Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Automotive Engineer

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Automotive Engineer

Article excerpt

Car companies employ many types of automotive engineers to design and manufacture a vehicle. The engineers select durable materials and coatings and integrate parts to work together properly. Jeff Johnston is vice president of engineering at Elio Motors, founded in 2009 to introduce a low-cost, highly fuel-efficient, three-wheeled vehicle. The company refers to the Elio, a hybrid between a motorcycle and a car, as an autocycle.

Work overview.

Automotive engineers have to figure out how to manufacture a vehicle that can be sold at a certain price point, considering factors such as weight, gas mileage, cost of materials, and aerodynamics. We try to figure out what combination of variables will allow us to reach our goals.

The Elio must be as aerodynamic as possible to get 84 miles per gallon on the highway. This means smoothing surfaces and sharpening edges to reduce air friction. To reduce weight, we are minimizing the thickness of the steel, removing steel in places, and adding darts or other shapes to strengthen components. Tires are being designed for low rolling resistance. Transmission gearing and the geometry of the motor components are optimized for better gas mileage. Meanwhile, safety and good handling characteristics must be maintained. Computer-aided design (CAD) helps us determine whether parts fit together properly. Computer-aided engineering (CAE) programs allow us to enter the weights and dimensions of the components into models and then run simulations that identify problems and help us reach our standards for reliability, durability, and quality. For instance, CAE programs show how the vehicle frame would react to potholes, curbs, cornering, and crashes.


Next, we send a series of prototype vehicles to different facilities around the country for testing aerodynamics; crash worthiness; anti-lock braking; stability control; and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and powertrain performance. This real-world testing validates our work with the CAE programs. We make any needed adjustments and execute our final builds before production, meeting all federal safety standards that apply to our vehicle and even some that apply to cars, even though our vehicle will be classified as a motorcycle, which has many fewer standards than a car.

Career highlights.

I have had the pleasure of designing airbags that have saved thousands of lives and prevented even more injuries. …

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