Concept designs for an under-1000 pound car (photos)

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, nine car companies responded to a design challenge with their ideas for a very light vehicle.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
1 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Volvo Air Motion Canyon Carver

LOS ANGELES--Since 2004, the Los Angeles Auto Show has featured a challenge in which major automotive design studios compete to come up with the best creative work around a themed concept.

For 2010, the challenge was to address "society's shift toward minimizing consumption of the Earth's resources. The objective is to envision an efficient, lightweight, four-passenger vehicle (not to exceed 1,000 pounds) that is both comfortable and safe, while delivering satisfactory driving performance without sacrificing the styling consumers demand." This is the concept submission for a Volvo Air Motion Canyon Carver: "Imagine...

"A vehicle lighter than a Formula 1 racing car...Experiencing the adrenaline rush of carving through the canyons with up to three friends...Not using a drop of gasoline...Now just imagine if these dreams could be brought together in a single vehicle.

"Tipping the scales at under 1,000 pounds, the Volvo Air Motion Concept makes these dreams a reality and delivers this in a beautiful Scandinavian body. Designed like a clam shell and sculptured from ultralight carbon fiber.

"Minimizing weight and complexity, while maximizing driving enjoyment, is the philosophy behind this vehicle. Thousands of fewer components are employed than in a traditional car, thanks to the powerful, yet simple, compressed air motors that replace a heavy internal combustion engine. The motors cool down under load rather than heat up, thus removing the need for heavy cooling systems. An integrated approach to designing the chassis, interior and suspension also contribute significantly.

"To compress the air needed for the centrally mounted air tank, Air Replenishment Sites are used. Powered by air turbines floating 1,000 feet in the air, they harness the power of the wind and convert it to electricity to provide the compression.

"Aimed at the driving enthusiast, by a company synonymous with safety and environmental care, the Volvo Air Motion demonstrates the beauty and purity of Scandinavian design and delivers a guilt-free, raw driving experience.

"Introducing a new form of exhilaration. The Volvo Air Motion Canyon Carver."

2 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Smart 454

This is the submission by Smart, the Smart 454 (454 kilograms is around 1,000 pounds) by Germany's Weight Watch Technologies:

"West Coast fun and innovation meets German technology, design, and grannies' hand-knit socks.

"Manufactured by incredibly high-tech robots that look as friendly and cuddly as our grandmothers, the Tridion-frame (chassis) is knit by our 'Smart Granny Robots' (otherwise know as SGRs) out of carbon fiber. The knitting can create complex shapes and forms, enabling the geometry to be optimized in strength and weight.

"We use different materials for each individual part to give every piece of the car its own specific properties and look. Each part is manufactured with the exact material necessary for an optimal balance between weight and function. Windows, fenders, and bumpers are all made of recyclable plastics with ingrained colors. The roof is a thin, but highly durable recycled textile that comes with different prints and weavings.

"Construction of the WWT carbon fiber wheels with integrated suspension are very lightweight and make it also impossible to run a flat tire. Our unique SGR technology allows for truly unique-looking rims and the best lightweight technology in a rim.

"The modular 'lip-on' construction principal allows easy and endless customizing: a typical WWT of Sindelfingen and smart signature. The doors, roof, engine, and drivetrain are also very easy to remove or exchange, allowing for perfect functionality, looks, fun, and the best tuning for any occasion.

"Lightweight, fun, and clever: Smart, the WWT from Germany.

"Hand-knit socks and grannies have never been so much fun."

3 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Maybach DRS

This is the design submission for the Maybach DRS--"Den-Riki-Sha," a theoretical electric powered rickshaw:

"Gracing the roads of tomorrow.

"A radically new car culture will arise in the near future, which is aligned with modern architecture, infrastructure, and nature. An astonishing variety of future automotive designs will grow, commensurate, with newly available energy sources, drive systems, and alternative production methods. Light, transparent designs with sculptured elegance and an extensive range of comfort and safety options are finding their way into a new eco-conscious world.

"The Maybach DRS embodies these attributes and leverages the traditional values of the classic 'Jin-Riki-Sha' (human-powered rickshaw), which originated in Tokyo circa 1870.

"Breathtaking beauty, ingenious luxury, and technical brilliance characterize the sophisticated development of the DRS. This Maybach is the first worldwide NMV (naturally manufactured vehicle). Its production process is unique: per a highly perfected and complex metamorphosis, a readily developed car is born out of a coded DNA-cocoon. Organic intelligence, aligned with advanced bio-mechanical engineering skills, created this special process being designed for a limited number of exclusive vehicles. A futuristic composition of ultralight construction with a unique luxurious exterior and interior expression.

"Powered by a self-balancing electric drive unit and controlled by an onboard computer that is plugged into a mega city's transport infrastructure, the Maybach DRS delivers a smooth, luxurious journey cross town. To extend its range, this human-electric hybrid allows pedaling power to be supplemented by the driver. Meanwhile, the passengers enjoy the journey in their glamorous surroundings.

"Maybach traditionally pointed the way to a modern era of luxurious mobility--the Den-Riki-Sha continues this heritage, gracing the roads of tomorrow."

4 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Mercedes-Benz Biome

This is the design submission for a Mercedes-Benz Biome:

"The Mercedes-Benz Biome is an ultralight vehicle that utilizes technologies from nature to achieve unparalleled efficiency and seamless integration into the ecosystem.

"Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis is a system in which the vehicle becomes part of the ecosystem like the leaves of a tree. Symbiosis vehicles collect energy from the sun and store it in chemical bonds, in the form of a fluid called BioNectar4534. Mercedes has also developed technology to retrofit trees with receptors, which can harvest their excess solar energy into BN4534. This creates an incentive to plant more trees and collect more energy, while also helping the ecosystem. The vehicle can be composted after its lifespan is complete or used as building material.

"Partnership with nature: The Symbiosis vehicle forms a seamless part of the ecosystem through green technologies. Most of the energy used to power the vehicles comes from the sun. It is stored in a lightweight grown material called BioFibre. It is much lighter than metal or synthetic composites, but stronger than steel when mature. It is grown in the Mercedes-Benz nursery through proprietary DNA. The customer's specific desires are genetically engineered into the star and the vehicle grows when this combines with the seed capsule.

"Mercedes-Benz nursery: All Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis vehicles are grown in an ecologically sustainable nursery, using primarily organic materials.

"Growth from two seeds: The interior of the Biome grows from Mercedes-Benz DNA in the front star, when it fuses with the seed. The exterior grows from the rear star, creating the shape. The wheels are grown separately from four unique seeds.

"Technologies from nature: Mercedes-Benz Symbiosis vehicles release pure oxygen into the environment, helping urban areas to meet air quality standards."

5 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Mazda MX-0

This is the design submission for a Mazda MX-0:

"Zero weight: Mazda's longtime commitment to low weight is driven by the belief that effortless cornering and acceleration should be at the heart of every car we design. Our featherweight icon--the MX-5 Miata, tipped the scales at a little over 2,300 pounds in its first generation. Starting with the MX-5 as a benchmark, the design team has carried out a systematic process of reduction and consolidation. In this process, we have redesigned each component in the MX-0 to carry out the functions of several MX-5 components, effectively replacing a multitude of MX-5 parts with fewer, simplified ones. Innovative lightweight materials have been used extensively to obsessively lower weight.

"Zero carbon: Aimed at the global market of 2020, and with projected volume of 500,000 units annually, the MX-0 would have positive effects on the world's environment and economy by way of less energy consumption and minimized use of raw materials. High-volume, automated manufacturing of sustainable, inexpensive composites coupled with clean-running drivetrains are the key to both low weight and high-volume production.

"Zero mass=maximum speed: At the heart of the MX-0 is its purpose as a driving beast. Its ultralight mass is pushed by high-torque electric motors. High power-to-weight is where a Mazda comes alive. Impossible acceleration and instant cornering is the result. It's more like flying than driving. Zero hindrance. Driving bliss."

6 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Honda Air

This is the design submission for a Honda Air:

"The Honda Air concept is a vision of the future of lightweight and alternative fuel performance vehicles; a coastal cruiser for the aggressive lifestyle. Inspired by the modern roller coaster as well as skydiving wing-suits, the Air is powered by a compressed air and pneumatic regulator system. It utilizes turbo vacuums and external air-flow to regenerate tank pressure for extended range and increased boost for an estimated 100 miles. The chassis doubles as the master tank and all components, including seating, are mounted to the central chassis/tank to eliminate redundant structure and reduce overall weight.

"Vegetable-based polymer panels and fairings protect occupants, maintaining the solid Honda method; safety for everyone. The Air's cockpit and package maintain the aggressive human packaging of a modern roller coaster aimed at maximizing the open air experience. In order to reduce weight and increase dynamic performance, a hubless wheel and drive system eliminates the use of heavy drivetrain components. Glass reinforced seating panels, urethane tire composition and skeletal sub-frame components combine for drastic weight savings. Using a Honda generator/air compressor at home or tire filler at your local filling station, the main tanks and reserves can be filled quickly and safely.

At just under 800 pounds, the powerful anthem of pneumatic propulsion and a character unlike any zero-emission vehicle exemplifies Honda's concept of fun to drive. The pow[air] of dreams."

7 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Toyota Nori

This is the design submission for a Toyota Nori:

"Building on Toyota's leadership role in creating eco-sensitive vehicles, the Nori concept challenges us to look ahead and create a clever vision that addresses fuel economy, emissions, green materials, new design and manufactured technology, and transforms it into an emotionally appealing design solution.

"As the majority of current generation automobiles consist of a chassis covered by attached body panels, the Nori concept presents the idea that the body and chassis are one, as a podular form, designed to be strong, light and beautiful. Bioplastics technology is created using 'nori' (the Japanese word for seaweed) combined with a carbon fiber weave for strength. Woven into the podular form are solar cells that capture and generate supplemental solar energy. As a holistic solution and new design aesthetic, Nori reduces weight and the number of parts while capturing and generating energy.

At the onset of the design process for each podular form is a collaboration between designers and engineers, utilizing a 'real time' design envelope to ensure the perfect balance of strength, light weight and design aesthetics. This process eliminates traditional design and engineering conflicts of form vs. function, and allows the design/engineering process to come to fruition at the same time.

"Manufacturing: The podular forms are grown at factories located nearby the sea. Seaweed grows prolifically, and using it as a bioplastics source is an effort to minimalize the impact on the food chain (corn/soy etc) that has previously been used for bioplastics. The solar cells are embedded as part of the growing/manufacturing process.

"Personalization: PSIs (partial shape insets) are utilized to shield or expose passengers to the elements and address vehicle regulations (such as covered wheels), while serving as a new form of personalization. The color/graphics of Nori can be changed through an electronically generated data charge sent into the surface. There are no doors: ingress/egress is achieved by stepping over and into Nori's podular form.

"Drivetrain: Nori utilizes four electric wheel motors and a removable battery pack."

8 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Nissan iV

This is the design submission for a Nissan iV:

"In 2010, the innovative Nissan Leaf is introduced as the first mass-market electric vehicle (EV), planting seeds for Nissan's vision of a zero-emissions future. Fast-forward to 2035: EVs and the green energy infrastructures that power them have matured into a fully sustainable system, bringing this dream to life.

"A natural performer: Infused with Nissan's heritage of sports and performance, Nissan iV is a high-performance EV inspired by nature's intelligent beauty and crafted by human ingenuity. The iV is a super-lightweight sports tourer that showcases "organic synthetics," a revolutionary manufacturing technique in which automotive parts are cultivated like agriculture in a 100 percent sustainable, carbon-neutral process.

All grown up: Less is more. Every detail of the Nissan iV is engineered toward renewable, lightweight strength and maximum efficiency. Featuring an interwoven organic frame, iV's chassis material is synthetically grown and formed into a stunning, aerodynamic shape. Derived from fast-growing ivy and re-enforced with spider silk composite, the biopolymer frame is flexible and ultralight, yet extremely robust. The spacious, panoramic cabin comfortably seats four adults and is constructed from an innovative photovoltaic material that weighs 99 percent less than traditional glass. While the canopy collects solar energy, it also provides protective safety and unique, open-air views of the outdoors. Underneath it all, a slim bio-battery provides stability and a near limit-less range made possible by regenerative super-capacitor technology that recoups 60 percent of kinetic energy spent.

"Wheel 'n' deal: Nissan's patented concentric hub-less in-wheel motors not only propel iV, they do triple-duty by functioning as the vehicle's steering as well as its suspension system, via magnetic levitation and propulsion. Concentric magnetic rings amplify rotation with each outer ring to boost high-speed performance and provide independent wheel control for ultimate handling and maneuverability. Inspired by schools of fish and their fluid movement, Nissan's pro-active Safety Shield renders collisions a thing of the past and reduces weight by eliminating the need for heavy structures (bumpers, beams, airbags, etc.).

"Zero-hour: Through industry-leading technology, Nissan iV maximizes the driving experience by eliminating excess. Nissan fulfills a deep nostalgia for the joy of driving with a strikingly beautiful EV that can deliver electrifying, agile performance with zero-guilt.

"Our mantra: Innovation for all."

9 of 9 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Cadillac Aera

This is the design submission for a Cadillac Aera:

"The Cadillac Aera (Aero + Era) launches Cadillac's philosophy of 'Art and Science' into new territory by taking an innovative and stylistic approach to ultra-lightweight vehicle design. Aera is a 1,000-pound, 2+2 touring coupe, with a range of 1,000 miles before refueling; attributes achieved without compromising size, capacity and safety.

"Optimum efficiency, minimum parts: Aera's highly advanced body structure utilizes a 3D lattice, mono-formed frame. This polyhedral structure is similar to configurations found consistently in nature, e.g., inside the grouping of bubbles. The structure is formed from unique, alloy-utilizing, semi-solid freeform manufacturing, creating a naturally strong, extremely lightweight frame. All major body parts, including interior components, are essentially 'grown' into a single part lattice structure.

"Renowned Cadillac smoothness and quietness are accomplished using the harnessed power of compressed air via a highly efficient Pneumatic Drive System (PDS). Its 10,000 psi composite air storage tank has ample capacity for a 1,000-mile range. Flexible, pressurized air cells in the exterior skin, similar to material developed for the NASA Mars Rover airbags, enhance passive safety and interior comfort. The flexible polymer skin optimizes aerodynamics and functions as an ultra-lightweight alternative to conventional body panels and glass.

"Additional technologies include an All-In-One (AIO) wheel system, combining rotary actuator propulsion, steering and suspension functions. A drive by wireless system decreases the mass of electrical components. Vehicle to vehicle communication (V2V) promotes active safety.

"The Cadillac Aera embodies a stylistic, lightweight, minimalist approach to long distance luxury touring."

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