Thursday, 22 May 2008

New Business Opportunity - Hybrid Applications - Muscling In on Muscle Cars

Although certain legendary nameplates have been kept in existence to bolster the more sporty dimensions of Detroit's vehicle ranges, the oft heard remark from muscle car enthusiasts and the public alike is that "they don't make 'em like they used to!" A perception that the iconic greats have been watered down whilst their powerful identities and associated sub-brands have been plundered in the pursuit off profit.

This pessimistic snap-shot appears to sum-up much of the period between 1975 and 2005. But of course the business reality has been a 30 year succession of economic, competitive and consumer tren waves that essentially prohibited Detroit from successfully maintaining periodic comebacks, especially in the face of far more elegantly engineered Japanese sports coupes and convertibles, aswell as the eventual rise of homegrown performance sedans seen to be starring (even if in name only) in NASCAR.

So the formula of the unsophisticated, mass-platform derived muscle-car (the quarter-mile king but racetrack laggard) was in an ever more technologically progressive and globalised world found desperately wanting.

But 30 years on, relying on the assistance of retro-styling 'Detroit Iron' have made a re-appearence. Firstly in the guise of a poigniently post-modern Mustang, which through re-interpretation of the original icon produced a much needed income sttream for Ford in recent years. From the Chrysler stable we saw the surprising 4 doo, alternative energy fuelled Charger concept some years ago, but now we witness the production of the 'xerox copy' Challenger re-capturing Dodge's halcyon days. And the last of the trio, GM is set to put the sparkle back into what has become a lacklustre Camaro.

But with gas at $4 a gallon and today's eco-conscious mentality, is the socio-economic climate inhospitable to the return of old school 'muscle'?

"Yes" and "No".

"Yes", in as much as that the rudimentary powertrain technology of the original species is completely inappropriate. And with 4WD turbo-charged lightweighter Japanese spiritual successors - like the Nissan GT-R (taking the Nurburgring production car record) - even the quarter-mile accolades are no longer within reach. So true engineering facsimiles are prohibited on many grounds.

"No", in as mush as technology can do much to negate the downsides of the big muscle-car architype, the new use of advanced materials reducing vehhicle mass and the application of cylinder de-activation (as exploited in large trucks) able to lift the once dismal fuel economy figures for the consumer and assist the automaker's CAFE rating. [Detractors will say that hi-tech has ruined the V8's innate "rumble" and induction "hiss" but as the saying goes "you cannot please all the people all the time")

Evolutionise the breed further still and the use of torotoidal gearboxes helps MPG figures, 0-60 times and the quarter-mile time. But the real gain could come through the exploitation of Series & Parallel Hybrid powertrains. Given the weekend and low mileage 'boulevard' use of such top-spec 'boy's (& girl's) toys', perhaps even the deployment of all electric variants?

Ironically the advantage goes to the muscle car because unlike smaller 'package efficient' Japanese and European sports coupes, the large dimensions of say a Challenger make it favourable to the installation of assistive electric motor(s), deployed for accelerative 'launch' and mid-running 'power punches'.

Taken to its optimum conclusion of balancing performance with fuel efficiency, the combination of a lowly 4 cylinder internal combustion engine allied to a powerful electric motor could possibly be the perfect new formula for today's Intelligent 'Muscle'.

[Remeber, we should nott delude ourselves into thinking that only full-blooded, full-capacity Hemis reigned back in the 60s and early 70s. Like today, the true stars like GT350s, GT500s, Shelby KR500s, 'Judge' GTOs and R/T Chargers and Challengers were only a small percentage of the model mix of volume coupe sales].

Back to today's idea of 'Intelligent Muscle' and a large engine bay could envelope a Series motor between engine and gearbox. Ot a Parallel motor could be intergrated behind/under the rear seats, whilst a 'T', 'Y' or flat battery pack (ideally stabalised L-ion) could be positioned within a sandwich floorpan.

So whilst the reborn version would have the distinctive aesthetic DNA lineage and should theoretically better yesteryear performance figures, new technology would make it a better general drive and take a lesser toll on the wallet at the gas pump.

Introduce these advances in the high calibre 'halo' cars and the joys of 'Intelligent Muscle' could be scaled-up for more populist, high volume modules and populist appreaciation.

"They don't make 'em like they used to anymore.....they're even better!"