The 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge – which asked designers to come up with an efficient 1,000lb (454kg), four-passenger vehicle that maintained comfort, safety, driving-performance and style – has finished in a tie between GM’s Cadillac Aera concept and the Smart 454 from Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design.
Previously, the Design Challenge was restricted to major Southern California automotive design studios but this year saw the field widen to include studios from Germany and Japan, resulting in entries from Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Maybach.
The Cadillac Aera’s win marked the third win for the General Motors Advanced Design California studio in the competition’s short seven-year history. Although it’s designed as a small urban vehicle, the designers approached the Aera (Aero + Era) from Cadillac’s luxury perspective. The 2+2 touring coupe is powered by compressed air via a Pneumatic Drive System that has a 10,000-psi composite air storage tank with a capacity for a 1,000-mile range.
Instead of conventional body panels and glass, the exterior of the Aera is made of a flexible polymer skin that is ultra-lightweight and optimizes aerodynamics. Additionally, pressurized air cells in the skin, which is similar to material developed for the NASA Mars Rover airbags, help cushion the blow in the event of an accident.
The exterior skin sits over the top of a 3D lattice, mono-formed frame that was designed to be similar to configurations consistently found in nature. The lightweight frame is manufactured using a “unique, alloy-utilizing, semi-solid freeform” process, while all major body parts, including interior components, are essentially “grown” into a single part lattice structure.