Since the Obama administration finalized the historic 54.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standards in August of 2012, car manufactures have been scrambling to find new ways to increase the fuel efficiency of the vehicles they produce. The ambitions of auto makers to improve fuel efficiency took center stage at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. Several manufactures showcased how new lightweight materials are being utilized to improve the fuel efficiency of their products.
For the past century auto makers relied mainly on steel for the production of automobiles. In 2007, the average car contained 2,400 pounds of steel and the average pickup truck or SUV contained nearly 3,000 pounds of steel.1 Considering that most cars weigh around 3,000 pounds, 80% of the material used to manufacture a car is steel.
Some vehicles on the road today are beginning to sport a handful of parts made from lightweight materials—for example the tailgate on the new Ford Explorer is manufactured from light weight magnesium. An increased use of light weight material in the manufacture of cars is guaranteed to increase significantly over the next several years.
Ford Motor Co. unveiled a prototype F150 at the Detroit Auto Show. The truck that is aimed for launch in 2015 is fashioned with aluminum body panels and weighs 700 pounds less than the current models on the road. General Motors also unveiled a new Chevy Corvette that sports an underbody manufactured from aluminum and a hood made from carbon-fiber composite. Many of the light weight features seen in these new concepts were inspired from parts used in racing vehicles. According the U.S. Council for Automotive Research and estimated 350 pounds of magnesium will be used in the average vehicle by 2020, replacing 500 pounds of steel.2
As with any new innovation in this day and age there are always drawbacks or concerns. The use of new lightweight materials in automobiles is a concern for the already struggling private automotive repair industry. At a recent WNY Automotive Technology and Energy Group meeting, several private repair shop owners voiced concerns about the cost of equipment and training that will be required to repair vehicles utilizing new lightweight materials.
Safety concerns have also been voiced about the new materials. According to the EPA and DOT’s lightweighting studies, the baseline vehicle’s mass could be reduced by about 20 percent without affecting safety performance. In federal crash tests the new lightweight materials are performing just as well as baseline vehicles.3
As the race to the 2025 fuel efficiency standard continues, the automotive industry is in for the ride of its life. This new standards are going to change every aspect of the automotive industry. According to Robert Bienenfeld, senior U.S. manager for energy strategy at Honda Motor Co, “Vehicles are going to look very different in a dozen years … we are going to redefine what a conventional vehicle is.”2
1 George, Patrick E.. “Top 5 Materials Used in Auto Manufacturing” 05 October 2009. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://auto.howstuffworks.com/under-the-hood/auto-manufacturing/5-materials-used-in-auto-manufacturing.htm> 23 January 2013.
2 Boudette, Neal E., Ramsey, Mike “Car Makers Trim Weight to Boost Fuel Economy” 13 January 2012. Blogs.wsj.com
<http://blogs.wsj.com/drivers-seat/2013/01/13/car-makers-trim-weight-to-boost-fuel-economy/?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoku6TLZKXonjHpfsX66u0sX6Cg38431UFwdcjKPmjr1YIIRMp0dvycMRAVFZl5nQ1NHuGBeZhO%2Bw%3D%3D> 23 January 2013.
3 Pyper, Julia “Transportaion: Automakers exploer ‘lightweighting.’ Another route to boost gas mileage” 27 September 2012 eenew.net