The increasing weight of the vehicles is leading to reduction of efficiency, range, and consequently increasing the carbon footprint. Hence, there is a dire need to reduce the weight of the vehicles. With the demand for electric vehicles increasing, the need to reduce the weight and remove the range anxiety is necessary. A slight incline in the average weight of the vehicles can be witnessed with more efficient models being introduced. The future generation vehicles would be a combination of various metals of which aluminum is anticipated to garner huge demand. This would also increase the cost of the vehicle. To address such issues, major OEMs are innovating to reduce the weight of the electric vehicle’s body majorly through the use of various materials such as aluminum, carbon reinforced plastic fiber, high strength steel, and others.
Lightweighting Material Market, Electric Vehicle, 2012-2030, (M Kgs)
Automotive structural components market is moving from conventional steel to lighter bodyweight materials such as sophisticated high-strength steel, aluminum alloy, magnesium alloy, and carbon fiber composites. These materials wills allow for lighter in weight components with properties of low density, high strength and high stiffness whilst meeting requirements for efficiency and safety.
Aluminum is anticipated to be the most used light weighting material given the low cost of the material and its high efficiency. The European OEMs have adopted aluminum to manufacture vehicles followed by Americas given the high demand for electric vehicles in the respective countries.
The ‘low-carbon aluminum’ is gaining popularity in the electric vehicle sector, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint. The cost of aluminum is relatively higher than steel, however, it provides significant amount of weight reduction, which is majorly required to manufacture body parts such as frames, doors, beams, and other parts of the vehicles.
Carbon Reinforced Plastic Fiber (CFRP) majorly used in aircrafts manufacturing was adopted by BMW, which became the first OEM to commercially produce a vehicle with CFRP. Although, the weight of the vehicle was significantly reduced with increased range, the price of production was too high.
The Third Gen Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) or Nano steel, is currently being tested and introduced in the electric vehicle segment. This product provides the flexibility to plan and create highly complex designs easily. This also reduces the weight of the vehicle by 10%–20% compared to the conventional steel body. The tensile strength of the material is approximately 1200 MPa and its ductility is measured as 50% elongation. Cutting one pound of vehicle weight with AHSS costs around 50 cents, while the cost of aluminum is fourfold that of AHSS.
Audi has incorporated a mix of metals — steel, aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber — together to decrease the weight of the Audi A8 Model. The company combines these products using 14 different processes.
BMW has incorporated carbon fiber-reinforced polymer body for its ‘i3’ model and is considering moving from carbon-fiber-reinforced composites to aluminum due to the shortage of carbon fiber and its high price.
Ford’s F-150 and Super Duty pickups are built using aluminum. The model was a huge success and the huge demand for the model was recorded due to more payload, more towing, more comfort and accessories, better acceleration, better fuel economy, and better vehicle dynamics.
Tesla has incorporated forged aluminum Arachnid, into the model S’s wheels reducing the weight of the vehicle by 34lbs and no tire spin. In addition, the car body structure is designed to absorb high strength impact. This also provides the vehicles with roll over protection.
Range Rover reduced the weight of its 2013 model by 420 kg, of which 180 kg can be attributed to changing from a steel to an aluminum monocoque body in white (BIW).
Steel continues to be the majorly used material in the automotive sector. Although with the increasing average weight of the vehicles, manufactures are moving to lightweight materials. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic due to its high cost is not prevalent in the industry in the electric vehicle segments. The electric vehicles currently in the market indicates that aluminum has a huge demand arising in the future.
Efficient and economical transportation systems require range efficiency, which becomes challenging because of the high temperatures of vehicle exhaust systems. There is a need to integrate vehicles with a technology that will improve the range economy. Alternative materials such as high-strength steel, aluminum, or glass fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which can decrease the component weight by 10%–60% are being developed in order to increase the efficiency and range of the vehicles. The companies are increasingly spending on R&D to improve the properties of metals such as strength, stiffness, and ductility of advanced metals. Aluminum producers are continuously developing stronger aluminum alloys. Novelis, for example, is now offering aluminum sheets that are two to three times stronger than previous sheets.
Global trends targeted towards more energy efficient vehicles driven by the strict legislations regarding reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are putting pressure on the car OEMs. In order to achieve higher energy-efficiency and meet the legislative requirements, lighter cars must be built. One of the ways to achieve lightweighting is to replace conventionally used materials, such as traditional steel with lighter metal alloys, with no compromise in the materials’ performance. Assessment of needs from different application segments in the automotive industry is carried out to identify the gaps and assess the future opportunities.
Lightweight composites offers lightweight properties along with high mechanical properties. Composites which are multi-functional, formed by combining at least two or more different materials to create a superior and unique material are able to meet diverse design requirements with significant weight savings as well as high strength-to-weight ratio as compared to the conventional material. Other benefits includes improved tensile strength, excellent fatigue, impact and weather resistant, and operational versatility among others.
The advantages of lightweight composites over conventional materials have resulted in the increase in interest for the usage of lightweight materials in automotive. Automotive is one of the largest lightweight composites market, which is being driven by the government regulations and customer needs, weight reduction of the vehicle to minimize the fuel consumption.