower and duration of that horsepower. The whole power storage and drive train should have a weight limit say 400lb. If below 400lb then that lowers the required work in the math model.

Figure the amount of work needed to have a 500 mile range of a state of the art car. And require the ability to go 20 miles on a 15 degree grade at 65 mph, 1 mile on a 30 deg grade at 40 mph, and the ability to get to 65 mph in 7 seconds.

Other than that, it is wide open. Engineers can even use several forms of energy in the same system.

Solar or other surrounding environment energy would not count in the energy calculation so they are free but only energy gathered while driving. And they can\'t assume the sun is out all the time. It must be assumed that no one is going out of there way to drive differently than statistics indicate people drive. Regeneration from breaking or other sources can also be calculated in after the fraction recovered is demonstrated if the auto has it.

And the lowest amount of energy input wins. I think the equivalent of 200-300 miles per gallon of gas is possible.

And make it a real contest, not conceptual. Either test it in a machine or some testbed car without body panels or anything else to get in the way. Maybe it just connects to a drive-shaft that sticks out of the bed of a 4x4 pickup leaving lots of space to put the 400lb of junk.


I also agree with To GetHerInParis = Some of these sci fi dreamboats might be cool but bicycle/velomobile tech is where it\'s at. See the \'Go-One\' and if were were bolstered up a bit with electric hub motors etc. Also--Mercedes B http://tinyurl.com/dlcas2

Al Mayberry

wow! seaweed ivy spiders(yech) plant seed.hey i\'m getting hungry i\'m going to catch some flies.

Cowfy Kaufman

Blixdevil, you have some facts wrong. Chrysler and Daimler have parted ways a few years ago. Smart is a Daimler product, not a Chrysler one. The Mayback DRS has nothing to do with Chrysler either.

But I agree, the Maybach DRS is a very bad idea.


More cars will get us nowhere.

What we need is to drive LESS.


Thats just MENTAL!

Electric RICKSHAW based on the segway!... just imagine seeing this in urban cities soon. Love to see this pop up against a collection of traditional rickshaws, in the busy asian sub-continent?.

... the look on their faces would be a unbelieveable picture ... especially as there are no inner wheel supports! They would think one of there Gods has arrived with tehir chariots again... unfortunately, this one does not fly quite yet.

; ) x

Harpal Sahota

Dear Will,

While most designs for low Cd cars are smoke and mirror concepts some could be built into real practical cars. Opal proved this is the 1980\'s but it was not popular with the consumer. Perhaps people have to change the way they look at cars. If knowledge about improving the Cd by smoothing out the undercarriage, bringing up the back, aligning the slope of the hood with the windshield, covering the tires, sloping the front was employed to bring up the mpg, we would not have to be so concerned about reducing the weight of the car. By the laws of physics, weight reduction means safety reduction unless you design a light car with external as well as internal air bags.

Adrian Akau

How about a functional, ultralight SUV? I mean, I like offroading and getting to places where most others can\'t.

Alex Lekander

Why is the auto industry (and your editors) obsessed with ether 3000mph racers or super-light upscaled mopeds? What we obviously need is a \"new\" pickup truck and minivan, you know, like people actually use? Sure, if you are a millionaire you might want a Tesla racer and if you are a skateboarder you might want a souped up segway but normal people need usable transportation. Believe it or not, millions of people live somewhere other than inside of metropolitan hubs. Whenever you do publish something approaching practical, that is also energy efficient, it\'s only available in Grater London or somewhere in Germany.


TogetherinParis - I agree. Spitting venom over the big industrial masturbators and their colorful pencil sets.

As an apprentice I got a grudge about the fact that my not very aerodynamic 250cc was about as good as it got in terms of weight of passenger to the weight of vehicle - and I had a HUGE grudge against the shit for brains mentality that said I had to have a car and I had to pay for the fuel to haul my carcass around AND 2000Kg of steel with it.

You know \"Like Duh!\" (I am spinning out here)

Like don\'t these IDIOT designers \"GET IT\" - that the fuel is going, the planet is over heating, the oceans are acidic and full of poisons, species extinction is happening at a rate that is unprecedented - and yet these idiot corporate moron types keep churning out this \"fantasy island\" bullshit trips - cars that weigh 2000Kg, cars that suck fuel like me on an alcoholic binge....

I am only interested in cars that can seat 2 people and weigh less than 200Kg and get 100 Km to the liter.....

I am just insanely angry about being fed bullshit by corporate morons, engineers who are idiots and advertising agencies - who are just fundamentally stupid people.

Mr Stiffy

Loves these concept cars...

Facebook User

Actually some humble pie time....

\"The 250cc\" - was the 250cc motorbike....

And I am a bit vague on this, but a jet aircraft is getting about 100 km per liter per passenger.... and it gives me the shits that most modern cars - and the consumer choices as driven os assisted by the advertising agencies etc... along with the mental SUV / helicopter parent mindset... of having to drive the kids everywhere so they can get some exercise.....

I think I was quite wrong in my views - not for airing my frustration on the subject of seeing cities in gridlock for eternity with HUGE gas guzzling cars and the linking of \"prestiege\" with how much you can afford to wastefully and inefficiently use in the way of resources....

But I was kind of wrong in linking my views and frustration, with the general gist of the article.....

\"For the past six years, the Los Angeles Auto Show has invited automobile designers to participate in its Design Challenges. The challenge for this year%u2019s show was to come up with a design for %u201Ca 1,000lb [453.6kg], four-passenger vehicle that is both comfortable and safe, while delivering satisfactory driving performance without sacrificing the styling consumers%u2019 demand.%u201D Entries are being judged not only for meeting the weight constraint (no more than 1,500 pounds/680 kg with passengers), but also for artistic beauty, comfort, uniqueness of design, roadworthiness, sustainability, performance and user-friendliness. The winner will be announced at the show, on Nov. 18. Here%u2019s a look at some of the higher-profile entries...\"

I would tho - like to see much higher specifications on the entries, such as a minimum fuel consumption of 1 liter per 100Km per passenger or better.

I\'d also like to see cars that are designed to have a maximum speed of 130Kmh.. - because except for one or two (???) roads in the world, everyone is restricted to about 100Kmh for their top speed....

I design and tune my vehicles to have maximum punch in top gear - from 80 - 120Kmh. That gives a big extra when overtaking - but that is about all that is really necessary.

All these idiot car designers that make their cars with 220Kmh top speed or what ever - sure, I can see relative merits in the combined engine and drive train combination of having a good engine, humming away at 100Kmh - and then winding out - up to the top speed, but where I live if you do 30 or so Kmh over the speed limit - it\'s sort of instant loss of license for 6 months or something like that.

Since something like 90% of all car journeys are single person trips - I\'d like to see cars that are single or twin seaters, that do weight 100 - 200Kg and do get way better than 100Km per liter of fuel.

That really appeals to my sense of \"efficiency\" or \"bang for my buck\" or plain \"tight arsed-ness\".

So kudos on the article....

Mr Stiffy

If made affordably, I would sooner buy almost anyone of these vehicles over the Detroit crap that has been polluting the air and littering the streets for the last century.

Nick Huggins

I hope that someone on the board of the Los Angeles Auto Show with half a brain and some common sense reads these posts. It doesn\'t take a bat up-side the head to figure out what the consumer wants. (Although, the pictures are pretty.)

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