Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet? We want to see the engine!

Why modern cars have so much plastic under the bonnet? We want to see the engine!

There is one thing you will not see under the bonnet of a modern car – it’s the engine. Nowadays, it is always hidden under several layers of plastic, moulded to look like some mechanical parts. They don’t even look good and you have to dig through them if you want to do any maintenance or repair work. But why every single car has these plastic engine covers? Why do car manufacturers bother to spend extra time and money to make them?

Not so long ago car engines were designed to be easily accessible and to look good. In the beginning of the previous century car manufacturers actually worked hard to make their engines pretty. They chose different metals, neatly organized fuel lines and wires and painted various parts different colours. All of that was expensive and time consuming, but such manufacturers as Packard, Daimler, Duesenberg and others did it anyway. Even Ferrari was always praised for how well its engines were dressed and how beautiful it looked inside and out, but now it is also falling under the plastic trend. But what changed?

Well, a lot of things. Back when Packard was one of the top premium brands, people actually admired engines. The internal combustion engine was the cutting edge of technology and not that many people could afford to own one. Nowadays cars a mundane and boring – everyone has one and no one wants to look at the engine. We, car enthusiasts, still do, but to be honest we don’t buy that many cars. And so manufacturers resorted to the function-over-form mentality, saving cost in the process. Investing into the looks under the bonnet is not a priority anyway, because no one buys the car just because it has a beautiful engine bay.

The engine of the 1910 Packard. (David Berry, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

A plastic engine cover hides unsightly rat’s nest of wires and fuel lines, while making them still quite easily accessible. A nicely dressed engine bay typically means that some components can be hard to reach for repair. When you have a big piece of plastic hiding everything, you don’t have to worry about the looks – it is the cheapest way to keep the engine bay looking tidy. This is equivalent to cleaning the mess off of your desk straight into the drawer – out of sight, out of mind.

Ferrari used to be famous for its well-dressed engines. (Sfoskett, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.5)

However, plastic is not that bad. Sure, metal looks nicer, but it is easier to control the quality of the plastic. It also doesn’t add too much weight on top of the engine, allowing for a lower centre of gravity. Finally, plastic engine covers can be heat-resistant and absorb vibrations, making the sound of the engine just that little bit quieter.

Even luxury car manufacturers are hiding their engines under some cheap plastic covers. (Autoviva, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

And so, plastic is here to stay. Even luxury car manufacturers are hiding their engines under several layers of plastic. And we cannot blame them. Covers do make the engine bay look clean and tidy, they are light, heat resistant and cheap to make. In fact, it is likely that in the future engines are going to be tucked away even more and not accessible without specialized equipment.


Top 3 best looking headquarters of car manufacturers – why geko does not bring luck?

Top 3 best looking headquarters of car manufacturers – why geko does not bring luck?

Car manufacturers have to protect their image. While everyone knows that the looks of a car are very important, some companies make sure to establish their headquarters in amazingly beautiful buildings. In this article we look at three car manufacturers who are unexpectedly known for the architecture as well as good cars.

Why exterior aesthetics of a building matters for car companies? Well, as we said, it is part of company‘s image. Automakers are trying to put their best foot forward and to not be associated with something ugly or boring. While a bad car model will soon be forgotten, an ugly building is here to stay. These three, however, are anything but ugly.

BMW Headquarters

BMW Headquarters in Munich was built from 1968 till 1972 – it was finished for summer Olympics, since the building is standing very close to the Olympic village. Immediately it became recognized as one of Munich’s architectural greats and up until now people love how it blends into the skyline of the city. In fact, this 101 metre tall skyscraper has a status of a protected historic building.

BMW Towar and a museum – it is all made to look like engine components (Diego Delso, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

BMW tower is actually composed of four big cylinders, made to mimic cylinders of the engine. Interestingly, they are not even touching the ground as they are supported by the central column. Because a four cylinder engine is very important in BMW’s history, the building is made to reflect that. There is a museum building right next to the skyscraper and it is made to represent a cylinder head. Both buildings were designed by the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer.

McLaren Technology Centre in Woking

McLaren is a famous supercar manufacturer that has a rich history in motorsports. Its headquarters, called McLaren Technology Centre, are located in Woking, Surrey, England and consist of four buildings. Everything is accomplished here: street car production, racing car manufacturing, technology development and so on. It is also home of McLaren Formula 1 team.

The construction of the complex started in 1999 and the first building was completed in 2003. However, the automotive plant was not ready until 2011, which is also when production of MP4-12C, the first model of the reborn brand, started. The complex looks very futuristic and features clean lines and green surroundings. There are four artificial lakes in the area, the biggest one is places side by side with the main building and together they form a circle. The McLaren Technology Centre was designed by architect Norman Foster.

There are four artificial lakes around McLaren Technology Centre. (Mike Dodman, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

While no one knows for sure how much did it cost to build this complex, the investment was huge. But McLaren says it was necessary – it is much nicer to work in a clean, beautiful and silent place. It is more inspiring and is likely to attract the best engineers and experts.

Wiesmann factory and showroom in Dülmen

Wiesmann was one of those little, unique car manufacturers that disappeared because of financial problems. It was established in 1988 and released its first car in 1993. The speciality of Wiesmann has always been little, lightweight roadsters with running gear from BMW performance cars. They were fast, high-quality and rather beautiful. Even the Wiesmann logo – a shiny gecko – was quite unique and loved by automotive enthusiasts. For the most part, factory building was a very simple industrial construction, but everything changed in 2008.

Wiesmann, arguably, had the most beautiful building, but it did not bring financial luck to the company. (WinfriedSchneider, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 2008 Wiesmann built an addition to serve as a showroom. And, sure enough, it was shaped like a gecko. Many car magazines and TV shows showed this new feature of Wiesmann factory every time they were speaking about brand’s cars. However, not everyone knows that this gecko was made from wood. Sadly, it didn’t bring the company financial luck and Wiesmann was liquidated in May 2014.

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5 weirdest professions in car industry today: what the heck is a car sommelier?

5 weirdest professions in car industry today: what the heck is a car sommelier?

Car manufacturers are probably the most respected employers in the world. In fact, major automotive companies are always among the Top10 potential employers in Germany and it is easy to understand why. Car manufacturers are always trying to improve ergonomics and safety in the workplace, are reliable, and stable. And they pay higher salaries than the average. However, some of the jobs in the auto industry are a little odd.

When you imagine yourself working at an automotive plant, you think you would be sitting by a computer all day or actually assembling cars. But there is much more to it than you’d imagine. SEAT, a Spanish car manufacturer, just revealed the five strangest professions in the automotive industry. While they are bizarre and probably not included in the dreams of people seeking to work in the industry, these jobs are crucial to a successful car manufacturer.

It takes 2,500 kilos of clay and up to 10,000 hours of scraping to create a single clay model. Image credit: SEAT

The clay sculptor. Before a new model enters production, it has to be perfected in many ways. And of course, a majority of the designing process is carried out by computers. However, when car designers reach a certain stage in the process they need to see the end product in flesh – in a brown muddy flesh, to be precise. So they make life-sized clay models of the cars which they are going to produce.

The process requires 2,500 kilos of clay, giant CNC machines to sculpt it and a human sculptor, who may spend 10,000 hours patient scraping it. It is a tedious yet very important task, because clay models essentially lock the design. It is the last opportunity to fix mistakes and see how the car will look like when it hits the streets. One could just wonder if no one did a clay model of the Fiat Multipla…

Each car is driven on various surfaces to detect unwanted noises. Image credit: SEAT

The first driver. When the car is finished, it might as well be handed straight to its new owner. However, no one knows if all these parts have lined up correctly. So a new car has to be tested. Specialized drivers test them in six different types of pavement, including cobblestones and uneven surfaces in order to detect unpleasant noises that the car might be making. The first drivers also test horns, lights, brakes and other essential components.

You didn’t know those exist, did you? The job of a car sommelier is to ensure that pleasant new-car aroma. Image credit: SEAT

Car sommeliers. Sommelier, of course, is an expert at fine wines. One of the ways of experiencing these fermented beverages is smelling them. You know where I’m going with this. Car sommeliers are responsible for the smells in a new vehicle. They have to test every material used in the interior of the car, to try and detect unpleasant smells until the owners get to enjoy them.

The process involves heating up the car, or separate elements of it, to temperatures around 60 degrees Celsius. Then people smell those different materials and evaluate their odour. Car sommeliers cannot smoke or wear perfume, and they perform over 400 tests in the SEAT factory every year. Like that new car smell? Now you know who is responsible for it.

Seat design takes a lot of trial and error. Image credit: SEAT

The seat tester. Everyone who gets into a car uses its seats (unless it is some sort of hostage situation we don’t want to talk about). And so they have to be very comfortable. SEAT employs specialists who test various materials, padding configurations, seat shapes and so on. People of all shapes and sizes must feel comfortable in the car. Also, seats have to be safe in case of accidents – headrests have to be designed and tested to provide maximum support in case of an accident.

30 metres of seams are needed to fully upholster an entire car. Image credit: SEAT

The car tailor. The car interior is constructed out of many different pieces of fabric and leather. Imagine endless colour combinations and you will get why SEAT worries so much about car tailors. They are responsible for making the interior look and feel nice. Everything you touch has to ooze quality. It is such a big task that these creations are actually crafted two years in advance before a new model is introduced to the market.

There are many different professions involved in making a car. Nowadays, car factories look like laboratories with  research rooms and various experiments. People with lab coats walk around automotive plants every day and electron microscopes surprise no one. Wouldn’t you want to be a car sommelier? That would be something cool to brag about at parties.

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