2011

The Road to Lightweight Vehicles

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With a steady rise in fuel prices and increasing restrictions on emissions, automakers face difficult challenges as they are forced to find ways of making their cars lighter and more fuel-efficient. One way to achieve this goal is to incorporate strong, lightweight, and durable composite materials to replace heavier, more energy-hungry materials.

Referred to as “lightweighting” the automobile, this trend starts at the drawing board, when designers and engineers create the first CAD model. The choice of materials for everything from the frame to the seat covers has to be made carefully to optimize space and weight. As parts of the car are designed, strict attention to simulation results lets engineers see what areas of the car require stronger, more flexible, or lighter materials.

Recent years have seen rapid developments in automotive lightweighting with aluminum, carbon fiber, and plastic emerging as the materials of choice for achieving lightweight results. Although there have been groundbreaking achievements in key areas, automakers are still developing strategies for cost effectively integrating lightweight materials into their vehicles, including reliance on Tier 1 suppliers for additional capabilities.

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