Why are today's cars so butt ugly?

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It may not outwardly appear so, or in some parts of the design may seem counterintuitive, but the auto manufacturers are going, at least for cars, grab whatever advantage they can in terms of acceleration and fuel economy, so they are absolutely making sure to take aerodynamics into consideration.
The automakers are (were) ultimately driven by what buyers want. And for decades buyers prioritized style, room, and performance over fuel economy. It took a combination of gas taxes, CAFE, and an EV mandate to skew the economics enough to get buyers to (indirectly) factor fuel economy more in their decisions.

From about the 1930s to 1970s, the ratio of car to light truck sales was about 4:1 (the site compiling this data put it behind a paywall about 7 years ago, but I'd gone over the data before). Starting in the 1970s, almost precisely when CAFE fuel economy standards were implemented, the ratio began to drop. Currently, truck sales now outnumber car sales by 2:1. CAFE forced automakers to make cars smaller. The less-stringent CAFE standards for light trucks allowed buyers to find the bigger, higher-performing vehicles in a truck. So they switched from buying cars to buying trucks.

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/fotw714.gif
https://wolfstreet.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/US-auto-sales_cars-v-trucks-2011_2018-.png

Same thing for EVs. The growth in EV sales is not organic. It's mandated by law. Every year, automakers are forced to sell a certain percentage of ZEVs (zero emissions vehicles) or face fines or bans. The percentage goes up every year. So automakers run sales and incentives on EVs to move enough of them off the lot to comply with the law. Thus artificially creating "growth" in EV sales.

https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/california-and-western-states/what-is-zev

In addition to that, let's keep in mind that the dirtier methods of producing electricity are falling by the wayside. Just casual observation in driving, where I'm in New Jersey, solar and wind are picking up notably.
Agreed. But my point is that switching from gasoline vehicles to EVs accomplishes very little. It's switching from fossil fuel power plants to nuclear and renewables which accomplishes the emissions reduction. (Coal to natural gas also results in a decrease in CO2 emissions, since methane gets a greater fraction of its energy from producing water rather than CO2. In fact the bulk of the world's reduction in CO2 emissions thus far has been due to switching from coal to natural gas.)

Hell, I personally know a guy at work who has an e-Golf, and solar panels, so, his own particular case solves both problems.
Sigh. No it doesn't. Not unless he got the solar panels because he got an EV. If he was going to get the solar panels anyway, then the EV is being powered by electricity from the grid.

Before (case 1 - no solar panels):
Electricity consumption = house
Electricity source = grid
Therefore, he pulled [house] amount of electricity from the grid.

Before (case 2 - solar panels installed)
Electricity consumption = house
Electricity source = solar panels (enough to power the house)
Therefore, the solar panels are producing [house] amount of electricity, and his reliance on the grid has dropped to zero.

After (with EV and solar panels)
Electricity consumption = house + EV
Electricity source = grid + solar panels
The solar panels are producing [house] amount of electricity, and he's also pulling [EV] amount of electricity from the grid.

Subtract Before(2) from After, and you get
Electricity consumption = EV
Electricity source = grid
Therefore, the EV is getting all its electricity from the grid.

Only if you subtract Before(1) from After (he only got the solar panels because he got the EV) do you get
Electricity consumption = EV
Electricity source = solar panels

It's the same reason why the electricity to power EVs is all coming from fossil fuel power plants. The marginal increase in electricity consumption by the EV is fulfilled by a marginal increase in electricity production. But the only power plants we have which can generate a marginal increase in electricity production on-demand are fossil fuel plants. So all the electricity for EVs is coming from fossil fuel plants. (This is why Musk is trying to also sell rooftop solar panels. If he can get someone who wasn't going to install solar panels to install them at the same time they buy an EV, then that would indeed count as the EV being powered by the solar panels.)

(also, for a while I worked for a Natural Gas company - while their primary business is natural gas, they were involved in renewables, building out wind generation, and offering incentives for people to get solar. They had their fingers in a lot of pies, as it were, energy-wise)
Yup. For some reason people seem to try to lump energy companies into "good" and "bad" groups. When the truth is that most of the bigger energy companies have their fingers in all the pies - fossil fuels and renewables.

I never really understood where the idea that "electricity generation is dirtier than gasoline" came from, though I suspect its ultimate origins were in the sorts of interest/energy companies that were more interested in the status quo for their own profit.
It's not the generation which makes it dirtier. It's all the losses between generation to final consumption which knock down its efficiency. If you're just plugging a toaster into a wall outlet, there's very little loss (about 97% of the electricity the power plant generates goes into heating up your toast) and the efficiency is high (though a gas stove would be even higher). But if you're shoving the electricity into a battery, then pulling it out of the battery, and running it through an electric motor, that's only 85%80%90% = 61% efficient. Multiply by the 40% efficiency of a gas power plant, and you're down at 24.5%, which is not much better than a gasoline car.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are doomed for the same reason. The efficiency of creating hydrogen gas from water is at best about 65%. And the efficiency of a fuel cell at converting the hydrogen to electricity is about 70%. Add in the 90% efficient electric motor, and you're at 65%70%90% = 41% efficient. Worse than a battery, and worse than a gasoline car if the electricity is being generated by a 40% efficient gas power plant (16.4% efficient overall).
 
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Yep, I can say that at least all the people coming around offering the solar panel installations were up front about "You can only get enough capacity to match around your last 12 months of consumption."

He went with having the EV for, maybe not quite a year, but close, before getting solar. So, he's got the capacity to cover the house and EV. A former co-worker of mine is planning the same route.

I might've done the same had I planned on getting a full EV in a year, but that's not something I can do.

I know that if you start getting more electric-powered appliances/utilities, an electric vehicle, or whatever, such that your total electrical consumption increases, you can get more panels added. I don't know the details of exactly how that works, but when/if I get to that point, I'm definitely taking advantage of it.


Yeah, the hydrogen ting always kind of bugged me. Unless there was something I was missing, it always seemed like, unless it was created strictly via solar or wind generated electricity, that producing the hydrogen would itself be severely polluting.


On the other hand, I don't know how inefficient shoving generated electricity into a battery is. It seems, at least based on my use of a current-gen non-plug-in Prius, that it's remarkably efficient. I mean, I know the gasoline engine is also extremely efficient for a gasoline engine, but, while I mostly try to drive the way the hybrid system is attempting to train me to drive, this thing can get, under certain circumstances, phenomenal fuel efficiency.

Worst case I've gotten in the winter has been about 50 MPG, and best case in the summer (oddly while also using the air conditioner) has been in the upper 60s. That's average per tankful. I know the drive to my ex-wife's house (to pick up my son) of about 15 miles gets me around 75-80 MPG going there, and 65-70 on the return trip.

Admittedly, the "when stopped, using NO gas and almost no electricity" mode is a bonus.
 

USAFRet

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I'm seriously consider a lightly used Smart Electric.
Something like this:


"OMG! The range on those sux!"
All it has to do is carry my ass back and forth to work everyday. 9 miles each way.

"Its too small! It's dangerous"
meh...I've owned similar size things.
A couple of old school Mini's, a '63 FIAT 500

"But what if you have an emergency, and need to go on a long drive?"
I can't visualize any 'emergency' that is both farther away than the range of this, and also does not allow 10-15 minutes to go home and get one of the other normal vehicles.

"You can't carry anything in it"
That's why I have the current daily driver, a '97 F-150.
 
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mihen

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Solar makes ALOT of sense in the South West were it's sunny all the time. But there are better solutions in other states like geothermal.
Fuel cell vehicles produce water as an emission. The un-environmental part is the catalyst it uses and compressing that hydrogen.
 
On the other hand, I don't know how inefficient shoving generated electricity into a battery is. It seems, at least based on my use of a current-gen non-plug-in Prius, that it's remarkably efficient. I mean, I know the gasoline engine is also extremely efficient for a gasoline engine, but, while I mostly try to drive the way the hybrid system is attempting to train me to drive, this thing can get, under certain circumstances, phenomenal fuel efficiency.

Worst case I've gotten in the winter has been about 50 MPG, and best case in the summer (oddly while also using the air conditioner) has been in the upper 60s. That's average per tankful. I know the drive to my ex-wife's house (to pick up my son) of about 15 miles gets me around 75-80 MPG going there, and 65-70 on the return trip.
That's a mathematical illusion. MPG is the inverse of fuel economy. So the bigger the number gets, the less fuel you're saving. Here are the fuel savings for an additional 1 MPG, with 15 MPG (the Suburban SUV which is the bane of environmentalists) set at 100%. (i.e. fuel savings going from 15 MPG to 16 MPG = 100%)

15 MPG to 16 MPG = 100%
20 MPG to 21 MPG = 57.1% fuel savings of 15 MPG to 16 MPG
25 MPG = 36.9%
30 MPG = 25.8%
35 MPG = 19.1%
40 MPG = 14.6%
45 MPG = 11.6%
50 MPG = 9.4%
55 MPG = 7.8%
60 MPG = 6.6%
65 MPG = 5.6%
70 MPG = 4.8%
75 MPG = 4.2%
80 MPG = 3.7%
85 MPG = 3.3%
90 MPG = 2.9%
95 MPG = 2.6%
100 MPG = 2.4%

Or put another way, if driven the same distance, a 5 MPG increase saves as much fuel as going from 15 MPG to:

95 MPG to 100 MPG = 15 MPG to 15.12 MPG (+0.12 MPG)
90 MPG to 95 MPG = 15 MPG to 15.13 MPG (+0.13 MPG)
85 MPG to 90 MPG = +0.15 MPG @ 15 MPG
80 MPG to 85 MPG = +0.17 MPG @ 15 MPG
75 MPG to 80 MPG = +0.19 MPG @ 15 MPG
70 MPG to 75 MPG = +0.22 MPG @ 15 MPG
65 MPG to 70 MPG = +0.25 MPG @ 15 MPG
60 MPG to 65 MPG = +0.29 MPG @ 15 MPG
55 MPG to 60 MPG = +0.35 MPG @ 15 MPG
50 MPG to 55 MPG = +0.42 MPG @ 15 MPG
45 MPG to 50 MPG = +0.52 MPG @ 15 MPG
40 MPG to 45 MPG = +0.65 MPG @ 15 MPG
35 MPG to 40 MPG = +0.85 MPG @ 15 MPG
30 MPG to 35 MPG = +1.15 MPG @ 15 MPG
25 MPG to 30 MPG = +1.67 MPG @ 15 MPG
20 MPG to 25 MPG = +2.65 MPG @ 15 MPG
15 MPG to 20 MPG = +5 MPG @ 15 MPG

As you can see, the diminishing returns becomes pretty steep past about 25 MPG, and gains beyond about 45 MPG approach minuscule. Because we use the inverse of fuel economy to measure fuel economy, the numerical gains of increasing MPG at high levels appears to increase, when in fact they're getting smaller. The rest of the world uses liters per 100 km to avoid this distortion.

The irony is when the environmentalists shamed and ridiculed automakers for trying to release hybrid SUVs in the mid-2000s, they actually killed off the very market where hybrids could have made the biggest difference in reducing the country's fuel consumption. (Only the Escape and Highlander Hybrids withstood the smear campaign by environmentalists.)

Putting hybrid drivetrains into econoboxes is, quite frankly, stupid. You're spending a lot of money to slightly decrease the fuel consumption of a vehicle which already uses very little fuel. You'll get much better return on investment putting the hybrid drivetrain into a vehicle which consumes a lot of fuel.

Edit: And your winter vs summer discrepancy is probably because winter air is cooler and denser, and thus produces more drag. Same reason more home runs are hit in summer than in spring/fall.

I'm seriously consider a lightly used Smart Electric.
I rented the 4-seat version of that (gasoline-powered) for a trip from Germany to Poland. 4 people with our carry-on sized bags in the rear. It was surprisingly comfortable for the size. I would have no problems with getting one here for local trips. Although I usually catch flak from environmentalists for the other stuff I post (like the MPG stuff), it's the anti-environmentalists who give me grief whenever I mention that I've driven and like the Smart cars.

The only issue would probably be insurance. I considered leasing an e-Golf a few years back when VW was practically giving them away ($49/mo for 3 years). I had my insurance company run the numbers and despite it being a second car and my good driver discount (no accidents or tickets on file in 30+ years), insuring it would've been about $850/yr or $71/mo. $49/mo would've been worth it for me to tuck it into my garage and use it only for local trips. but $120/mo bumps it into the range of "I'll just drive my regular SUV instead, and pay for the extra fuel even though its fuel economy sucks on short trips." (And before you criticize, my SUV gets 36 MPG on the freeway.)

Solar makes ALOT of sense in the South West were it's sunny all the time. But there are better solutions in other states like geothermal.
Geothermal was collateral damage to the anti-fracking movement. In order to stop fracking, they mischaracterized the drilling as causing earthquakes. B.S. The energy for the earthquake was already down there in the rocks, waiting to be released. The fracking may have triggered the earthquake, but it didn't cause it. It wasn't the source of the energy released by the earthquake. And the fact that it triggered the earthquake prematurely simply means (1) the resulting earthquake was on average smaller than would have happened naturally. And (2) there's less energy remaining in the rocks so any future natural earthquakes will be smaller or further off in the future than they would have been without fracking. It's like dropping explosives on snowy mountainsides to deliberately trigger small avalanches, in order to prevent the snow from building up and potentially causing a larger devastating avalanche in the future.

Anyhow, when Google's geothermal project was linked to an increase in small earthquakes, they immediately killed the project due to the climate created by the anti-fracking movement. For the last century we've been trying to figure out how to predict destructive earthquakes. Then we accidentally stumble upon a method to deliberately trigger them, releasing the energy before it can build up to more destructive levels. But because it was discovered as a consequence of a method to extract oil, it was automatically painted as evil, and therefore no good could ever come from it.

It makes a lot of sense in most states. I mean, hell, Germany's doing a LOT of solar, and they're hardly what one would call bright-and-sunny.
The number you want is capacity factor. Capacity factor is the ratio of nameplate capacity to actual energy generated over the course of a year. It factors in everything from maintenance, wear and tear, dust build-up, clouds, seasons, movement of the sun through the day, etc.

Solar capacity factor in Germany is about 0.10. If you build a 400 MW solar plant in Germany, on average it will only generate 40 MW throughout the year. You can back this out yourself if you go to the Wikipedia page on solar energy in Germany. Take the solar power generated in a year in GW-hours, divide it by 8766 hours/yr. Then divide that by the installed plant capacity to get capacity factor for solar in the entire country. (I'd divide by the average installed capacity of that year and the previous year, to account for new plants coming online throughout the year.)

Solar capacity factor for the continental U.S. averages about 0.145.
For the desert southwest it's about 0.185-0.195.

If you want to know the capacity factor for where you live, it's one of the numbers given by the NREL PWatts site. Just plug in your zip code and a bunch of fake numbers. It uses your latitude and the historical weather patterns to calculate expected panel energy production and capacity factor.
https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/

Quite frankly, Germany's solar effort is misguided. They would be much better off investing that money into more wind turbines.
 
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That's a mathematical illusion. MPG is the inverse of fuel economy. So the bigger the number gets, the less fuel you're saving. Here are the fuel savings for an additional 1 MPG, with 15 MPG (the Suburban SUV which is the bane of environmentalists) set at 100%. (i.e. fuel savings going from 15 MPG to 16 MPG = 100%)
Oh, I get that there's diminishing returns on a per MPG basis, and how the math works, but that doesn't at all mean that putting the hybrid powertrain in an econobox isn't worthwhile. Though, to be honest, I'm not sure the Prius falls into the econobox category, given its size/interior room.

The cost would've been the same any which way to start - relatively expensive, with costs decreasing as the technology matured.

Still, the math you use is not the way I was thinking about it or calculating, and might also be deceptive.

1 MPG increases are an arbitrary standard. I get that going from 9 to 10 MPG is an 11% increase in distance per unit of fuel (10/9), thus a 10% reduction in fuel used (9/10), whereas at 99, it's a slightly over 1% increase in distance per unit of fuel (100/99) versus slightly under 1% reduction in fuel used (99/100), but I think doing the math this way is a bit misleading.

Just look at it as a percentage of change vs a similar class vehicle.

2016 Prius (what I own) averages about 60MPG, versus, say, a 2016 Honda Fit or Honda Civic, either if which would average around 40 MPG.

That's a 50% increase in distance/fuel, or, a 33% reduction in fuel consumption.

Now, this could be done with a larger, less fuel efficient vehicle, but that would necessitate a larger battery and more powerful electric motor, as well as a more likely larger and less fuel efficient engine, not to mention the vehicle's weight. Maybe that would cause a similar situation, maybe less so, unlikely more. If equal, 50% increase in distance for amount of fuel used, or 33% reduction in fuel consumption.

Ergo, a 20MPG car gone hybrid would likely get around 30MPG.


Further, what fuel is used is likely burned more cleanly - typically the hybrid is using the electric to pull away from a stop, or to idle, etc., and relying more on the ICE at higher speeds, where the ICE is at its most efficient, and cleanest. I don't know how to calculate that in terms of pollution reduced, though.
 

mihen

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I never really understood why Trucks weren't the first to be electrified for a mass market. They have 2 lovely hardened steel rails to stick hundreds of lithium ion batteries into. The drive train weighs around 1000 lbs. including fuel compared to the drive train in a Tesla Model S weighing 1300 lbs. They can also make use of all that torque. They are far cheaper to manufacture and easier to engineer.
 

USAFRet

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I never really understood why Trucks weren't the first to be electrified for a mass market. They have 2 lovely hardened steel rails to stick hundreds of lithium ion batteries into. The drive train weighs around 1000 lbs. including fuel compared to the drive train in a Tesla Model S weighing 1300 lbs. They can also make use of all that torque. They are far cheaper to manufacture and easier to engineer.
Range, location, and perception.
It's not unusual for trucks to have to go "somewhere else" at the drop of the hat. 100 mile range and then an overnight recharge doesn't cut it.
Location - Charging stations in Wyoming are few and far between. If for whatever stupid reason I run out of gas, someone can bring me a 5 gallon can and off we go.
Perception - I've been using this type truck for 20 years, with nary an issue. Convince me why some new frou frou electric is better. Go on...convince me.

Pickup trucks will get there. Eventually.
https://jalopnik.com/the-rivian-electric-pickup-truck-is-full-of-fun-surpris-1834144227
 
I never really understood why Trucks weren't the first to be electrified for a mass market.
Most likely range. The average trucker travels about 500 miles per day (meaning half of them drive more than that).

Although you're right. There's a lot more room to work with on a truck. I could see someone coming up with a rig to quickly mount/dismount half ton battery packs onto a truck. A trucker could pull into a truck stop, and swap a spent battery pack for a topped off one, and be on his way again relatively quickly. The truck stop could take their time recharging the packs.

But trucks are mainly a U.S. problem. The rest of the world primarily uses trains for over-land cargo transport. They're roughly 4-5 times more efficient per ton-mile than trucks. Trucks are typically used for the the "last mile" delivery from the train depot to the cargo's destination outside the U.S. Our cargo transport system got screwed up because the interstate highway system effectively subsidized trucks, putting railroads out of business. I think the stat was that trucks cause 90% of the wear and tear to our roads, but cars pay for 50% of the construction and maintenance costs through fuel taxes. The numbers may be even more skewed - someone who worked in road construction told me that they could build a road which is strong enough that it would never wear out from cars driving on it. Meaning 100% of the wear would come from trucks.

(Incidentally, diesel electric locomotives run a diesel engine to power a generator. The electricity from the generator is then run through electric motors, which drive the locomotive's wheels. That eliminates the need for the massive transmission you'd need on a train to cope with the huge torque vs speed range if you tried to power it directly with the diesel engine. An electric motor can deliver 100% of its torque at 0 RPM yet still function at full speed.)
 
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mihen

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I meant pickup trucks. To me the Rivian has 1 glaring issue. It's unibody. It needlessly complicates a vehicle compared to body on frame and it's not nearly as tough.
 

nicholas70

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I think there are a number of reasons 'most' cars tend to be ugly compared to in the past. Most of the reasons have already been stated, but I'll throw another out there to see what people think. I think that a small part of it has to do with the devaluing of artistic creativity compared to yesteryear. Notice that most of the really high end market still makes hot looking cars even today, but looking good just isn't as important as it used to be for most people as far as cars go.
 
I think there are a number of reasons 'most' cars tend to be ugly compared to in the past. Most of the reasons have already been stated, but I'll throw another out there to see what people think. I think that a small part of it has to do with the devaluing of artistic creativity compared to yesteryear. Notice that most of the really high end market still makes hot looking cars even today, but looking good just isn't as important as it used to be for most people as far as cars go.
I'm not sure I buy that (uh, no pun intended!)

That said, if true, then maybe the extra cost of unique designs, or maybe cars on a unique platform, can only be justified on vehicles with much higher margins. I'm just sort of speculating on that point, though.

Then again, what's hot? I mean, the first gen Scion xB became popular even though it's basically a square on wheels. The Pontiac Aztek was a bold styling move that flopped.

The Mustang II is considered ugly by today's standards, but was a big hit when it came out, and was the second highest-selling generation of Mustang (the first gen being the highest selling).
 

Sgt_Sykes

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Er, I'm gonna ignore this off topic debate about electrics and whatever and just comment on the original idea.

As an European, I beg to disagree about the bad looks. Peugeout, Seat, Renault cars are quite beautiful. The Germans have kinda lost the touch, granted, but the hot nations still have it. As for the Japanese? Well when I see a Mazda or a higher-end Mitsubishi, I take a look.

There's definitely something cool about many old timers but I'd say a lot of modern cars are damn good looking. I currently drive a Peugeot sedan (not mine) and it's a really badass car; I'm really surprised.
 
I think that a small part of it has to do with the devaluing of artistic creativity compared to yesteryear.
Granted this was 25 years ago, but a safety engineer from BMW gave a guest lecture at my structural engineering class in grad school. One of the things he mentioned was the procedure for designing a new car model:
  1. The artist sketches out a concept, the carves it out in clay.
  2. Measurements are taken, and the mechanical engineers are tasked with making all the essential components (engine, suspension, fuel, exhaust, etc) fit within the shape the artist came up with.
  3. The safety engineer is given a budget of about 20-40 pounds of steel, and told to make the car pass government and insurance safety tests.
I'm sure there's some back-and-forth between steps 1 and 2 to take into account aerodynamics and physics (mass and inertia of the design). But the artist used to have pretty much free reign to come up with whatever design they want. Do you know if the industry has changed this process in the last two decades?
 

Finstar

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Hate to be that guy but this is such a grandpa thing to say.
Ugly cars have always existed, it's just the beautiful ones you remember.
There are good looking regular modern cars out there such as the new Peugeot 208 and 508, Seats whole lineup pretty much, Skoda Superb and Scala, Mazda 3 and the list goes on...
 
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mihen

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FCA makes the best looking vehicles today. They even took a Mazda Miata and made it look good. But since they have a stigma of poor reliability, they need to win somewhere.
 

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