Part of the fun of watching car companies scramble to improve fuel efficiency is seeing how their engineers inch closer and closer toward designing the Batmobile. So it was with a squeal of geeky delight that we first heard from Chevrolet about how its 2011 Cruze Eco would have the ability to “morph” on the fly to render it more of a gas sipper. A new design feature “literally allows the vehicle to change shape” to make it more aerodynamic, one of their press people told FastCompany.com.
Well, kind of. Inside the front grill of the car is an shutter system that opens and closes automatically, depending on the car’s speed. When the car is zooming, the shutters close to reduce drag; when the car slows, they open to cool the engine. As far as “changing shape” goes, this is about as dramatic as opening or closing your window. Other car companies have used similar devices, Chevy engineer Greg Fadler informs us, though this is the first GM product to do so, and “there are some innovative components in terms of how and when we actuate it.”
Still, the innovation is nothing to sniff at. According to Chevy, the shutter system contributes about a half mile per gallon in fuel efficiency. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that in trying to improve performance while keeping costs down (“hybridlike efficiency without the hybrid price tag,” Chevy has promised; the Eco should start at $18,895), engineering is really a process of slight refinement upon slight refinement. It would be cool to drive the Batmobile–but Wayne Enterprises would probably charge a whole lot more than Chevrolet.