Automakers are highlighting plans to reduce weight in North American vehicles efficiently and safely to meet stricter fuel economy standards. Making even greater use of high-strength, low weight materials, like aluminum, to meet the stricter government regulations allows automakers to manufacture lighter vehicles that produce fewer emissions and need less fuel or battery power to operate.
Several manufacturers, including GM, Ford, Nissan, Audi, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, have all revealed plans to remove hundreds of pounds of weight from future models. With weight reduction plans already in motion, the aluminum industry is predicting demand for automotive aluminum to double in the next decade.
“Aluminum offers the fastest, safest, most environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way to reduce weight and build a better vehicle,” said Randall Scheps, ATG Chairman and Director of Ground Transportation, Alcoa Inc. “As part of a more holistic approach to designing and engineering cars and trucks that includes lighter yet stronger materials, smart design, advanced powertrains and cleaner fuels, aluminum solutions are available today to address the challenges facing the auto industry.”
Industry research confirms weight reduction with aluminum can maintain or even improve safety. Designed to fold predictably during a crash, aluminum absorbs – pound for pound – two times the energy in a crash compared to steel and offers greater weight reduction potential while retaining strength.
According to research by the University of Aachen in Germany for the European Aluminum Association, key automotive components in aluminum can reduce vehicle weight safely by as much as 40 percent, compared to only 11 percent for high-strength steel. Combined with other data on the benefits of aluminum, this research suggests a total of about 525 pounds of additional weight savings potential, which could result in 2.7 more miles per gallon or a nearly 10 percent further improvement in fuel economy over a typical auto today without sacrificing the vehicle’s safety performance.
Additionally, the automakers’ increased focus on total system cost allows aluminum to compete successfully with other materials because of the advantages it brings in primary and secondary weight savings, fuel savings, structural performance and design flexibility. In fact, Aluminum Association research reinforces that secondary cost savings can offset cost premiums helping make aluminum a more cost-effective solution.
Research also indicates that vehicles made lighter with aluminum produce fewer overall emissions. Independent analysis from the magnesium industry confirms that aluminum has the smallest carbon footprint of competing materials when considering the full lifecycle of production, manufacturing, on-the-road use and end-of-life recycling phases. According to the study, magnesium delivers a 15 percent energy savings compared with steel design and aluminum yields a 20 percent energy savings. When considering total life cycle CO2 emissions, magnesium is 12 percent better than steel and aluminum is 20 percent better. Aluminum also achieved the best lifetime performance for overall energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are on the brink of a materials upheaval in the auto industry,” concludes Scheps. “As automakers work toward improved fuel economy and emissions, real world examples complemented by a significant body of research confirms aluminum can take out significantly more weight safely than even newer steels while remaining cost competitive and having a lower overall carbon footprint than any other competing material.”
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About the Aluminum Association
Through its Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG), the Aluminum Association communicates the benefits of aluminum to help accelerate its penetration in ground transportation applications through research programs and related outreach activities. The ATG’s mission is to serve member companies and act as a central resource for the automotive and commercial vehicle industries on aluminum issues. Members of the ATG include: Alcoa Inc., Novelis Inc., Rio Tinto Alcan, Aluminum Precision Products Inc., Kaiser Aluminum Corporation, Hydro and Sapa Group. Visit the ATG online at www.drivealuminum.org.