Vehicle Active Aerodynamics Technology

Daniel Mwangi
10 Min Read
Image of Mazda Takai Concept

Vehicle Active Aerodynamics Technology

What is Vehicle Active Aerodynamics?

Vehicle active aerodynamics refers to the use of technology that can adjust the shape and features of a vehicle in real-time to optimise its aerodynamic performance. This technology can include active flaps on a car’s body that adjust the airflow over the vehicle, as well as features that can adjust the vehicle’s ride height to improve its aerodynamics.

The goal of vehicle active aerodynamics is to improve the overall efficiency and performance of the vehicle, reducing drag and increasing downforce when needed.

How Does It Improve Performance?

Vehicle active aerodynamics, also known as active aerodynamic systems, can refer to a number of different technologies and processes used in the automotive industry to improve the aerodynamic performance of vehicles.

By Ben - Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Performante, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Some common examples of active aerodynamic systems include:

  1. Active aerodynamic flaps: These are adjustable flaps located on the body of the car that can be moved to divert air flow to different areas of the vehicle, improving its aerodynamic efficiency.
  2. Variable ride height systems: These systems can adjust the height of the car’s body to reduce drag at high speeds or increase ground clearance on rough terrain.
  3. Active airflow control: This technology uses sensors and software to adjust the flow of air over the vehicle to optimise its aerodynamics.
  4. Rear diffusers and spoilers: These are aerodynamic components located at the back of the car that can be adjusted to control airflow and reduce drag.

Overall, the goal of active aerodynamics is to improve a vehicle’s handling, fuel efficiency, and overall performance by optimising its aerodynamic design in real-time.

Benefits Of Vehicle Active Aerodynamics

The benefits of vehicle active aerodynamics can vary depending on the specific system employed, but some general advantages of these technologies can include:

  1. Improved handling: By adjusting the airflow over the vehicle, active aerodynamics can improve the overall stability and handling of the car, especially at high speeds or in difficult driving conditions.
  2. Increased fuel efficiency: By reducing drag and optimising airflow, active aerodynamics can also improve the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, potentially saving drivers’ money on gas in the long run.
  3. Enhanced performance: By improving the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle, active aerodynamics can help to improve its overall performance, including acceleration, top speed, and braking.
  4. Lower emissions: Because active aerodynamics can improve fuel efficiency and reduce drag, it can also help to lower the vehicle’s emissions and make it more environmentally friendly.

These are just a few examples of the benefits that active aerodynamics can provide, but the overall advantages will vary depending on the specific technology and how it is implemented in different vehicles.

By Rob Bulmahn - IMG_0566, CC BY 2.0,

Practical Application Of Vehicle Active Aerodynamics

Let us have an overview of some of the active aerodynamic systems currently utilised in modern automobiles. However, it’s important to note that the specific systems used can vary widely depending on the make and model of the vehicle, and not all manufacturers utilise the same technologies.

Here are a few examples of active aerodynamic systems in modern production vehicles:

  1. Active grille shutters: This technology, which is utilised in vehicles such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, uses motorised shutters in the grille to reduce drag when the engine doesn’t need as much cooling air. The shutters automatically open and close as needed to optimise airflow and reduce aerodynamic drag.
  2. Active rear spoilers: Some high-performance cars, such as the Porsche 911 and Lamborghini Huracán, use active rear spoilers that can be raised or lowered to adjust the vehicle’s aerodynamics based on speed and other driving conditions.
  3. Air curtains: Air curtains are a feature used in vehicles like the BMW i8 and Audi A6, and they utilise air ducts and channels to direct airflow past areas of the car that can create drag, such as the wheels and underbody.
  4. Active aerodynamic flaps: Active flaps can be used in various locations on a vehicle, such as on the hood or fenders, and they can be adjusted to regulate airflow and reduce drag. The McLaren 720S, for example, uses active flaps that are controlled by sensors and an ECU to optimise aerodynamic performance.
  5. Active suspension systems: These systems can adjust the ride height of a car to optimise airflow and reduce drag. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, for example, utilises an active suspension system that can raise or lower the vehicle based on driving conditions.

It’s also worth noting that some concept and prototype vehicles have featured more advanced active aerodynamic technologies, such as active rear diffusers and variable-geometry wings. However, these features are not yet common in conventional production vehicles.

By Ben - Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Performante, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Are Vehicle Active Aerodynamics Effective?

When it comes to active aerodynamics, there are many different factors that can impact the effectiveness of a given system. However, one of the key criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of an active aerodynamic system is its ability to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Reducing drag is important because it helps to improve a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, handling, and overall performance. There are a number of different techniques that can be used to reduce drag, including:

  1. Streamlining the body: By making the vehicle more aerodynamically efficient overall, manufacturers can reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. This can involve reducing the size of the car’s frontal area, smoothing out its contours, and optimising the shape of external features like mirrors and door handles.
  2. Reducing turbulence: Turbulent airflow around a vehicle can create drag as well, so some active aerodynamic systems focus on minimising turbulence. Techniques like air curtains, which direct airflow around the wheels and underbody of the car, can help to reduce drag caused by turbulence.
  3. Optimising airflow: Active aerodynamic flaps and other features can be used to adjust the airflow over the vehicle in real-time, optimising it for the specific driving conditions. This can help to reduce drag and improve handling and performance.

In A Nutshell

When evaluating the effectiveness of active aerodynamic systems in reducing drag, factors like the precise design of the system, its implementation in a specific vehicle, and conditions like wind speed and direction can all play a role.

Manufacturers will typically test these systems under a variety of conditions to ensure that they’re effectively reducing drag and improving the vehicle’s performance.

By Alexander Migl - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Considerations And Potential Downsides

While active aerodynamics can provide many benefits, there are also potential negative effects and considerations to keep in mind.

  1. Cost: Active aerodynamic systems can be complex and require advanced sensors, control systems, and mechanical components, which can increase the overall cost of the vehicle. This can also make repairs and maintenance more expensive.
  2. Additional Weight: Adding active aerodynamic components to a vehicle can increase its weight, which can negatively impact fuel efficiency and performance. The additional weight can also contribute to more wear and tear on other components, such as the brakes and suspension.
  3. Complexity: Active aerodynamic systems can be complex and require skilled technicians to maintain and repair. This can result in higher repair costs and longer downtime for the vehicle.
  4. Reliability: Active aerodynamic systems rely on sensors, electronic control systems, and mechanical components to function properly. Any failure or malfunction of these systems can result in reduced overall vehicle performance and efficiency.
  5. Maintenance: Active aerodynamic systems require regular maintenance to ensure that they continue to function properly. This could include inspection of mechanical components, electronics, sensors, and any other associated features.
  6. Aerodynamic interference: One potential negative effect of active aerodynamics is that it can create aerodynamic interference at certain speeds or in certain driving conditions. For example, active flaps may create turbulence that could negatively impact handling and stability at high speeds.

Wrap-Up On Vehicle Active Aerodynamics

Overall, while there are potential negative effects associated with active aerodynamics, these can be mitigated by proper design, maintenance, and repair. In many cases, the benefits of active aerodynamics can outweigh the potential costs and make the vehicle more efficient and effective in varying driving conditions.

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