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 Sustainability Automotive
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

Ford moving forward in carbon fiber for 'high volume' use

April 17, 2015 10:21 am ET

Ford Motor Co. has signed a deal with a carbon-fiber manufacturer to jointly explore “high-volume” automotive uses for the lightweight...    More

Image

Thailand's Royal Group adding thermoforming plant in Indiana

April 17, 2015 11:17 am ET

Royal Interpack North America Inc. is spending $12 million to make recycle-content PET clamshell containers in Anderson, Ind.    More

Image

Zoltek expanding CF capacity in Europe

April 17, 2015 10:12 am ET

Leading carbon fiber group Zoltek Corp. has signed a strategic agreement with the Hungarian government to expand its operation in northern Hungary,...    More

Image

Hanwha Azdel adds capacity in Lynchburg

April 16, 2015 2:01 pm ET

Composite maker Hanwha Azdel Inc. will add space and a new production line at its Lynchburg, Va., production facility, the company announced April 16.    More

Image

Denmark's Faerch Plast looks to expand packaging market beyond Europe

April 16, 2015 10:52 am ET

Denmark-based Faerch Plast A/S, a food packaging company, has announced it plans to target Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, ...    More

Market Reports

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

Injection Molding Market Analysis & Processor Rankings

Plastics News BUNDLED package contains our in-depth Market Analysis of the Injection Molding segment. You will gain keen insight on current trends and our economic outlook.

As a BONUS this includes PN's updated 2014 database of North American Injection Molders RANKED by sales volume. Sort, merge, mail & prospect by end market, materials processed, region, # of plants and more.

Learn more

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

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

September 15, 2015 - September 17, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events