Published On: Mon, Nov 21st, 2011

Carmakers are Looking to Shed Pounds…

A trend towards the use of lightweight materials in the automotive industry is gaining momentum as carmakers move

quickly to cut the pounds from their vehicles.

It is a shift that is happening across the spectrum. High-end marques such as Lamborghini are working to lose the flab, through to BMW and Mazda at the other end of the spectrum. The latest Lamborghini model is a case in point.

The Aventador is one of the first cars to be made where its entire body will be built of carbon fiber materials. For its construction, Lamborghini is using a mix of plastics reinforced with synthetic fibers known as carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). In the case of the Aventador, its extensive use will help to deliver blistering speeds of 0-62 miles per hour in 2.9 secs thanks to an exceptional power-to-weight ratio.

F1 cars have used carbon fiber for years after their use in the aeronautics industry highlighted its unique combination of lightweight, strength and ability to be easily shaped. Although still expensive to produce, its use is becoming more common, particularly in aftermarket performance add-ons.

BMW this week announced that it had taken a 15.16 percent stake in SGL Group, a leading producer of carbon fiber. The two already operate a joint production facility in Moses Lake, Washington, but the move signals intent to use the technology in across its range of vehicles. Its upcoming i3 electric vehicle and i8 plug-in hybrid will both use CFRP to reduce the effect of carrying heavy batteries.

“Lightweight construction will play an increasingly important role in the automobile industry in the future,” said BMW board member Friedrich Eichiner.

For makers such as Peugeot, Mazda, Fiat, Volkswagen and Daimler, the push to make cars lighter is also on, but it is geared towards producing cars that are more fuel-efficient and comply with increasingly tough emissions laws.

“We have been working on making cars lighter for several years, but the tightening up of regulation for reducing emissions by 2020 makes it necessary in reality to move toward breakthrough solutions,” says Louis David, a PSA Peugeot Citroen materials specialist.

Peugeot is using some small components made from composite material. However, although composites are 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel, the cost remains prohibitive for mainstream markets. For these companies then, the increased use of aluminum is where they will shed the pounds.

Mazda bucked the trend towards producing larger vehicles in successive generations when it released its current generation Mazda2. Although it uses some aluminum componentary, it was actually smaller than its predecessor to achieve the company’s weight reduction goals.

Mazda has adopted a similar approach with the all-new CX-5. Although the company has been relatively quiet on the matter, the car is unofficially the replacement for the CX-7 according to a Mazda dealership that Left Lane News spoke with. It has no plans to replace the CX-7 as the new CX-5 is lighter, more fuel efficient, and although smaller, has a larger cabin.

Regardless of how they get there, either the use of lighter materials or through smarter packaging, lighter cars are the way of the future.


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