Reinventing the wheel

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: January 18, 2013 2:32 pm ET
Updated: January 18, 2013 2:51 pm ET

Image By: Ford Motor Co. The shutters on the wheels of Ford's Atlas pickup-truck concept, above, deploy across wheel openings when the truck is moving to keep air flowing smoothly across the wheels.

Related to this story

Topics Automotive

DETROIT — Sometimes, it's not just about the weight.

While Lacks Wheel Trim Systems LLC's new eVOLVE wheel concept does reduce the weight of a traditional aluminum or steel wheel, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based auto supplier says it is aerodynamics that provides the final push in a proposal that would improve fuel performance by 1.1 miles per gallon in its tests.

"Just taking the weight out of the wheel is not enough," said James Ardern, Lacks business development director, during an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 15. "We found that in creating more aerodynamic shapes, we added weight, but improved performance."

Those aerodynamic improvements come courtesy of a hybrid-material part, which builds on an aluminum structure, then adds a high density foam and a polycarbonate/ABS top coat, which is then given a chrome top coat for aesthetics.

Chrome is a specialty of Lacks Enterprises Inc., the parent company of Lacks Wheel Trim. The company counts itself as the largest produced of chromed plastics in the North American auto supply base, and its Wheel Trim Systems business has been a key supplier to the auto industry, giving the chrome polish to aluminum and steel wheels.

Two years ago, the company decided to invest big time in developing a new market within the automotive wheel business, however, looking at what else it could provide to an industry looking to squeeze more miles out of every gallon of gasoline.

In the U.S., a new federal standard requires automakers to hit a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallons by 2025, a move which is prompting automakers to reconsider weight and design.

Lacks based its development tests and prototypes on a Ford Motor Co. Focus sedan.

"Wheels are the black hole for fuel performance," said Jim Zubkus, director of sales and marketing.

The aerodynamic issue for improved gas mileage takes a close look at the openings in every wheel. Those openings are needed to help cool the brakes under pressure, but at high speeds, they interrupt the flow of air around the vehicle.

By using foam and PC/ABS to reshape the outside of the wheel, Lacks' eVOLVE keeps the air moving swiftly past the vehicle, improving performance.

Traditional steel and aluminum would add too much weight to make the aerodynamics worthwhile, Ardern said, but foam doesn't add much weight, and the PC/ABS provides the perfect surface to give the wheel its traditional chromed shine.

The final wheel still comes in 4.5 pounds lighter than a traditional steel wheel, he noted.

Lacks is not alone at looking at the potential to improve wheel aerodynamics and fuel performance. Ford Motor Co.'s new Atlas pickup-truck concept, also introduced Jan. 15, places active shutters on the wheel.

The shutters deploy across the wheel openings when the truck is in motion, keeping the air flowing smoothly across the wheels. When the driver hits the brake — or the truck is stopped — the shutters fold back out of the way.

Ford would use the power from braking to power the shutters.

At Lacks, the eVOLVE is getting a lot of attention from automakers, just a month after the company first began showing it.

"Clearly, there are people looking at this area for development," Ardern said.

Lacks has been hearing from interested automakers since it first rolled out the eVOLVE in December, and the company expects that will only grow as the CAFE requirements build.

"Fuel economy will drive this," Zubkus said.


Comments

Reinventing the wheel

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: January 18, 2013 2:32 pm ET
Updated: January 18, 2013 2:51 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Canadian mold maker Thibault adding to new operation in Mexico

August 27, 2014 3:19 pm ET

Canadian mold maker I Thibault Inc has purchased an established Mexican company, Tecnimoldes SA de CV, for a seven-figure-dollar-sum and renamed it...    More

Image

Design, materials, engineering finding a faster way forward

August 27, 2014 1:50 pm ET

Engineering and design specialists at Altair Thinklabs and Eastman Chemical Co. have developed prototypes that would not just help Paralympics...    More

Image

Consumer products sector sees improving growth

August 27, 2014 12:49 pm ET

It is late summer, and we are already almost two-thirds of the way through the third quarter. But I find myself wanting to bask in the warm afterglow ...    More

Image

Higher profits and rising blood pressure

August 27, 2014 12:19 pm ET

Company CEOs are typically big supporters of capitalism and the free market, and they should be. It's a great system for raising the standard of...    More

Image

Design Stories: Young designers showing the way in adaptive design

August 27, 2014 12:12 pm ET

Amanda Bolton, then 19, decided to change her major at the University of Cincinnati from fine arts to industrial design, creating products for people ...    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events