• Oct 25, 2006
Graphic: New York Times

The use of aluminum in automobiles is by no means ground-breaking news. Sixteen years ago Honda pioneered the first all-aluminum unibodied mass-produced vehicle with the NSX. Since then we've seen automakers turn to aluminum to reduce the weight of drivetrain components, body parts, suspension parts and the chassis while Audi has quite possibly been aluminum's loudest proponent among the major manufacturers.

If you'd like to delve a little deeper into the use of aluminum in cars, here's a short, fun New York Times article discussing the matter. The first issue they tackle is the fact that while aluminum is about one-third the weight of steel, it's also about one-third as stiff. You might extrapolate that this being true, the amount of aluminum used in a vehicle would have to be about three times that of steel, so no weight savings would be realized, but you'd be wrong. The key is that the thickness of any given material used is determined not directly by material strength, but by its resistance to buckling when formed into specific shapes. Because of aluminum's specific properties, it can often be reduced to about 1.5 times the thickness of a corresponding steel structure at only about half the weight. For instance, the Audi A8 aluminum space frame tilts the scales at just 548 lbs which is 46 percent lighter than it would have been if manufactured from steel.

The article also mentions that recent developments in aluminum casting techniques can produce parts that are nearly as strong as if they were forged. Unfortunately, the depth of the article prohibits the author from getting into deeper levels of detail, however, it remains an interesting, light read if you've got the time.

[Source: New York Times]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 6 Comments
      • 3 Days Ago
      It makes far more sense to spend an extra grand or two on building an aluminum car vs. a hybrid.

      The aluminum car could have a smaller engine and maintain the same power/weight ratio as a conventional car, but achieve better fuel economy.

      The main benefits of an aluminum car vs hybrid are as the car ages. An aluminum car won't rust out (big problem here in the snowbelt) and adds no reliability concerns.

      Compare that to a hybrid. Replacement parts are going to be prohibitively expensive, leading to early deaths. If you look at a Toyota parts catalog, you'll find that the Prius has $14,000 worth of parts just related to the hybrid system alone.

      KISS
      • 3 Days Ago
      While I think the idea of saving weight (thus saving fuel) is a good one, ever-rising cost of aluminum makes it unattractive to the average buyer. If people can't accept the premiums of a hybrid, why would they pay for the extra costs of an aluminum-framed car? Imagine if we start making tens of thousands of cars in Al, the cost for the commodity will skyrocket, and how will that affect the other industries?

      Of course, there are plenty of other options besides steel and Al, but factors such as material costs, energy costs (to create and recycle), infrastructure, public acceptance, etc. all contribute to the fact that we’re still stuck with steel as the prime source for building cars.
      • 3 Days Ago
      The best thing is combining aluminum construction with a super efficient (and powerful) diesel engine. Amazing mileage is possible from even a large sedan.

      See 800 miles on one tank in an Audi A8 V8 TDI:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br6qPRpKqRU
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo6U4yKA16k

      • 3 Days Ago
      or spend an extra $100 or $200 for alloy wheels.
      No more steel wheels.
      • 3 Days Ago
      perhaps if aluminum prices skyrocket, people will actually start to recycle those aluminum cans...
      • 3 Days Ago
      Actually Jaguar is closing down their research in this sphere... don't you think this is a vivd example that aluminium is still not that efficient?