Form, Function, ‘Fordability

Editorial – Winter/Spring 2021, Body and Assembly Magazine

Many of us may be able to think of a time or place when we experienced something that we thought was beautiful – perhaps a picture, a person, or a poem. Some of us may have stumbled across it in less likely circumstances – perhaps a textbook on mathematics!

I mention that because I well remember the pleasure that came from seeing how elegantly some equations could be solved, how powerful the tools of mathematics could be, and how indeed it could be called the “queen of the sciences.” However, I also remember learning that no matter how rigorously correct a mathematical solution may be, it may not be a physically acceptable solution.

The problem is that there may be boundary conditions or other restraints that completely rule out what otherwise would be a splendid solution. Are we interested in lightweight automobile bodies for improved fuel economy and performance? There are some excellent technical solutions. Carbon fiber, for example, can do wonders. It can satisfy the functional requirements for mass reduction, safety and durability, while it can also satisfy the form requirements for design esthetics. If, however, we ask if such vehicles are economically viable in a mass market at volumes high enough to impact global fuel consumption significantly, then we realize that any solutions must also deal with the “’fordability” issue.

However, with the declining cost of oil, the US is not experiencing sufficient “pain at the pump”, but, “what goes down must come up”, and tighter emissions standards that there is more receptivity than ever before to measures that will lead to improved fuel economy, despite increased materials or manufacturing costs. The demand for increased fuel economy coupled with that for reduced exhaust emissions is accelerating innovation in lightweighting.

We can certainly expect this to result in increased costs in materials and manufacturing. It is already stimulating re-examination of every aspect of a vehicle in comprehensive efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Form is increasingly being shaped by function: the issue of affordability is becoming one of balancing where the consumer will give their dollars – to the vehicle manufacturers or to the providers of the fuel.

The era of cheap energy in the USA shall come to an end. The reshaping of our vehicles is already occurring. It is intriguing to see these things happen: it is exciting to be among those making them happen.

Dr. M. Nasim Uddin