• Mar 17th 2009 at 6:29PM
  • 14
Heavy steel wheels are relatively rare in showrooms these days -- it seems they are heading the way of bias-ply tires. Most new cars are delivered with cast aluminum wheels. While cast wheels weigh less than comparative steel wheels, they are still manufactured with thick castings and solid spokes (forged aluminum wheels, both lighter and stronger, are generally more expensive and as such, fitted largely to performance vehicles).
Alcoa Wheel & Transportation Products, one of the world's largest aluminum suppliers, is determined to reinvent the wheel in an effort to save fuel and lower emissions. The company is tackling this issue by designing wheels manufactured with higher strength aircraft-quality aluminum. The alloy is 20 percent stronger than the current wheel material, so wheels can be made thinner and with hollow spokes.

Alcoa recently displayed two 20-inch wheels for comparison: A Chrysler OEM aluminum wheel weighed 35.5 pounds, while the Alcoa alloy wheel weighed just 27.7 pounds. The benefits are obvious, and Alcoa is quick to point out that the weight savings are a simple bolt-on solution -- they don't require expensive engineering at the design level to seek weight-savings. Educating the public that lightweight wheels aren't just for high-performance vehicles, the aluminum manufacturer says that the reduced unsprung mass benefits hybrid and electric vehicles by extending their range and increasing their efficiency... and lest we forget, Alcoa is the OEM wheel supplier to the upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

[Source: Automotive News, subs. req'd]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think the point of these aluminum wheels is to showcase the opportunity available by making small process tweaks.

      Forged wheels are much more expensive than cast wheels because of very expensive tooling (high capital investment). I can't imagine this would make much difference if they were standard equipment on high-volume cars, but it's enough to scare off mainstream manufacturers. Carbon Fiber wheels use expensive material and monumentally expensive and difficult (near impossible at even today's "mass" production volumes) processes to achieve unproven reliability.

      Forged wheels are stronger because the manufacturing process aligns the material's microstructure in the direction of stress and work hardens the material simultaneously. Casting cannot take advantage of this, plus requires certain alloy properties conducive to mold flow that forging does not require. It seems Alcoa has managed to mold an alloy with improved properties over typical casting alloys, and that's the real story.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So now we can add 20 pounds of chrome instead of just 15!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Yes. But how will they fare on post-winter roadways in places like Detroit, Chicago and Boston. Some of the potholes I have seen are true wheel breakers!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Pfft.... aluminum, how quaint! How about some CARBON FIBRE wheels?

      • 6 Years Ago
      Forging results in wheels that have significantly less mass than casting. I have 20" 3 piece forged wheels on my car and even with 305 tires on 20x11 wheels they are impressively light.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is pretty interesting, actually. I mean, if an alloy wheel can increase efficiency of a car, I'm all for it. Add that to green fuel and a sweet-looking ride, then my dreamcar is there!

      • 6 Years Ago
      Even more weight could be saved by manufacturers not using such ridiculously oversized wheels. Unless you can't clear the brakes, there's really no reason to go larger.
        • 6 Years Ago

        a 14" steelie weighs ~20lbs and gives a better(more compliant) ride
        • 6 Years Ago
        Either way, a 14 or 15" wheel with - what - 80 series tires and your car handles like a Camaro - on ice. But the ride will be nice!
        • 6 Years Ago
        thats heavy for a 14" wheel! My old 15" forged aluminum wheel was 9 pounds and strong as hell.
        • 6 Years Ago
        So that your car does not look like a POS hyundia!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Agreed on the value of small steel wheels. Much more durable than alloys, and also less likely to develop slow leaks due to bad beads.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Website doesn't even provide any passenger car applications, only for trucks and such. I know they made a custom set for Jay Leno. Wonder what it'll take for them to start production on a wheels for passenger cars (non-truck).
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