June 22, 2018
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was the mantra of the ‘60s auto makers, creating the horsepower race; the fuel crisis and pollution concerns of the ‘70s brought a need to consider aerodynamics and while the science had existed for years in the aviation industry, it took the ‘80s for car makers to catch on.
Today, you may be hard-pressed to tell a Ford from a Honda and since crossovers are the rage, their shapes are determined by interior space, power train packaging, federal regulations and production feasibility. The main reason they look alike is, you guessed it, aerodynamics.
Physics tells us that the ideal shape for a car is a raindrop; however, engineers have the philosophy that they work on the part you can’t see first, smoothing and aligning the bottom so that what they create on top is, according to Andrew Smith, head of design for Cadillac, “visually distinctive but aerodynamically anonymous.” To quote Ezra Dyer from Popular Mechanics, “with most designs based on aerodynamic efficiency, it’s incredible that cars look different at all.”
Wind tunnel testing is still a basic need, but computer simulations can do the same thing in less time. Since aerodynamic principles are fixed, cars can no longer passively travel through the air, they manipulate it to their advantage with air dams, spoilers and adjustable ride height.
GM’s Suzy Cody says, “design matters and active aero helps enable design.” Why does an electric car have a grill? Jaguar responds, “We’re still building our brand.”