Microcars

Brian Anthony Clough

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    Abstract

    The motor car as we know it is just over a century old and during its existence it has changed little. In the early days there may have been competition between electric power and the internal combustion engine but a plentiful supply of cheap oil and two World Wars saw oil dominate as the most reliable fuel and the commodity upon which much of the world economy developed through the 20th Century. However the early years of the 21st Century have been fraught with new realisations; that oil will not last forever given the current rate of consumption and that emissions from burning petrochemicals are causing irreparable damage to the planet and changing the climate. The energy consumed in creating and scrapping automobiles far outweighs that consumed in their operational life. As new, populous economies emerge and grow wealthy their inhabitants want to share in the freedom the automobile brings. However the future of the car as we know it, a one ton steel box with four seats, four wheels, top speed in excess of 100mph and range of 350 miles is unsustainable. As experts predict that peak oil may be reached in the first half of the 21st century (Aleklett K. et al) there has never been a greater imperative to change the way that we design, build power and use motor cars. Possible solutions may include: • downsizing cars to use less materials and take up less physical space, • creating more efficient vehicles that are fitter for purpose and that provide flexible packaging solutions • making use of sustainable materials and processes in manufacture • creating longer life vehicles • using alternative or renewable fuels to power vehicles • applying telematic systems to guide vehicles and prevent collisions, to reduce stop-start energy wastage and to allow vehicles to travel in closer proximity making better use of existing road space. • changing attitudes to car use and pricing entirely. And so, if we accept that the contemporary fossil-fuelled motor car is unsustainable then we must also accept that the car industry is on the verge of a paradigm shift of unprecedented proportions. We simply cannot continue to expend so much energy in creating one tonne steel cars which will be scrapped after ten years. Not if the world car population is set to double and the oil supply is set to decline in the next fifty. There is simply too great an energy investment in each unit and too great a CO2 output from the production and life cycle. The recent history of the design of microcars is one of repeated attempts to address these social and consumer needs and wants, in circumstances where energy supply has looked increasingly precarious. There has been increasingly an ethical and political need to develop transport solutions which reduce our carbon footprint. Publisher statement: Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Microcars’, in Design for Transport edited by Mike Tovey (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 201–251. Copyright © 2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationDesign for Transport: A User-Centred Approach to Vehicle Design and Travel (Series: Design for Social Responsibility)
    EditorsMichael Tovey
    Place of PublicationFarnham, Surrey
    PublisherGower
    ISBN (Print)ebook, ISBN 978-1-4094-3326-2, 978-1-4094-3325-5
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

    Bibliographical note

    Author's note: This chapter appears in the book ‘Design for Transport’, part of a series published by Ashgate Gower under the theme ‘Design for Social Responsibility’. It is not possible to comment on the chapter in isolation but below is the publishers description and 3 reviews

    About the Book: The design of vehicles and transport systems is a key element in developing sustainable social and economic practice; balancing the aspirations of fast developing economies; the need to increase capacity on mass transport systems and the growing requirements for personal vehicles that can be built, run and scrapped without costing the earth. Mike Tovey and the Department of Industrial Design at Coventry have been at the forefront of the future design of Transport Systems and Automobiles and the Centre for Excellence in Product and Automotive Design has led the socially responsible design practice. This collection spans the design of all kinds of vehicles as well as the design of systems, signage, infrastructure and planning processes for public transport. The book brings together the topics of transport design, climate change and social responsibility against a backdrop of rapid social, economic and demographic change.

    Reviews: 'Design for Transport shows how designers can take a user-centred and socially responsible approach to tackling a range of types of transport, from systems to products and from bicycles to automobiles. The approaches they employ and the methods they use in producing a rich array of solutions are demonstrated through case studies. This is timely and relevant as we face unprecedented economic and climate change issues, which call for radically new approaches from transport designers. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of transport design.
    'Seymour Roworth-Stokes, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Development, University of the Creative Arts, and Chair, Design Research Society (now Dean of Coventry School of Art & Design)

    'Of all the imperatives concerning humanity's ability to devise systems for sustainable living "transport" is perhaps one of our most important priorities. The story of transport not only provides an illustration of our evolution into urban and sub-urban inhabitants but our predictions for future transport epitomise our human capacity for creativity and innovation. Of course, not all visions have recognised the social and environmental implications of their creation but new approaches to the user-centred design of transport products and systems offer both liberation and sustainability. This book expertly charts recent and relevant milestones on the journey towards truly sustainable transport.'
    Steve Garner, The Open University, UK

    'A key reference for designers and students because of its comprehensive approach - from bicycles to buses, from supercars to sustainability, from maps to modal interchanges - and its focus on how design can create not just new vehicles and transport systems but new futures for travellers.'
    Nigel Cross, Emeritus Professor of Design Studies, The Open University, UK
    Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Microcars’, in Design for Transport edited by Mike Tovey (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 201–251. Copyright © 2012

    Keywords

    • Microcars

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  • Cite this

    Clough, B. A. (2012). Microcars. In M. Tovey (Ed.), Design for Transport: A User-Centred Approach to Vehicle Design and Travel (Series: Design for Social Responsibility) Farnham, Surrey: Gower.