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

Patents the springboard for Aussie company to play on global stage

December 22, 2014 4:19 pm ET

Obtaining patents on its technology is helping an Australian manufacturer of compostable and biodegradable plastic resins becoming a leading player...    More

Image

Duro-Last's large new extruder brings more under its own roof

December 22, 2014 3:24 pm ET

Roofing systems maker Duro-Last Inc. says it installed a one-of-a-kind extruder at its facility in Buena Vista Township, Mich., that is 5-stories...    More

Image

Swedish compounder makes first North American plastics acquisition

December 22, 2014 10:19 am ET

Swedish rubber compounder Hexpol AB has made its first North American plastics acquisition, buying the plastics compounding business of RheTech Inc....    More

Image

Piedmont moves to larger location

December 22, 2014 2:04 pm ET

Piedmont Plastics Inc. is moving to a larger location to serve the plastic sheet, rod, tube and film markets in the Philadelphia area.    More

Image

The Technology House moves to larger Ohio location

December 22, 2014 1:22 pm ET

A need for more space is leading industrial manufacturing firm the Technology House Ltd. to move from Solon, Ohio, to nearby Streetsboro.    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

Our latest RESEARCH report examines trends in FLEXIBLE PACKAGING impacting the North American market including a review of economic conditions, key drivers of growth, materials pricing, M&A activity, sustainability challenges and the outlook for 2015.

Learn more

Plastics in Brazil - State of the Industry Report

This in-depth report examines the Brazilian plastics industry from a historical and geographical context. Our analysts provide insight on economic trends and forecasts, growing manufacturing sectors that utilize plastics, private investment opportunities, market environment challenges, and innovations in R&D.

Data tables and charts on producer prices, trade, plastics production and end market indicators is also included.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

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

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

October 27, 2015 - October 29, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - New York - 2015

More Events