Lighter vehicles roll from research to road

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: August 9, 2013 12:48 pm ET
Updated: August 9, 2013 12:55 pm ET

Image By: Joe Wilssens GM's Mike Regiec with a stripped-down aluminum and composite frame of the 2014 Corvette Stingray

Related to this story

Topics Automotive, Sustainability
Companies & Associations General Motors Co.

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — There was something new about the discussion on lighter-weight cars and trucks at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars this year.

As the 2013 session kicked off Aug. 5 in Traverse City, new lighter vehicles are hitting the road, using new technology and new materials and moving what had just been laboratory research out onto the assembly line as automakers begin the push to meet higher fuel economy standards.

"Quite frankly, it's staggering to see where we have to get to," said Mike Regiec, manufacturing chief and technical fellow for body in white engineering at General Motors Co. "Getting to 54½ [miles per gallon by 2025] is going to require us to make every subsystem, every component as efficient as possible."

Every 10 percent of weight savings in a car adds up to 3-4 percent in fuel savings, Regiec said, which is putting new emphasis on lighter technologies.

Regiec was a key part of the team creating one of the highest-profile lightweight vehicles going into production this year.

The 2014 Corvette Stingray has an aluminum frame and a composite-intensive body structure. To drive its lightweight, high-style point home, GM had both a complete Corvette parked in the shade outside the conference's home base of the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City, and the stripped-down aluminum and composite frame on display inside.

"As the saying goes, this is not your father's Oldsmobile," Regiec said.

The Corvette's standard carbon-fiber hood and roof panels — made by Plasan Carbon Composites at its new plant in Walker, Mich. — have already gotten attention from the industry, but the car's developments in composites go beyond those parts.

The car's aluminum frame has a composite underbody panel made with nanocarbon and fiberglass reinforcement. The sheet molded compound used on exterior panels is a lower-density composite that is 17 kilograms lighter than the SMC used on previous models of the Corvette.

For the aluminum frame, GM developed new joining technologies to reduce the number of welds. Each weld, baffle and rivet adds weight to a car, Regiec said, and needs to be considered as part of the process of reducing weight.

"The full range of lightweighting technology will expand," he said.

The Corvette is far from being the only example of new, lightweight technology that is finally going into production. Jaguar Land Rover has a new aluminum frame on its latest sport utility vehicle. BMW AG's carbon-fiber i Series of all-electric cars are being rolled out this fall after more than a decade of R&D.

"There is no one answer for lighter-weight solutions, but [companies] are reaching out to their R&D operations and starting to bring a lot of things out into production," said Dave Mason, vice president of global automotive for Altair Engineering Inc. of Troy, Mich.

Altair sponsored the new Enlighten Award — presented to BASF AG for 2013 for a composite seat pan structure — to recognize lightweighting efforts throughout the global auto industry. Its 10 finalists took in the seat used in a model of GM's Opel Astra in Europe, as well as a composite leaf spring, aluminum chassis and carbon-fiber body panels.

"Every system, every component throughout the vehicle is a candidate for weight savings," said Mike Day, DuPont Automotive Performance Polymers development director in North America.

Don't expect other material suppliers to welcome composites with open arms. Phil Martens, president and CEO of aluminum maker Novelis Inc., downplayed the potential of carbon fiber to move into mainstream production. Martens maintained the carbon fiber is too expensive and takes too long to mold, saying it is only good for "esoteric" vehicles.

In DuPont's annual auto survey, more than 60 percent of the 1,300 participants said the value of lightweighting is increasing. Mason noted that the closer the industry gets to its 2025 fuel economy mandate, the more important lighter-weight parts will be.

Many of the fuel performance improvements that have taken place so far represent the low-hanging fruit of improved efficiency of a traditional internal combustion engine or greater use of hybrid power systems.

Since 2005, Toyota Motor Co. has improved its fuel economy by 18 percent, said Justin Ward, general manager of the powertrain system control department for the Toyota technical center in North America. In the next 10 years, it will have to push for another 25 percent in improvements.


Comments

Lighter vehicles roll from research to road

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: August 9, 2013 12:48 pm ET
Updated: August 9, 2013 12:55 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

China's biggest fuel tank maker getting a US foothold

April 23, 2014 4:41 pm ET

The majority owner of China's biggest fuel tank maker is expanding its global automotive footprint with the acquisition of the fuel tank unit of...    More

Image

How CEO Santi is changing ITW

April 23, 2014 2:48 pm ET

Scott Santi is showing he can do more than just cut costs at Illinois Tool Works Inc.    More

Image

Unilever puts Dove brand on a MuCell diet

April 23, 2014 1:57 pm ET

New technology employed by Unilever NV in the manufacture of bottles for its Dove Body Wash range of products could end up saving the brand owner up...    More

Image

TSM growing into a second generation of leadership

April 23, 2014 12:50 pm ET

This is a time of great growth for the Dundalk, Ireland-based TSM Control Systems, a company that has created a name for itself since 1977 by...    More

Image

Coffee roaster looks to improve footprint of single cup systems

April 22, 2014 1:30 pm ET

One of the largest coffee and tea manufacturers in North America has introduced a single-serve beverage capsule intended to curb the waste created by ...    More

Market Reports

Market Data Book - Rankings & Lists

A one-stop download of Plastic News' exclusive annual lists and processor rankings containing essential data including sales, employees, end markets, materials and more.
EXCLUSIVE EXCEL FEATURE: full mailing address details for available plant locations.

Learn more

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Mold Making and Tooling Review and Outlook 2014 North America

This report provides in-depth analysis of the mold and toolmaking market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats, the latest developments in production and labor and equipment trends impacting moldmakers.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

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

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events