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Lightweight Construction

Automotive Sector: Benefits of Lightweight Construction

Cars have finally stopped getting heavier and heavier. Making electric vehicles lighter and more efficient is a key goal for the automotive industry.

13 Sep. 2017
Leichtbau Automobilindustrie

With the diesel scandal and ecomobility trend, everybody’s talking about electric vehicles. However, before EVs can make a meaningful breakthrough, manufacturers must boost their ranges. That means bigger batteries. Bigger batteries not only provide more electricity, they also pile on the pounds. The added weight increases fuel consumption, so manufacturers are doubling down EVs need to lose a lot of weight before they can be considered truly efficient. Management and strategy consultants McKinsey did the math in a recent report: By 2030, automotive manufacturers have to increase the percentage of lightweight components in vehicles from 30 to 70 percent to compensate for heavier electric powertrains and engine technology.

Special materials minimize the overall weight

There are other reasons why lightweight construction makes sense in the automotive industry. For example, brawny SUVs are more popular than ever before . Besides their inherently higher weight, they feature more and more electronic systems. And not just in family soft-roaders. Customers demand more, but increased comfort, more fuel-efficient engines and comprehensive modern safety systems featuring sensors, cameras and radar systems add a lot of weight.

The increased weight also hurts the ride dynamics. For example, brakes have to be specified according to the weight of the car to achieve the required braking distance. The heavier the car, the larger the brakes, and the higher the overall costs.

Lightweight construction reduces emissions

Lighter weight also means lower fuel consumption, not just for electric vehicles. Lightweight construction is particularly interesting for automotive manufacturers, as the EU has issued a new directive mandating a CO2 reduction for passenger cars . It imposes strict emissions limits on manufacturers: they will have to pay for every excess gram of CO2. By 2020, automotive manufacturers must reduce emissions to below 95 grams per kilometer or face fines of roughly 4,000 euros per vehicle. Shedding 100 kilograms in weight reduces fuel consumption by roughly half a liter – it pays to reduce CO2 emissions.

None of this is possible without lightweight materials

Manufacturers are focusing increasingly on lighter structures and materials. Well-known lightweight materials include aluminum and magnesium. According to the McKinsey report , high-tensile steel remains the most important lightweight material. As a result, its market share in the automotive industry is set to increase from 15 percent to 40 percent, replacing conventional steel in many applications.

Hybrid combinations of metal and composites like carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), which are particularly light and robust, are also popular. The material is used in the bodywork of the BMW i series, for example. Researchers at TU Chemnitz are currently working on wheel rims that they claim will be half the weight of conventional wheels, yet extremely robust. They are based on aluminum foam and fiber composites. The scientists expect them not only to make the vehicle lighter, but also to improve the driving experience.

Exciting prospects for the future of motoring

Lightweight construction and innovative supplier solutions call for new ideas. You can learn more about new approaches, the latest developments and discuss aspects in detail with experts at leading international trade fair Industrial Supply .