Lotus Engineering has been known to show the rest of the automotive industry a thing or two about making vehicles faster, more efficient, or both. Its improvements often involve its core tenant of "adding lightness," so it's no surprise that Lotus' most recent study involves taking a vehicle and trimming the fat. For this study, Lotus used the Toyota Venza as a benchmark vehicle for a theoretical 2020 ultralight model and shaves 38 percent of the crossover's mass--excluding the power train--by applying the lessons it's learned in designing the Elise, Exige, and Evora sports cars. Factoring in the untouched engine and transmission, the vehicle's gross weight is reduced 33 percent in mass. What's most interesting here is that Lotus believes that it can put the Venza on such a diet for only a 3 percent increase in component costs.
A lighter vehicle requires less energy to move, stop, and turn, so the weight savings should result in a vehicle that is more nimble and more efficient. But how much more efficient? According to Lotus:
"Based on U.S. Department of Energy estimates, a total vehicle mass reduction of 33% including powertrain, as demonstrated on the 2020 passenger car model, results in a 23% reduction in fuel consumption. This study highlights how automotive manufacturers can adopt the Lotus philosophy of performance through light weight."
All of the Venza's dimensions, packaging, and proportions remained the same; it didn't just shrink it to save the weight. So, how did Lotus do it? The trick lies in its use of stronger, lighter materials, better component integration, and advanced joining and assembly techniques. For example, the 2010 Venza's unibody is composed of 100 percent steel, while the 2020 target uses 37 percent aluminum, 30 percent magnesium, 21 percent composites, and 7 percent high strength steel for a 355-pound weight reduction. Because of the reduced body weight, chassis suspension components such as brakes, shock absorbers, and suspension arms can also be downsized for even further weight reductions. Lotus saves precious pounds by using lightweight dashboard and seat materials, using removable carpet panels instead of full floor carpet, and by moving the air conditioning system into the dashboard instead of under the hood. Smaller changes, such as high-tech welding and joining techniques, save grams of wasted flux and adhesive all over the vehicle. Grams may not seem like they're worth the effort, but save enough of them and they add up to big changes.
Of course, there are compromises with the changes. We're not so sure if we're willing to give up the reliability of an old-fashioned emergency brake and shift lever in favor of a touch-screen actuated parking brake and gear selector that eliminates the need for a brake and transmission levers, cables, and solenoids. However, we are glad to see that Lotus is thinking outside of the standard weight savings box.
Lotus' vision for the 2020 Venza is Lotus' alone. The study was conducted independent of Toyota's influences, so this is by no means a guarantee that we'll see a lightweight crossover in Toyota's future.