Lightweighting technologies in the automotive design

Lightweighting technologies… Ask anyone in the automotive design or engineering community what technologies they are working on to lower emissions and improve fuel economy and half the time you'll hear "lightweighting," according to the results of a July WardsAuto survey sponsored by DuPont. Also topping the list are engine efficiency programs, vehicle electrification and adoption of diesel for engines.

Sixty six percent of the nearly 900 respondents said again this year that the 2017-2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards) could get more stringent as a result of the upcoming mid-term reviews. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards require, on an average industry fleet-wide basis, 163 g/mile of CO2 in model year 2025, which would be equivalent to 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100km) if this level were achieved solely through improvements in fuel efficiency.

"The automotive industry is racing to develop safe, fun and affordable vehicles that are much more fuel efficient and produce far fewer emissions," said Pat E. Lindner, president, DuPont Performance Polymers. The EPA in April released a report on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions that concluded "automakers are off to a good start," and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in June published a Summary of Fuel Economy Performance report that shows auto manufacturers project fleet production is just above 34 mpg in 2014.

"We still have a long way to 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025," he said. "This is a marathon – not a sprint. Clear strategies need to be set, checkpoints need to be established and the most effective tool we have in this race is collaboration."


Results of the fourth annual survey also found powertrain systems are the primary target for today's lightweighting efforts and, while aluminium is expected to be relied on heavily to meet new CAFE standards, engineering plastics, advanced composites and multi-material or hybrid solutions will serve the industry well.


When asked to rate their confidence in the ability of today's materials to portfolio to help them meet the stringent regulations, half the respondents said they were only "moderately confident". "That rather 'middle of the road,' ambivalent assessment of the material palette suggests we need to work together to continue to drive innovation," said Jeff Sternberg, director of DuPont Automotive Technology. "There is no silver bullet – every part and vehicle system faces a different set of requirements – but it is pretty clear that the automotive design and engineering community needs more support from advanced materials suppliers to reduce vehicle weight. The most effective approach involves value-chain collaboration to understand the needs and develop new materials, new designs, new manufacturing methods – or all three – to find solutions."

Current DuPont collaborative programs include DuPont Vizilon Thermoplastic Composite technologies, a family of solutions that combines strength and stiffness into lightweight structures to replace metal; advanced battery separator materials and battery chemistries that improve the range of hybrid and electric vehicles; and renewably sourced materials that offer the same or better performance than petroleum-based alternatives.


Now in its fourth year, the DuPont-sponsored survey with WardsAuto was conducted by Penton Market Research, Overland Park, Kan. Forty-five percent of the nearly 900 respondents indicate they work for system, component or parts manufacturers; 25 percent work for an automaker; and 30 percent work for engine, engine-service, engineering/design companies or automotive-related industries. Sixty four percent work in engineering, design, research or quality roles; 23 percent in sales, marketing, purchasing or corporate management role; and 13 percent represent manufacturing, production or other.

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