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Car Designer favours Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

Saturday, March 18, 2017 6:00
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“A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist, and evolutionary strategist.” – Buckminster Fuller

The 1973 oil embargo caused a number of changes in industry and society. It caused the (temporary) departure of the muscle cars and created an enthusiasm for small, fuel-efficient cars. It reduced highway speed limits, started emission control systems, and the pursuit of alternative fuels. It caused automakers to integrate companies, research, and production methods. It brought fuel injection, downsizing and turbocharging. — And now fuel cell electric vehicles as the foreseen solution.

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came into existence, the first vehicle emissions regulation were issued, foretelling the end of the ICE age. The soon to follow collision and safety regulations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was, is, and will be of benefit to past, present, and future travelers and bystanders alike.

Designers started to rethink the size and shape of cars; engineers invented variable platforms and alternative drivetrains. One such creative individual, Brooks Stevens, was called “a major force in industrial design.” He had founded the American Industrial Designers Society and created many well-known products. Harley-Davidson still uses the Stevens-sculpted front fender of its 1949 Hydraglide on the Heritage Classic series of motorbikes of today. From logos to locomotives, Stevens’ imagination shaped more than three-thousand products.

During the early 1960s, he designed the Utopia Concept, arguably the first multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). The Utopia wagon concept had a sliding roof panel, which was used on the 1963-66 Studebaker Wagonaire wagon, and again on the 2004-2005 GMC Envoy XUV SUV.

After the Oil Crisis, Stevens picked up the idea of designing automobiles with a fuel cell, which he knew had worked for NASA. He was aware that at the time fuel cells were too bulky for a compact car, so he incorporated them into ‘Terra Gondola’, a motor home. At the same time, he envisioned a small city commuter car.

Image from the Milwaukee Art Museum

In the ‘good old days’, designers such as Harley Earl, Raymond Loewy, and Brooks Stevens were well known. For a long time, the creators of yesterday’s daily drives were anonymous artists. Only recently, did they earn their deserved admiration when introducing new cars at auto shows. That is where we learned about today’s carchitects such as Chris Bangle at BMW. I found this twenty-minute video, where he talks about the art of the automobile. Very insightful!

At car shows, we also met Ken Okuyama of Pininfarina and Ferrari fame. As a professor, he has instructed other designers at the renowned Art Center College of Design in California. In this article, Okuyama talks about the Google and Apple self-driving cars. Will they be driven by a fuel cell? Who knows?

A number of other designers are creating the cars of today and imagining the lightweight autonomous electric and FCEVs of tomorrow.

In 2017, there are fewer than 5,000 fuel-cell-electric vehicles (cars & buses) on the roads of just a handful of countries. Close to one million plug-in vehicles, both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid are demonstrating the advantages of electric/electronic systems, the basis of the FCEVs of tomorrow. Progress is driving ahead, and someday we may read “The Rise and Fall of Hybrid Electric Vehicles”.

Next: Modern pioneer influences Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

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