Automakers have been increasing their focus on substituting lightweight materials for heavier ones, according to Royston Jones, president and global CTO of engineering and design consultancy Altair ProductDesign.
Writing in Industry Week, Jones cites the example of the bumper beam on the BMW M3. Engineers replaced steel with a glass fiber-filled polymer for a 40 percent weight reduction. The Audi A8 uses a similar material for its spare tire well, for a 30 percent reduction.
Many designers are also working to lightweight the car body itself. They estimate that reducing these by one kilogram will in turn save another kilogram on secondary components.
Altair has been using its OptiStruct software to advise on the design of the electric BMW i3 (pictured), which is made mostly of composites. Jones says it is scheduled to be the first high-volume composite vehicle, preparing BMW to comply with planned increases to mileage standards.
European legislation will require cars’ CO2 emissions to fall by up to 30 percent over the next few years. In July, the Obama administration announced a deal to increase automobile fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
A recent study by Frost & Sullivan found that the auto industry is gearing up for a major shift to lighter materials as governments in Europe, the U.S. and Japan introduce tighter restrictions on carbon emissions. The consultancy said the market for such products was $38 billion in 2010, and predicts this will reach $95.34 billion in 2017.
For example, the report said, lighter materials, improved aerodynamics and a new hybrid powertrain mean that the new 2012 Camry Hybrid LE yields a more than 30 percent boost in fuel economy compared to the previous model.