My Car Quest

May 25, 2017

Open Letter To Tesla CEO, Elon Musk

by Wallace Wyss –

Hey Elon Musk, I welcome the news that you will be unveiling your electric tractor-trailer truck this September. But I wanted to call your attention to some serious work that’s been done in truck aerodynamics, work that I would say, fits your description of your project, in being “seriously next level.”

First of all, let me explain my interest in this subject, piqued by a TV documentary. There is some TV series, something about “How they are made” which goes to various automakers and shows you how they are made. And it is endlessly fascinating, particularly (to the son of a UAW worker) how much robots have taken over the game.

Luigi Colani Truck

One time I caught part of one of their shows on Peterbilt– one of the great names in trucking. But I was shocked that they showed customers specing out what they wanted on the truck cabs they had custom ordered and it seemed to be that uniformly they wanted:

-A long hood

-A flat straight up radiator

-A straight up near vertical windscreen

Luigi Colani Truck

Now I don’t know if these truck drivers were bent on paying homage to their dads, who might have also been over the road truckers, but you don’t see that mindset in other fields of transportation. I mean do airlines ordering planes ask airplane manufacturers to “make the plane look like the one that Dad flew”.

Luigi Colani Truck

No, in the airline biz, they are constantly striving to make each generation of aircraft more fuel efficient, more aerodynamic and interested in whatever new materials are available to advance that cause.

Now I hear that you, Elon Musk, are talking about making semis and I think this is the chance, the golden opportunity, for the trucking field to make a great leap forward not only in powerplants but in aerodynamics.

Think of the gain in saving fuel nationally if the fuel needs of over-the-road truckers were cut dramatically. That alone could mean the end of the necessity to import Mideast oil.

Luigi Colani Truck

LUIGI COLANI HAD A SOLUTION

Now I am writing to ask you to go back and look at what Luigi Colani wrought. I admit, I once had my doubts about Luigi Colani, an eccentric German industrial designer, born in 1928, whose career goes back to the 1950s, when he reportedly designed cars for companies such as Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Volkswagen, and BMW. In the 1960s, he began designing furniture, and as of the 1970s, his designs ranged from a grand piano to fountain pens.

Luigi Colani

Luigi Colani

My doubts about Luigi Colani are perhaps unfairly based on when he took some Ferraris to Bonneville, cars he had rebodied, and I don’t recall them setting any records. Or even running. That’s like taking an Indy car to Indy and never running it (like Shelby did with his gas turbine car).

And yet Colani has made many an interesting design, some of which were produced, so I give him credit for continually trying to advance the state of the art, no matter what the product he is designing.

He began to think about fuel usage in trucks in 2007, the second time Arab oil skyrocketed in price.

He had already been a designer for more than 40 years by 2008 and had already designed many shapes, which he likes to call “biodynamic concepts” in which he borrows from the contours and rounded angles already found in nature. First of all it’s pleasing to the eye but he considers nature the ultimate designer.

And the beauty of it was, he was not raised in America, thus felt no obligation to make a new truck design look like an old one.

He made the cabs look like helicopter bodywork, and put the engine compartment separately housed.

Of course that was done with conventional engines. With the Tesla approach, there is no need for a huge radiator, so there is no need for a grille.

Once he got the cabs low drag, he could work on the coupling between the trailer and the cab, and fill in that area in between that causes a lot of drag.

He found a sponsor for his concept in 2007 with Siemens, a big European commercial truck builder. The design for them had the two box approach the upper one an aerodynamic fuselage cockpit similar to a helicopter poised above the semi frame and only holding one person (that might have to change…)

It also lacked a steering wheel steered with a single joystick. One reporter described the design as having a “head and beak of a predatory bird in flight.”

That design reduced fuel consumption by 50 percent over a conventional cab. That reduction comes exclusively from exterior aerodynamic changes, without any modifications to the engine.

Luigi Colani Truck

Why didn’t his designs get adopted? Well, that first prototype cost so much ($1 million) that it scared off truck makers.

Back when his design was rolled out, a new 2007 International 9900 semi sold for around $100,000. Which means whoever mass produces an aero design will have to have lots of orders in hand to get the cost down. So far no American truck maker has wanted to take that chance.

Luigi Colani Truck

And then there will be stiff resistance–those truckers I saw in the documentary, stubbornly demanding features (even chrome air horns on the hood!) that their fathers had 40 years before.

Those stick-in-the-mud traditionalists have to be gotten around. And I think you, with the same bravado you showed in the Tesla Model S, are the man to do it.

If the ecology crowd can be enlisted to exert pressure on companies like FEDEX and Walmart to use aerodynamic Tesla Semis, then the rest of the American truck makers, with their ancient diesel- belching trucks, will be shamed into following and the whole nation will benefit.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the Incredible Barn Finds series which can be ordered straight from the publisher by calling (715)381 9755.

 
 

UPDATE

Below are photos of the Colani Bizzarrini GT 5300 sent in by Mike Clarke and his comment.

He turned the 5300 Strada into a sewer drain.


Colani Bizzarrini GT 5300

Colani Bizzarrini GT 5300

 

 

Summary
Open Letter To Tesla CEO, Elon Musk
Article Name
Open Letter To Tesla CEO, Elon Musk
Description
Now that Tesla's Elon Musk has announced that Tesla will make semi-trucks they should consider the designs of Luigi Colani.
Author

Comments

  1. Wow! The images are wild! It’s like James Dean got run over by an Exxon truck! Somehow, I like it! It’s new. It’s different. As a child, I recall my grandpa, a mold polisher who cut his teeth polishing model molds for Revell after the war, actually polishing the back of an oil tanker truck for the owner. It was as shiny as a mirror when he was finished. That one memory has drawn me to pay close attention to 18-wheelers my entire life. It’s about time for a change, since there are so many semis on the road. I spent 7.5 years in Arizona last decade, and it seemed one of every 5 vehicles was a truck coming up from Mexico, delivering goods to Walmart, or even transporting vehicles to the Scottsdale auctions. Things could get visually exciting later this millenium if some of these ideas are finally brought to fruition. Yes, saving fuel would be huge, particularly since we now have well over 30 oil platforms along our country’s coast and we are trying to be more self-sufficient with fuel. Every bit a design conserves will help. Thank you for posting about this Wally.

  2. Edward Matula says:

    I have been a fan of Luigi Colani for over 40 years. His vehicle designs have been extreme at times, but his truck designs are among the most doable for an electric or hybrid and self driving tractor-trailer trucks on the highway. I believe that some of his designs have had prototypes built in Europe and Asia. If this is so it would be less of an investment to actually get a working prototype on the road. Coloani has always been a think out of the box designer. I think its time to take a hard look at the trucking industry and bring it into the 21st century.
    I also encourage Elon Musk to take a hard look at this concept. If he can build cars and plan on going to Mars this should be a piece of cake for him and his designers and engineers.

  3. Edward Matula says:

    PS:
    A friend of mine, American futurist Syd Mead also has had futuristic transportation concepts over the years. I think that they are also worth considering.

  4. Mike Clarke says:

    Wallace,

    Not all trucks are long distance trucks. Many trucks never go farther than 100 miles from home base. The truck industry usually only offers one or two at most of body styles, and when they do offer two they usually include a body style from the past, because truckers are sentimental about those older designs. More importantly the trucks have to be functional. Many trucks are ordered with only a cab and chassis and the owner has the flatbed, dump, fire, logging…… sections added on. So the cab has to be able to accommodate a wide variety of uses. I don’t see those Colani designs being able to do that.

    I envision the solution similar to the Alfa guile super TI, a box shape that has aero design. The Giulia TI was wind tunnel tested by Alfa and although it looked like a box it was more aerodynamically efficient (Cd=0.34) than the company’s sporty GTV of the time.

    Colani was a artist/ designer, but I doubt he ever worked a day of trucking to understand how the trucks designs are about function, strength and maintenance. Colani wasn’t the end all, look what he did to the beautiful Bizzarrini design.

    • wallace wyss says:

      The designer of the Bizzarrini Strada, which originally made its debut as the Iso Grifo A3C, was Giorgetto Giugiaro.
      OK I will concede that what I was writing about was advocating the Colani designs for long haul trucks, the ones doing 500 or so miles a day. But I don’t see why even short haul trucks can’t be more aerodynamic. The shape of the trailer is not nearly as important as what’s initially penetrating the air. What other business can you think of where the customers, for old time’s sake, are insisting that the product look like it did 40, 50 years ago? Ironically in the brewery business way back in the ’40s there were some very aerodynamic tractor trailers and cargo trailers that fit my definition of aero, though I don’t know how they would have done in a wind tunnel. But those designs came and went and we were left with ugly boxes.

      • Mike Clarke says:

        I own a number of big rigs and they do have aerodynamic elements to them even though they look a bit boxy. The manufactures do understand that good aero = fuel savings. If you look carefully you will see many trucks have side skirts between the front and rear wheels. Fairings on the front, collapsible boat tails on the back and lower front ends. I agree the front of the rig can be aero, but it has to be practical, and capable of working with many designs. Colani did re-body a Bizzarrini and it is possibly one of the most hideous designs ever, I wish Mike G would allow picture posts so I could share this train wreck with you. He also did a crazy design on the Miura, even going as far as having some of the widest Campagnolo rims ever made.

        • Someone is selling a table made from those wheels on eBay! Gargantuan coffee table made with a piece of Italian exotic cars history
          For the true Lamborghini aficionado
          Super rare and probably impossible to find pair of original Lamborghini Miura magnesium wheels made in Italy by Campagnolo massive size 15 inch in diameter by 10 inch wide.
          I purchased these wheels several years ago here in Southern California along with a number of other rare wheels all for Italian exotic cars of the 60s and 70s
          The wheels are made out of magnesium which I tested them
          They are marked in the back campagnolo and 40443 BF
          The old gentleman that sold me the wheels told me that at one point in time they could have been modified or they seem to have been modified
          I do not know whether they were factory modified or not
          There are some speculations that they were a prototype rear wheels made for the Jota Miura prototype
          or might have been out of the Luigi Colani’s Miura LeMans Prototype
          Regardless it is an amazing pair of Miura wheels in excellent condition for the age that seem to have very little wear
          with splines in great condition and almost no signs of wear.
          I purchased the wheels with the intention to make a coffee table out of them
          I changed the hub bolts and put some chrome acorn nuts just to make it more striking looking
          Although I do have the original 3/4 moon original bolts that came with it.
          While the center hub spline is in excellent condition and can be used and swapped if you have a damaged one
          I believe the front and rear are exactly the same
          Also a number of early Lamborghini Espada use the same hub
          the wheels itself should be tested should the buyer decide to put them back on a car.
          When I purchased them the magnesium was in excellent condition although they still are 40 some years old wheels.
          The spinners are not original but they look great for display purpose
          I also put matching the air valve caps
          I put an original Lamborghini hood emblem on the glass
          Glass is included in the auction only if there will be a local pick up
          since the glass weighs over 100lbs
          I will although include another Lamborghini hood emblem with heavy duty adhesive back With Miuras reaching the million mark
          original Campagnolo wheels this size are virtually impossible to find
          Local inspection is very welcome or if any additional questions i can be reached via ebay message.
          Local pick up or shipping to all continental USA flat fee $260
          Tires are included size is PRO-TRAC Tubeless 375/60/15

        • Mike Clarke,

          My software, WordPress, does not allow posting of photos, not me!!

          Send me the photo by email and I will add it to the article.

  5. Edward Matula says:

    All vehicles can use wind cheating technology and design. I think this should trickle down to even pickup trucks. Wind tunnel testing should be essential for all modern vehicle designs. This drag reduction would help meet the federal MPG requirements for manufactures.

  6. wallace wyss says:

    Of course Musk has said he is also going to do a pickup truck. Why not when companies like Chrysler are surviving on pickup trucks. They are even catching on in Red China! Although I hate to put all my nickels on one horse, I am hoping Musk debuts a very aero pickup truck along with his aerodynamic tractor trailer because it’s going to take a personality like him to get the truck industry thinking his way. Those guys in that documentary –wanting a truck like dear old dad had–have had their say on tractor trailer design for too long. It’s like cops that still want six shot revolvers when you can have a Glock semi-auto that packs 18 rounds, three times the ammo. Tradition is fine for nostalgia buffs (I bet there are truck concours…)but the stick-in-the-mud resistance by customers to aero has to go away if we want a big increase in efficiency. At times with fracking we were close to not needing any Mideast oil…just making the long haulers aero could help America reach that goal.

    • Mike Clarke says:

      The designs are very interesting but they don’t work in the real world. Example see all those neat air cheating side skirts, they would all eventually be blown off the truck from tire explosions. Exploding truck tires have a force of 12 tonnes. Then theres the issue of serviceability. Having tires visible allows drives to inspect tires and keep them in better condition. Another issue is snow and the ability to use chains. I’m sure Elon will find a compromise.

  7. I posted photos of the Colani Bizzarrini GT 5300 at the end of this article sent to me by Mike Clarke.

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