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Lotus dreams a lightweight crossover for 2020

Exotic materials and smarter technology will boost fuel efficiency for mainstream cars, although costs stand in the way.

By Exhaust Notes Dec 6, 2012 11:54AM
There is no such thing as a Toyota Venza Exige S. But by 2020, something like the lightweight, slimmed-down crossover concept pictured here will need to exist if the world's biggest automakers want to stay in business.

The design comes from none other than Lotus, the British sports-car maker that has been preaching an "add lightness" philosophy for more than 60 years. While the design is strictly a paper exercise, the challenge of meeting higher fuel-economy mandates by 2025 almost guarantees that cars have to become lighter, if not smaller. The project, commissioned by the California Air Resources Board, was to develop a mass-production vehicle for sale in 2020 with a 23 percent cut in fuel consumption.

CARB sets the most aggressive emissions targets in the country, and all but commands automakers to build electric cars to meet its zero-emissions mandates. But for the Lotus concept, the state agency didn't specify a powertrain. Rather, Lotus relied on its prowess with lightweight materials and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Lotus took a 2009 Toyota Venza as its base and cut all the fat. The result is a sleeker body that weighs 1,162 pounds less, without sacrificing room, performance or safety, the company said. That's a 37 percent difference from today's Venza. 

The superleggera Venza uses aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel and composites such as carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic to form a body shell that is 31 percent lighter and has 20 percent greater torsional stiffness. The body requires 100 fewer parts to assemble with what Lotus calls "advanced joining and bonding techniques."

Lotus has built its reputation for fast, featherweight sports cars that are among the best-handling cars in the world, including the famous open-wheeled Seven of the 1960s and the modern-day Elise and Exige, which tip the scales at around 1 ton (that's around 800 pounds less than a Corolla). Toyota supplies engines and gearboxes, all plucked from mainstream cars such as the Camry, for the current Lotus lineup.

Lotus concept for Toyota Venza (c) Lotus

Since it's a fuel-efficient Toyota, the concept Venza uses a hybrid powertrain by default. But Lotus goes much further, even suggesting that the foot wells be stripped to the bare aluminum, just as in its Elise sports car. "A similar technique is used to decorate wood and tile floors in houses, where the owner places a rug on a hardwood floor," Lotus said.

Lotus doesn't mention the incessant noise issues that would result from using a stripped floorboard, but it recommends installing active noise cancellation to cut down on insulation materials. New seats made with lighter foam, an electronic parking brake, a digital instrument panel and touch-capacitive buttons like on the Cadillac Cue system all help to reduce weight, Lotus said. Redesigned suspension components and Brembo brakes complete the package.

Toyota experimented with a carbon-fiber-bodied hybrid concept in 2007, and even invented a special looming machine to weave its own threads for the Lexus LFA supercar. Other car companies are intent on cutting curb weights to boost fuel economy, but lightweight materials are still too expensive to use on mainstream models. At more than $3,000 per body shell, the Lotus design is more than double the cost of today's Venza.

All we can think about is keeping the Venza's punchy V6 in this skinny body and throwing in some hip-hugging Recaros. Whatever Lotus may dream up, we know Toyota won't ever do that.

[Source: Lotus]
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