More than lightweighting; materials too matter

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The annual WardsAuto survey shows all technologies are getting more emphasis as the mid-term review deadline for meeting the average fuel economy looms in the US.

While lightweighting and engine efficiency again top the list of strategies, the automotive industry is also focusing on transmission technology and electrification to meet the 2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards in the US, according to the nearly 900 respondents in the automotive design and engineering community, in the annual WardsAuto survey sponsored by DuPont Automotive.

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With the mid-term review of the 2025 CAFE standards scheduled through 2017, 86% of the respondents say they expect the standards to strengthen or remain the same. At the same time, the majority of respondents, 87%, say low fuel prices in combination with low sales of fuel efficient, low emission vehicles will impact programmes to meet CAFE regulations.

Lightweighting of vehicles is directly linked to lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel economy. The benefits of even modest vehicle weight reduction are significant. Reducing an automobile’s weight by a mere 50 kg reduces up to 5 g of CO2/km and increases fuel economy by up to 2%, according to DuPont’s research.

If mass production is taken into account, vehicle weight reduction really starts to pay dividends.

Cutting 11kg from each of the 70 million light-vehicle engines produced in 2011 could save up to 908 million l of refined fuel or nine million barrels of crude. Eliminating 5-7 kg from the 40 million automotive transmissions manufactured that same year would save up to 350 million l of refined gasoline fuel, or 3.4 million barrels of crude.

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“Lightweighting is a universal approach because it can be applied to every system and every component and it amplifies the impact of the other strategies,” said Jeff Sternberg, Technology Director, DuPont Automotive. “Electrification, which saw one of the largest increases in mentions this year, is fast becoming another universal strategy. Light electrification, such as start/stop, regenerative braking systems and transmission and engine controls, is expanding across the light vehicle fleet.”

CAFE outlook

“The survey responses might suggest that the industry is backing off technologies that lower emissions and improve fuel economy,” said Sternberg, “but it’s important to remember the global automotive industry has to navigate emissions regulations throughout the world, so we still need to run fullsteam ahead. That said, the current market dynamic is certain to spark some lively debate during the mid-term reviews.”

The light-duty vehicle CAFE and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions rate standards require, on an average industry fleet-wide basis, 163 g/mile of CO2 in model year 2025, which would be equivalent to 4.3 l/100 km if this level were achieved solely through improvements in fuel efficiency. The midterm review by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2016- 2017 was designed to determine technology readiness and ability to implement at acceptable cost. A final decision is due April 2018.

Materials matter

Survey respondents again this year point to aluminium and multi-material solutions as the materials that can best help them meet CAFE standards. Engineering plastics and advanced high-strength steel comprise the second tier. Respondents continued to express “moderate confidence” that today’s materials are sufficient to meet the future standards.

Materials companies are gung ho about the development of lighter-weight alternatives to metal; materials that can withstand the intense heat, the aggressive chemicals, and the high pressures in constant play within automotive engines.

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Vehicle weight reduction saves energy, minimises brake and tyre wear, and, perhaps most welcome, it cuts down emissions.

“We are pretty bullish on the impact that materials can have on lightweighting,” said Sternberg, “and new solutions continue to be introduced. But materials alone are not enough when it comes to reducing vehicle weight in the 10-15% range. Those big opportunities require fundamental changes in design, manufacturing and assembly as well.”

Sternberg says that more “disruptive technology” developments are taking longer, but the work is moving forward. “

High volume adoption by 2025 may be optimistic for some of them, as we are just a little more than two vehicle model cycles away, but I am confident we will see an impact,” he adds.

Now in its fifth year, the DuPont-sponsored survey with WardsAuto was conducted by Penton Market Research.

The nearly 900 respondents work for system, component or parts manufacturers, automotive makers, engine or engine-service companies or in automotiverelated industries. Most represent engineering, design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and corporate management.


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