2020 Models to Shrink and Lose Weight

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The average car of 2020 will be the size of the subcompact Elantra, according to the CEO of Hyundai.

Since 2010 models are already starting to appear in showrooms, it’s a good time to take a decade-ahead look at what we’ll be driving in 2020. A panel of experts—as in the folks who will be deciding what those models will be—gathered to address the subject at the recent Automotive News World Congress. While they didn’t agree on everything, the consensus was that in 10 years, cars will be smaller, lighter and have more variety in powertrains and fuel choices.

Such a move would reverse the trend of the past several decades where models grew in size and weight.

The biggest change for consumers will be the variety of choices in propulsions systems to consider. The panelists said to expect plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, in addition to the hybrids and diesel vehicles already on roads.

The group of experts included the heads of new model and powertrain development for the Detroit Three, the CEO of Hyundai, and the chief technology officer at Magna International, a major auto supplier. Though not represented on the panel, the largest Japanese and European manufacturers would likely concur with the 2020 forecasts, based on their announced product plans.

Losing weight was a major theme. That would be the main development in coming decade according to Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development. Hyundai’s CEO John Krafcik said he expected the average car of 2020 to be the size of Hyundai’s subcompact Elantra—or the similar Ford Focus. The group expects small engines to evolve to give some of the fuel economy gains needed to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards.

Barb Samardzich, Ford’s vice president for global powertrain engineering, said she concurred that the cars of 2020 will have to be lighter, smaller and more efficient, but thought government regulation would help determine the powertrain choices. Magna International’s chief technology officer, Ted Robertson, said the wide variety of powerplants will proliferate, including more fuel-efficient small gas engines, hybrids, diesels, and electric vehicles. Robertson echoed the theme of small, saying that these powertrains will be used in vehicles that have been optimized with weight-saving materials.

The panelists expressed little doubt about the downsizing of vehicles and the emergence of hybrid and electric powertrains. “The only question is how fast the new technologies are going to roll out,” said Jon Lauckner, GM vice president for global program management.

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  • sean t

    Hope that trend includes SUV monsters.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not buying until they DO make a full size suv! Check this out-


  • Boom Boom

    Whoah! Awesome! Rasertech has made a system that makes the wheels of a Hummer turn at over 80 mph… when not touching the ground… I wonder why these guys don’t show the thing actually driving…. This makes the Volt look like a fully functioning vehicle with 100,000 units sold. The movie is little more than a bunch of guys playing with an electric motor.

    The trend must include SUV monsters. A station wagon (not a beefed-up crossover) can hold just as much gear as a SUV and gets the mileage of a sedan. Smaller cars, more intelligently designed, can meet all of the needs of families. Hopefully trucks will return to their rightful place as work vehicles, not play things and status symbols.

  • Ross Nicholson

    I just do not understand something. How are they so sure that the size of cars will shrink? After all, nobody in the car business makes truly aerodynamic vehicles. Todays cars are designed to perform best standing still rather than on actual roads. Those crazy open wheel wells do show off fancy draggy wheels, and without boat tails it makes better sense to stay in the driveway. I can see them getting lighter in weight since cars are now made mostly from the heaviest abundant metals on the planet, including lead. Lithium batteries have been available for years now but no automaker uses them. The reasons we suffer when buying fuel must be the corporate inertia, incompetence, and inherent myopia of the automobile manufacturers.

  • JH

    2020 …. will we have the volt?

  • Boom Boom

    It is easy to blame big business or big government. The government let MPG standard slack and fuel taxes drop. The automakers deserve a great deal of blame for the state of our current auto fleet, but we consumers also deserve a lot of blame for not demanding and buying more fuel efficient vehicles. If we would have only bought higher MPG cars and ignored the big SUVs and low MPG V8s, the auto industry would not have made them. Aerodynamics is only going to get us so far in moving towards higher MPG. Engine size and vehicle weight are big factors as well.

  • Michael Harmon

    I have a 55 mile commute, twice a day, so I see a lot of what is on the road. Just the other day it ocurred to me that most of the big name cars from Japan like Nissan, Tovota, Mazda and Honda have gotten bigger every year since they started selling in the USA. Look at a Civic from 20 yrs ago next to one today. I’ll bet the new one is 4 ft longer. Nearly the same for Nissan and the rest. Why do cars sold in the USA always become overweight, bloated behemoths.

    I have also noticed that most US made cars have become smaller since the days of the land yachts; like the late 1970s. Due to this shrinking of full size American cars, I know many people who could not find a car big enough to suit their taste so they went to SUVs, and supercab trucks.

    I just don’t understand this thinking. but, it does exist. I think there is going to have to be a tax penalty on weight combined with an incentive on efficiency to ever make the average citizen accept smaller and lighter cars. That’s part of the reason Europeans drive mini cars.

  • Anonymous

    If you look at films from the early 1930’s you see a mix of horse drawn wagons and Tin Lizzies on the road. In 2020, we again will have a mix of vehicles that only burn fossil fuel, non hybrids and hybrids like the current Prius, and BEV’s and Plug in Hybrids, that burn domestic energy. One technology will be on the way out, and one will headed toward dominance.

    Currently the indication is Lithion ion batteries cost about $750 per KWh, so to put 10 or more KWh of usable capacity adds greatly to the cost of the vehicle, slowing its adoption. But folks keep talking as if the cost of lithium batteries will be cut in half in the next few years, which would speed adoption. Time will tell

  • Samie

    Back to the comments of Ross Nicholson & Boom Boom

    Whats going on here is costs. If auto manufactures have to meet new gov w/ consumer demands they will be forced to look at ways to cut costs in production or their labor. Not an expert on this but lots of carbon fiber material may replace some metal components in cars or things like Lithium will mature on the market with possibilities of new technology aiding efficiency. If the gov lags behind like they did since the late 70’s we will get nowhere b/c the industry will have to rely on what some say is over bloated V8 non efficient vehicles and not look at smaller vehicles as profitable. I agree that SUV’s and station wagon types should be part of the equation but large SUV’s may always have significant/additional costs as more technology is needed to improve efficiency. As for work trucks I’m not a fan of V8’s at all we should get rid of the V8 in trucks and only have V6 and diesel. Trucks like a article a day or so ago should be important in future technological advances for those who need full size trucks and put on heavy amt of miles from office to the work site each day.

    As for consumers we always contradict ourselves eg gas lows and highs related to auto sales. Larger cars or trucks for status symbols or those who just don’t care about emissions from their tailpipe or fuel efficiency b/c they can afford whatever the pump price is or some believe that they should not have to “pay” for hybrid or fuel technology because they don’t believe in global warming/or paying for something that has a collective benefit that is they don’t receive most of the benefits for themselves. These might not be a good egs. but I’m not sure left up to only consumers we can have the same amount of influence that gov has bc of the contradicts/stigmatization that sometimes divide us.

  • hong

    The Volt is coming this 2010. Be ready a new revolution is approaching.

  • lkaymart

    If we have electric cars, wouldn’t it be possible to have electric highways? We have an interstate highway system which could be used to power our vehicles as well as coordinating traffic flow. There’s also a lot of empty space which could be used for solar generation. You could travel hundreds of miles on the interstate and exit with fully charged batteries for local travel. I think that in fifty years or so, people will be aghast at the idea of tens of thousands of internal combustion engines belching their exhaust into the air of a crowded city.

  • Zero X Owner

    @ Anonymous:

    Due to the massive torque available from the start, one of the best uses for electric drive is high performance (see Tesla Roadster Sport edition), off-road and heavy duty applications (think diesel- electric drive trains, mining dump trucks and buses in operation today). GM’s tentative step into the latter, using gas instead of diesel, the full size dual mode SUVs, have not sold well to date, but the concept electric Jeep that Chrysler put out is on point. Keep in mind that the worse shape the company is in general, the better (as in, people would actually want and buy this in huge amounts) the vaporware concepts they show, though (Chrysler’s electric Dodge Europa based racer and Jeep, and GM’s Chevy Volt and Cadillac Converj as examples). 2010 gets my next vehicle purchase – it’ll be 100% electric drive again.

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  • Joe Heller

    Well it’s about time! I think car companies are realizing that people don’t want to buy gas-guzzlers anymore.