Supercar: Building the Car of the Future
Sunday May 15 at 11 am on CBC-TV
We've come a long way since the first "horseless carriages" began to transform not just how we get from one place to another, but also how we think about transportation, urbanization, city-planning and personal mobility in general. But with rising fuel prices and growing environmental concerns sounding with ever more frequency, never before has it been so urgent to imagine what next year's model might look like. But there is hope. All over the world there are people trying to figure out how to build the cars of the future.
Prof. Brian Fleck takes a test drive.
Supercar: Building the Car of the Future takes Prof. Brian Fleck on a quest to meet the engineers, designers and even students who are trying to build the car of the future. As a mechanical engineer from the University of Alberta, he can be a tough critic when he confronts solutions that he thinks are unrealistic. On the trail of the car of the future he travels from California's famous freeways to Turin, Italy, getting his hands dirty in labs, factories and even racetracks.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it's youth who are helping to spark the movement towards a more sustainable automobile. In Turin, Dr. Fleck meets Anna Jaffe and Robyn Allen, the two students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-founded the Vehicle Design Summit. They're in Italy working with a group of like-minded international students towards designing a more efficient and sustainable automobile, and Dr. Fleck is there to check in on their progress.
Cellulosic ethanol is derived from plant cellulose, taken from biomass materials such as switchgrass. In contrast to starch ethanol, which is derived from corn, cellulosic ethanol does not come from food sources. On the other hand, cars need to be converted in order to run on it and a way of bringing the cost down is still needed.
Of all the surprises on the journey to find an environmentally and socially sound version of the car, the biggest surprises may come on the racetrack of the American LeMans car race. Recently, a combination of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, more commonly known as E-85 (cellulosic variety, see right), has been powering the next generation of racing car. Says Doug Fehan, Program Manager for Corvette Racing, "They were amazed, because drivers don't like change. They were very reluctant. We put the E-85 in there and right from the get-go there was no performance drop. They couldn't tell any difference at all ... it's powerful, it's safe, it's clean. We know it's the right thing to do."
From hydrogen-powered family sedans to high end fully-electric powered sports cars, and even cars that drive themselves, you'll find plenty of surprises. The ideas are out there, but in order to take full advantage of them we'll have to learn to adapt to them, much as we had to learn to adapt to the changes that came along with the very first automobiles. Perhaps the future is not so far off as we might think - the technology that will transform our societies tomorrow is being developed today. The question is, are we ready?
Supercar: Building the Car of the Future is written and directed by Daniel Zuckerbrot.