The significance of aerodynamics in modern electric vehicles (EVs) cannot be overstated. By reducing aerodynamic drag, efficiency is enhanced, resulting in extended range from a given battery-pack size. While this is seen as a cutting-edge development, it is important to recognize that the pursuit of aerodynamic excellence is not a recent obsession.
A fascinating new exhibit, curated by Audi in Germany, sheds light on an earlier era of aerodynamic experimentation. During the 1930s, engineers from Audi’s predecessor companies embarked on a quest to reduce drag in combustion-engined cars by designing unconventional body shapes.
Performance, alongside efficacy, played a key role in driving these innovations. In 1937, Auto Union, which later merged into the modern incarnation of Audi, applied streamlined bodywork to its Type C race car, achieving a mind-boggling top speed of 249 mph during a record-breaking run.
Other manufacturers, such as Chrysler, also ventured into aerodynamic designs during this period. The Chrysler Airflow, introduced in 1934, boasted wind-tunnel-tested styling. However, both the Audi Type C Jaray and the Airflow were ahead of their time, as customer preferences were not aligned with the concept of efficiency back then.
Fast forward to the present, and aerodynamics have become a major selling point for EVs. Manufacturers proudly proclaim the aerodynamic prowess of their vehicles. Lucid Air claims the title of the most aerodynamically efficient luxury car, while Nio suggests that its EC7 is the most aerodynamic SUV globally.
In terms of groundbreaking achievements, the solar-assisted Lightyear 0 achieved a remarkable coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.175, claiming the crown of the most aerodynamic production car overall. Although only a limited number of units were built, this highlights the immense potential for aerodynamic excellence in the EV sector.
As we delve into the history of automotive propulsion, it is worth pondering the impact of electric motors on the prevalence of aerodynamic designs. Had EVs maintained dominance a century ago, would there have been a greater emphasis on aerodynamics in recent decades? How different would today’s cars look if electric motors, rather than internal-combustion engines, had been the prevailing form of propulsion throughout the 20th century?
Join the conversation and share your thoughts below on the untapped potential of aerodynamics in the automotive industry if it had never gone out of fashion.