Slow food (for thought)

Posted on 01/01/2020 by IED

How will passenger car speed limits affect design, enquires Colin Ledsome CEng FIED

From 2022, all new road vehicles made in Europe (including the UK) will be mechanically limited to 70 mph (110 kph), although there may be some limited capability to accelerate out of danger, or overtake. Perhaps, some years later, all older cars will be required to be fitted with speed limiters. Any that aren’t will be very obvious to traffic enforcement if they speed. The prime reason is safety, but the reduction in fuel consumption and noise will have considerable environmental benefits.

All of the ‘sporty’ cars with spoilers, ‘aerodynamic’ styling, big tyres and noisy exhausts are going to look a little unnecessary. It may be worth considering how car design is going to change: 2022 is not far away. Larger engines will be uneconomical, except for those regularly carrying heavy loads or perhaps going cross-country. Spoilers and the like will disappear. They only become really effective at speeds above 70 mph; below 40 mph they often just add drag. Cars will cease to be a status symbol. Safety and the internal design will become more important than the external appearance.

Students like designing flamboyant cars. They are going to have to find a new focus for their imaginations. Car design courses need to consider fuel economy, comfort, and the passenger experience. Drivers used to pushing on will become very frustrated, and the driving experience will have to be considered carefully to regain satisfaction. The drivetrain can be configured for steady speed cruising and local driving rather than acceleration, and so be lighter and more efficient. Tyres, brakes and suspension systems will suffer less wear and tear, so maintenance will be cheaper.

Soon, cars with automatic control systems will become more commonplace. Vehicles may communicate with each other to reduce clashes at junctions or form close-spaced convoys for more efficient use of major roads. Fully automatic driving is still some years away, as long as there are human controlled vehicles still on the road. Then, with cars driving at the same speed in close formation, roads effectively become very like railways!

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