What if the Honda Cog Advert used an Electric Vehicle?

By Richard Howard

It is well documented that electric vehicles (EVs) have fewer parts than conventionally powered petrol and diesel cars. The main reason for this is the lack of an internal combustion engine (ICE) and gearbox, which together can have 2000 parts each, in comparison to an electric motor drivetrain, which has about 20 [1]. Not only are the implications for the EV owner noticeable – far fewer parts to go wrong, therefore less maintenance – the implications on how the automotive supply chain operates are huge. There are so many different parts from so many suppliers that the effect of moving from ICEs to EVs is difficult to visualise. Enter Honda…

In 2003, Honda released a TV advert for the Honda Accord called ‘Cog’ in which parts of the Accord were used to construct a ‘Rube Goldberg’ or chain reaction machine [2]. The £1 million advert was widely praised at the time for its imagination and has consistently been rated one of the best TV adverts ever [3,4]. The advert starts with a bearing rolling down a plank of wood and knocking into another part, which itself knocks into another part, which falls off the plank and releases a crankshaft. The subsequent chain of events continues for a further two minutes involving many different contraptions ending up with a fully assembled Honda Accord rolling off a ramp to the opening of “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang.

 

Many of the components featured in the advert were taken from the Accord’s engine, therefore we would like to pose the question: what if the Honda Accord had been an electric car? How many of the parts would be removed? How many would stay?

Below is a list of all the stages of the advert and the parts involved at each stage [5]:

  1. Transmission Bearing + Synchro Hub + Gear Wheel Cog
  2. Camshaft + Exhaust + Crankshaft
  3. Intake/Exhaust Valves + Bonnet/Hood
  4. Dipstick + Engine Cover + Throttle Actuator
  5. Radiator + Wheels + Water Pump
  6. Brake Disc + Suspension Lower Arm + Seats
  7. Windscreen Wipers + Bonnet Release Cable
  8. Can of Engine Oil + Flywheel + Valve Springs
  9. Cylinder Liners + Cylinder Head + Rocker Shaft + Gear Wheel Cog
  10. 12V Battery + Cylinder Block + Engine Fan
  11. Anti-lock Brake System + Silencer
  12. Rear Suspension Link + Transmission Selector + Brake Pedal + Brake Grommet
  13. Bonnet/Hood + Tyre + Brake Discs
  14. Connecting Rod + Cylinder Liner + Connecting Rod
  15. Front Door + Grab Handles + 12V Battery
  16. Screen Washer Pump + Windscreen + Wipers
  17. Handbrake Lever + Windows
  18. Rear Tool Tray + Rocker Shaft + Coil Spring + Rocker Shaft + 12V Battery
  19. Dashboard + Sound System + Rear Window + Coil Spring
  20. Brake Pedal + Shock Absorbers + Solenoid + Key

By our count there are 49 individual parts used in the advert, once duplicates have been removed. A large chunk of the parts above were taken from the ICE itself, in fact much of the first half of the advert. The following parts are all those which are not required in an EV:

  1. Transmission Bearing
  2. Synchro Hub
  3. Gear Wheel Cog
  4. Camshaft
  5. Exhaust
  6. Crankshaft
  7. Intake/Exhaust Valves
  8. Dipstick
  9. Engine Cover
  10. Throttle Actuator
  11. Radiator
  12. Water Pump
  13. Flywheel
  14. Valve Springs
  15. Cylinder Liners
  16. Cylinder Head
  17. Rocker Shaft 
  18. Cylinder Block 
  19. Engine Fan
  20. Silencer
  21. Transmission Selector
  22. Connecting Rod
  23. Solenoid

Therefore, as a first estimate, an EV Cog advert would involve 47% fewer components (23/49).

It is not as simple, however, just to remove all these components. Obviously many of these components will be replaced by different ones, which will provide similar functionality. But in almost all cases these will be significantly less complex than in a ICE vehicle. For example, the gearbox in an EV consists of a fixed set of reduction gears, which lowers the high RPM of the electric motor before that power is transmitted to the wheels. Whereas in a manual/stick ICE vehicle the transmission consists of the gearbox – with 5 or 6 forward gears, one reverse gear – mechanisms to switch between gears, plus a clutch to disengage the engine.

There is another hidden layer of complexity to this story. The list of components above shows what physical manufacturing will not be required as EVs become more prevalent, but there are other industries which will suffer, for example, metrology (i.e. the accurate and precise measuring of parts). ICEs require parts made with tight mechanical tolerances since there are many parts moving at high speeds within hundredths of millimeters of each other. To avoid unnecessary wear and tear or damage, manufacturers have to inspect everyone of these parts. Subsequently a whole industry was created to measure ICE components accurately, precisely and quickly. Other metrology applications will exist in an EV world but the ICE sector constitutes a huge chunk of their revenue.

All these changes will have a big impact on a ICE company’s performance and investments going forward. If EV adoption continues to rise then ICE suppliers will suffer. If they can successfully pivot, for example by making sustainable investments in new EV-orientated parts, then their long-term future looks more stable. The trouble is ICE manufacturing is a large part of the automotive sector and a company’s knowledge is not directly applicable to electric motors and batteries, so there is no easy solution. On the other hand, there are many other parts suppliers which will not be as obviously affected by the manufacturing changes. Seats, suspension, windows, air bags, brakes, for example, will all be required in EVs. But the combined volume and complexity of ICEs and gearboxes will not exist in an EV.

In summary, moving from EVs to ICE vehicles will dramatically reduce the number of components and parts used by the automotive sector. The drop in parts supplied will not be uniformly applied, with much of the burden falling on the suppliers of engines and gearboxes. But trying to visualise and communicate these changes can be difficult. In 2003, Honda’s ‘Cog’ advert was used to successfully communicate the engineering prowess poured into the Honda Accord, deconstructing it to highlight the existence of individual components. However, seventeen years later, 47% of the engineering shown in the advert is now quickly becoming obsolete in the face of EVs, with huge repercussions for the automotive supply industry. Could a re-imagined Cog advert for the EV world be the advertising opportunity of a lifetime?

References

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2018/09/06/seven-reasons-why-the-internal-combustion-engine-is-a-dead-man-walking-updated/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg_machine
  3. https://www.lbbonline.com/news/honda-cog-named-best-car-ad-of-all-time
  4. https://www.motortrader.com/general-news/motor-trader-awards-2004-best-car-advert-poetry-in-motion-09-08-2004
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a794KFW3Wc4

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