​Lennart Löfdahl infront of his English racing car. The car brand is Lotus.

The Car Enthusiast who has left his mark on the automotive industry

​As long as he can remember, Professor Lennart Löfdahl has been interested in cars. It all began at the end of the 1950s in the home of SAAB, Trollhättan, where he was born, where as a young boy he would eagerly check out all the new SAAB models.  He could not have guessed that just a couple of decades later he would be involved in developing the cars of today.

​“It’s in the genes” says Lennart: his father worked with Norton motorcycles from the 1930s through to the 1950s. In 1957, Lennart remembers waiting for a glimpse of the new SAAB 93, which was due to roll out of the factory gates. He wanted to see the new colours, where the rear lights were placed and how the new undivided windscreen would change the car.

"I am a real petrol head, or as the Germans would say “In Benzin- Getauft”. I am continually thinking about cars both at work and in my leisure time."

Lennart Löfdahl gained his PhD in 1982 within the area of 3-DTurbulent Boundary Layers which was applied to the stern area of ships. He continued his research career within SSPA (the Swedish Maritime Research Centre) working on propeller design and hull interaction. In the middle of the 1980s, Lennart returned to work at Chalmers on gas turbines, but he soon changed to fundamental fluid dynamics. This dealt with the transition between laminar and turbulent fluids, turbulence measurements and turbulence modelling.  Lennart has together with researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm developed turbulence models that today are used in many of the commercial CFD software used by his PhD students. 

In the middle of the 1990s applied research became important: funding was more readily given to research that could directly solve practical problems. For Lennart, with his passion for cars, this meant vehicle aerodynamics and thermal management were a good choice. Within these areas his broad knowledge of fluid dynamics and thermodynamics came in very useful.  Initially though, funding was difficult to obtain and Lennart’s present research group started off as an unfunded course. One day at the end of the 1990s some students asked Lennart, who was in charge of the Advanced Fluid Mechanics course, if he could hold a course on vehicle aerodynamics. At first he answered, “No way, not in my life time!” Then Lennart continues, "I was really doubtful about taking on such a course, as I already had plenty of teaching and I wouldn’t get paid for this. However, they were such a nice bunch of students that I changed my mind, thank goodness. We started with a session of seminars which were so popular that everything just expanded so very fast and eventually I started to get paid. This was a big step forward."

As regulations regarding emissions and the quest for decreased petrol consumption took hold, it became possible to fund projects within vehicle aerodynamics and thermal management which in turn allowed for the formation of a research group.

Extremely useful for Volvo and others within the automotive industry
Lennart Löfdahl has played a pivotal role in developing these research areas and his research group is very successful. Many examples of the influence that Lennart Löfdahl and his PhD students have had within the automotive industry can be found.  Volvo is just one company which has gained a real competitive advantage through its cooperation with the research group. Peter Nilsson, Manager for the Installation of Cooling Systems, at Volvo GTT, says,

"The work that Lennart and his PhD students is doing for us has given concrete results which have really met the needs of our project work. It has been extremely valuable and we have been able to apply the research to enable us to meet many of the challenges we have faced. It also creates a much more innovative and creative working environment for us."

However, it is not only Volvo that has benefitted from the more than 30 PhD students that the research group has produced. The results of their research can be found at automotive manufacturers the world over. Some of the former PhD students can even be found on Formula 1 teams, such as, Red Bull and McLaren. Lennart, who has worked six and a half years part-time as a specialist at Volvo GTT, also underlines how important their cooperation with industry is for the researchers. The experience they gain from tackling concrete, real-life problems is invaluable.

Approaching retirement but still so much to do
Although Lennart is close approaching retirement age he is still going strong. He would like to remain as an advisor and will be working part-time at Chalmers, as well as undertaking a series of lecture tours and Fellowships in the USA, England and Germany.

He has spent a long time in teaching and education and they are very important to him. For 20 years he spent about 50% of his working life teaching. He held courses in Continuums Mechanics and Advanced Courses in Fluid Mechanics. He was the driving force behind the Chalmers Master’s Programme in Automotive Engineering, and as Dean of Higher Education he was responsible for the introduction of all of the Chalmers Master’s Programmes when Chalmers prolonged the study time into five year as a part of the Bologna Process.

However, to summarize his experience Lennart would still like to write a book on vehicle aerodynamics in which fundamental fluid dynamics is brought together with its practical application for the vehicle.
Lennart ends,

"Over the years I have gathered so much material to write an interesting book. I think it could be great fun, though definitely very demanding, but I am not really sure if I want to be one of those dusty academics who writes a book, we will just have to wait and see."

Published: Tue 19 Sep 2017.