Should car makers go back to basics?

Remember the early model Skoda, with no water pump, and no fuel pump? OK, it was a pretty ordinary car and the finish was poor. In truth it may be the most boring car ever made.

The idea of keeping it simple was a good one though. It could be sold and used in countries where the automotive dealers only have two screwdrivers, a hammer and a shifting spanner. You could repair a Skoda with very little in the way of tools and equipment, most things were easy to get at for repairs and parts costs were minimal.

Old cars used to run things like windscreen wipers and power brakes off the vacuum from the motor. Most new cars still use this system for power brake assistance.

Why not use all the vacuum power you can get from the motor that would be wasted otherwise?

With the improvements in technology surely we could make these simple components even better yet much cheaper than before. Cadillac and othe luxury cars have used vacuum for many functions. We should be able to do so again, only cheaper and better.

We do not need unusable performance, or the complexity involved in obtaining it..

Apart from being capable of exceeding the speed limit by double what we can drive at legally, cars have gone backwards in some ways.

  • No longer can you rebuild a motor economically. By time you remove all the plastic it's lunch time!
  • Same for the transmission. Too complex by far, in fact not designed to be repaired at all in many cases.
  • If the computer dies, it is a tow away situation. Your exotic car may have to be towed many miles because of a part worth 30 cents when they should have used a 50 cent one.
  • All the electronics adds to complexity and potential total failure of functions such as windows opening, locking the car etc.
  • Environmentally new cars consume a lot more materials.
  • Newer cars clean their exhaust pollution in a catalytic converter. Where emissions testing is not an annual requirement, what often happens is the mechanic sticks a screwdriver through it when it clogs up so the motor will continue to run, but from then on the motor will also dump badly on the environment.
  • Anti pollution devices are only valid if the catalytic converter is changed at the correct intervals. (rarely happens, as they are so expensive to replace.)
  • Anti pollution is only completed if the converter is disposed of properly when it is changed. (again, very expensive to dispose of, and in the real world, seldom happens.)

This car is made of recycled water bottles.

I wonder what would happen if a manufacturer decided to use new technology in a different way entirely.

Example of this would be to:

  1. Make the body out of recycled water bottles. (It has been done already by Hyundai/ QarmaQ experimentally.)
  2. Make seats, dashboard, door linings, mats and carpets from plant fibre. (See my Honda Clarity hub.) The Honda Clarity interior is made from plant fiber, and it is beautiful, comfortable and long lasting.)
  3. Simplify suspension. A simple torsion arm or sealed hydraulic suspension units are a couple of ways to go. ( I was once involved in the development of such a new suspension system that is so simple it would remove most of the unsprung weight.)
  4. Make the roof and door skins operate as solar panels, and use four alternators, one on each wheel to use as brakes to produce more electricity.
  5. Keep the transmission down to a simple spring loaded variable speed belt and pulley system. (used since 1950's in DKW and others.) The DKW worked perfectly. It was adjustable with 3 bolts in the spring loaded pulley, always keeping the motor at or near peak torque. Honda use a computer controlled variation on this Idea in the "Jazz."
  6. Use computers by all means, but leave manual systems in place as well.
  7. Duplicate electrical components that are vital, with Auto switching between units and replacement warning for the expired component. The idea is that when an important component such as a motherboard, relay or engine ignition component fails, it switches to a duplicate component, then triggers a warning light to inform you that you need to replace the failed component.

By going back to basics in car design and production, surely it is now possible to make a very well made cheap car that is very very reliable and available to all countries that require individual transportation such as small cheap cars and food transport vehicles.

The current low priced small car offerings are too complex, too expensive to buy and maintain.

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Comments 19 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

Impressive Earnesthub. You identify the problems and suggest solutions. I bought a Citroen C5 2 years ago, (OK, shoot me). It had more electronics than the space shuttle and constantly went wrong (or announced it was about to do so...like France!). I couldn't wait to loose 1500 quid selling it. Now I have the height of simplicity (don't laugh) a Suzuki Jimney...great little SIMPLE car; had it a year with nary a squeak from it. Computers and cars make unhappy bedfellows...Bob


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Great ideas. And with electric cars coming up in the world solar panels will be a way to go. If the car became light enough one could have pedals as an emergency propulsion system.


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 5 years ago from Australia

What you are saying makes a lot of sense but since when do Auto Makers use common sense. I believe that you would have to start with Governments to force car makers to go back to basics :-)


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you diogenes, I know what you mean about the Citroen C5! The Suzuki Jimney is very reliable indeed and as you say, it is simple. I have never understood why some important electrical and electronic systems are not duplicated on complex cars. So much safer not to be stuck at the side of the road.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Alex, I wonder if the entire car body could be impregnated with solar circuits?

Pedals would be a great help for smaller vehicles when they break down or run out of fuel.


darkside profile image

darkside 5 years ago from Australia

I had to do a double take the other day when I drove past the Newcastle Skoda dealership. The cars looked quite shiny, if not impressive, yet I had a flashback to the old Skoda's and thought 'surely this can not be'.

Aside from the mention of Skoda luring me in, this is a very insightful and thought provoking article. Well done Earnest!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you agvulpes, I fear you are right.

Henry Ford was the last one to give a damn about the buyer, and he didn't care much either!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you darkside, The new Skoda is made by Volkswagen as I recall. I better go update that on my "who makes your car" hub as well. Glad to provoke your thoughts anytime!


Karen Wodke profile image

Karen Wodke 5 years ago from Midwest

I'm all for just a basic economy car that gets you where you need to go, does it cheaply, has a heater and AC, and windows that roll down by hand. Basic.

Great article!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Karen, a heater and air conditioner do need to be included. It is a lot safer driving when one is comfortable. I have a design for vacuum operating windows that is very light and simple. I would still like window winders though.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

A great hub as always. My son has a Vauxhall Corsa and learned a lot already to maintain in good order. He is very interested but would dearly learn properly. He is always watching that American program on TV and I tease him saying it is his Bible class.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Hello, hello. I hope your son gets as much pleasure from learning about cars as I have. Being keen is half the battle. I still read and learn daily about the auto industry.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks for the comment akulkarni. Style and technical innovation is always changing, but we seem to miss the fact that advances in materials means that we can combine light weight with other efficiencies to create a better car, not just one with lot's of gadgets, but one with gadgets that are simple, don't fail and can be repaired.

Simplicity lies within complexity, so this is my argument for a better way of making simple cars.


kims3003 5 years ago

Very good points! Well done hub! You are very knowledgable in this area and it surely shows in this article.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Kim. I enjoy toying with ideas for new cars, and I am enjoying the comments here as well. Thank you for the nice compliment too. Much appreciated.


Openears 5 years ago

A couple of points - The catalytic converter doesn't store anything. It is a catalyst, meaning it makes it easier for chemical reactions to occur. The pollutants are changed into less obnoxious stuff, like carbon dioxide.

The other point is that many of the changes you've mentioned are expensive and complicated. Using solar panels as an example: they cost a lot, produce very little electricity for the amount of area you are talking about, require electronics to do something with the electricity, batteries, and somehow they have to be made to fit on the car.

Stick to simple. Try a Geo Metro, a motorcycle, public transportation, or share a car with someone.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you for pointing out the error about converters, of course I do know they don't store the pollution. They do contain a lot of nasty pollutants themselves when they are no longer working though, and are filled with a honeycomb impregnated with Palladium or Platinum and need to be disposed of properly.

Solar cells are getting cheaper by the minute by the way, and one of the latest panels is flexible, so could be located anywhere easily.

Solar is not intended to do more than avoid battery drain by providing long term low returns to maintain the temperature of the interior when parked on a hot day, run the radio etc.

As for motorcycles, the complexity and over performance of today's motorcycles mean you are no better off than with a car.

Motorcycle fuel consumption is also quite high unless you get around on a 100cc toy that is unsafe at any speed with a passenger or at highway speeds.

Most motorcycles don't do better than a modern diesel car engine for fuel consumption, maintenance is expensive and consumables are more expensive than for cars.

Check the frequency of replacement and price of motorcycle rear tires, chains, sprockets, front suspension legs etc.

I would have preferred that you contribute rather than just knock what has been proposed. You offer very little support for your argument.


Jordan 4 years ago

You should check your facts about motorcycles. I have an '07 sportster that gets 60 miles to the gallon on the highway, and is most certainly not a 100cc toy. I can do my grocery shopping with it, go to school with it, and unless it is snowing I ride it everywhere. Part are plentuful and cheap when one realizes that shopping at a dealership is NEVER the way to go. Other than that you have some great ideas and I for one would love seeing cars go back to simple! I like being able to fix my Harley on the side of the road and would like to be able to do the same with my car and NOT carry a trunk full of tools!


Bize 2 years ago

welllll i guess there are some shitty cars in here but hell its not my daemrs .more zonda's and skylines less maro's says my dream.

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