There’s an old engineering joke that says the definition of an Engineer is a person who solves problems that you didn’t know you had, in ways that you don’t understand. Looking at the car market today, I’m more convinced than ever that car manufacturers have EXCELLENT engineers. Cars are constantly being filled with gadgets and gimmicks that we never knew we needed. Soon we can’t live without them! But it does beg the question; do these engineers sometimes go a little bit too far?
Hybrid cars are probably a pretty good example of this. Despite “mainstream science” pointing fingers at cars and carbon emissions, the truth is we simply don’t understand climate change. We know it’s happening and we have some pretty solid theories, but truth be told, there are many factors that are not fully understood. Therefore Hybrid cars are trying to solve a problem that we are not even 100% sure exists. Not only that, but if cars really are the planet killers they are made out to be, best estimates are that they make up less than 4% of the actual problem.
Fitting 2 engines to a car that previously only needed 1
Surely, any effort to reduce emissions is worth while though, right? Well, yes…. Except that hybrids don’t really do as much as they claim to. Plus if you ask me, with regards the pursuit of trying to combat excessive use of the earth’s resources. Fitting 2 engines to a car that previously only needed 1, is probably not the best way to set about things.
Hybrids are not all bad though. They did open the doors for hybrid hypercars. Cars that use the technology not to make them more efficient, but just to add more power. This is a concept I can solidly get behind. It’s a bit like encouraging vegetarianism so that there is more steak left over for me.
This engineering for engineering’s sake trend has found its way into other cars as well though – into most cars in fact. Digital dashboards for example. They don’t really solve any kind of problem. Yes you can now configure them to display more information. Unfortunately, studies have shown that drivers in modern cities are already overloaded with information. Dashboards should be made simpler, not more complicated.
highly configurable engineering
And the screens don’t stop there either! Buttons are fast disappearing in favour of the touch screen. Credit where credit’s due, some of these systems are incredibly good, user friendly and highly configurable. But what was wrong with a simple button? Manufacturers will tell you all kinds of weird and wonderful theories and reasons. At the end of the day, a touch screen is easier to design, and cheaper to manufacture than a dashboard full of buttons.
Need more examples of engineering for engineering’s sake? How about these crazy LED tail lights? Yes, LED’s light up quicker and brighter than a conventional bulb. And if your car is electric LED’s use less energy too. However, have you ever replaced a bulb on a conventional tail light? Of course you have, dual filament bulbs are around R40 each, and single filament bulbs can be had for as little as R12 from Midas. LED light fails, the entire cluster has to be replaced. Having recently priced a replacement cluster for a more modern car, I can tell you – you could replace a thousand single filament bulbs for the price of an LED rear cluster. LED lights do look cool, but what problem did they really solve? Was it worth the cost?
Excessive engineering even finds its way into engines. It’s almost impossible to buy a new car that doesn’t have a turbo on it. However, turbos have got many advantages that come with them, so I guess we could let them slide, provided there are still some naturally aspirated options to choose form.
to be able to fit a V6 engine into a smaller engine bay
I’m thinking more along the lines of the VAG group’s W-engines. As fitted in the Bugatti’s, Bentleys and VW Phaeton. The engine layout was originally designed to be able to fit a V6 engine into a smaller engine bay. Thus the VR6 was born. Bolt 2 of them together on a common crank and you have a W12. Don’t get me wrong, the W12 twin turbo you find in Bentley Continentals is a ridiculously cool engine. It has mountains of torque, lots of power and can boast having 12 cylinders in a relatively compact package.
However, the heads on these engines are incredibly complex as each side of the engine essentially has a cylinder head that covers 2 banks of cylinders. There is added complexity to the cooling system, the crankshaft, the cams – in fact it’s a wonder these engines run at all. The engine also ends up being very wide and quite heavy, making it difficult to package into the car. Not to mention very difficult to work on and gain access to certain components. Given that the engine is turbo charged anyways, similar outputs could easily be had from a twin turbo V8.
the Bugatti engineering is a special case
A V8 would not only be lighter, much simpler and more efficient, but probably more reliable too. It certainly wouldn’t generate as much heat as the W12 and would cost a fraction in maintenance costs. The W16 in the Bugatti would have to face similar criticism, however, the Bugatti is a special case. A car that literally exists as an exercise in excessive engineering.
So perhaps there is room in the automotive industry for over engineering, excessive engineering and even heavy engineering. For the most part though, I would certainly prefer dials over screens, buttons over touch screens, naturally aspirated displacement over turbo charged hybrids and most importantly vroom over hum.