General Electric Vector


Here's the deal with electric cars…driverless cars…well, whatever little capsules our kids will be whipping around in: the cost of doing business will be a fraction of what it is now.

There's no emissions testing, because there are no emissions. Battery makers are eager to sell their wares, because the mass production of these components is both hidden from view and far less expensive once scaled up. (Provided we can tap all of the rare earth metals from Chinese mines…and forget about the environmental cost…) 

Electric motors? Easy to make, there are few parts. A V8? Hah! Transmissions? How many of you (very intelligent, mechanically apt) could draw a diagram of how one works? I know I'd be sneaking a peek at Google…

If you think that it's hard finding a carburetor expert these days, imagine a mechanic able to fix a DSG, early CVT—or god forbid, a single clutch plate R-Tronic transmission—15 years from now. Better start hoarding owner's manuals for cars you may someday want to own, lest there's any questions about how to service your 2016-or-never NSX's Super Handling-All Wheel Drive system.

The upstarts will have another advantage, one that will lead to experts proclaiming the auto industry is experiencing death by 1,000 cuts: production methods that require little-to-no expensive tooling will be quickly adapted for use by, uh, anyone who can make lots of plastic. Maybe there will be an arms race between those who have 3D printers and the old-school injection moulding experts.

Maybe 3M will start pumping out chin spoilers, fastened with easy-to-remove adhesives.

Here, we have a Citroën AX that was reimagined in 1986 by the Centre of Automotive Engineers in the Netherlands, with the cooperation of a General Electric plastics division. (It's also not the first GE car, but one of many: the Centennial Electric GE-100, Delta, Max, and Scope are its relatives.)

You're looking at thermoplastic body panels, plastic engine sump, and plastic interior parts. The team built two cars, with the second up for sale a year ago on Ebay—and not likely sold. The first car was a running, driving prototype, while the second was more of a demonstration machine, a "pusher" that had all of the mechanical components of the original Citroën, plus as many extra plastic bits as possible, including the valve cover, door frames, radiator frame, and a number of other smaller parts.

Apart from the knowledge that the plastic helped shed some weight from the already feather-like, 1.4-litre 4-cylinder powered AX, I have no idea what its performance was like. I have no idea if it sounded like a ball pit in an earthquake when driving over train tracks. 

I also have no idea how much all of this engineering cost GE, though for a company that size it may have amounted to what it spends on paperclips every year.

So when your friends and family are marvelling at how inexpensive (and plastic-filled) cars of the future will be, or when your enthusiasts buddies bemoan the loss of the gated shifter and launch control, be happy that "the future" has been a long time coming—and you're not surprised by any of it.