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Lightweighting In The Car Industry

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Car manufacturers are working to shave off unnecessary weight in cars of the future so as to improve performance and reduce their carbon footprint. What does this mean for consumers?

Car manufacturers are always on the quest for new technologies to boost the performance and efficiency of their cars. As the global switch to a more carbon-neutral future gets into high gear, with electric and hybrid cars leading the charge, the automotive industry is also looking at new ways to reduce the weight of their cars.

This weight-loss programme, termed ‘lightweighting’, may not be a new concept to the auto industry, but it has matured enough to make a significant impact on our environment. Lightweighting places value not just on the use of materials, safety, manufacturing and operating costs, but also on adopting more sustainable production methods.

The advantages of a lighter vehicle are myriad. Weight elimination in structural parts such as the chassis permits the use of a smaller and lighter engine and lightweight brakes and suspension system. With less weight strain leading to less wear and tear on the car, the car’s lifespan is extended. A lighter core means that a smaller, lighter engine will be able to achieve performances similar to a heavier car with a bigger engine. Likewise, bigger brakes that are usually needed to stop a heavier vehicle can be pared down to decelerate a lighter vehicle. A lighter vehicle overall will be more agile — especially going into corners — and will be able to achieve higher speeds and have shorter stopping distances. The impact of a lighter vehicle is especially important in the evolution of EVs, whose battery makes up a considerable portion of the vehicle’s weight. Any reduction in body weight can only be beneficial to its efficiency and performance.

In the past, when heavy steel was used in car bodies, consumers had the misplaced notion that they were well protected in a ‘tank’. However, in the event of a crash, the weight of the vehicle transfers kinetic energy to the passengers instead of absorbing the impact. Lighter materials are designed to crumple on impact. They allow modern cars to have crumple zones. In the event of a collision, these zones absorb most of the blow and thus limit the impact on the driver and passengers.

Where heavier metals such as steel were commonly used in car manufacturing, lighter and structurally strong aluminum alloys are progressively taking over. Aluminium, once solely used in the aerospace industry, has become the go-to material for making most modern car parts. Similarly, carbon-fibre composites were once only deployed in aerospace and Formula One. The material has since made its way into the supercar market, and is inching into the mainstream car market; in fact, some car companies already manufacture body panels for family sedans and hatchbacks from composites.

Some car manufacturers are also looking to make their production methods more sustainable. Utilising advanced 3D technology as well as new-age metal additives, manufacturers are able to eliminate a significant amount of physical tooling and machining, which not only make up a substantial investment for car manufacturers, but are less sustainable manufacturing processes. This trend is catching on with larger car manufacturers, and the costs involved will definitely reduce as the technology matures, as they did with the initial introduction of light alloys and carbon fibre.

Lighter cars mean consumers will be getting vehicles that are safer, faster, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. The options open to consumers will only broaden as better and newer technologies emerge, guaranteeing an exciting automotive future for everyone.

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