• Aug 10th 2011 at 6:50PM
  • 25
Lamborghini's Advanced Composite Research Center – Click above for high-res image gallery

Stringent fuel economy guidelines unveiled by the Obama administration in late July will force the automotive industry to explore cost-effective lightweight materials for use in future vehicles, according to some industry analysts.

Automakers will turn to high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium and even low-grade carbon fiber to reduce vehicle weight or, as Automotive News says, to "cure" excess poundage. However, with consumers unwilling to pay a premium for lightweight vehicles, industry analysts say that the key to lightweighting is the development of low-cost materials.

Analysts say that carbon fiber and silicon are ideal for shedding weight, but, of course, such materials are simply too costly to be used extensively in vehicles. Joerg Pohlman, managing director of SGL Automotive, says that by switching to low-grade components, the cost of some exotic materials can be slashed in half. As long as they work and make our cars lighter, we don't much care what's inside.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      fred schumacher
      • 4 Years Ago
      What's missing is the role of automotive morphology. If we drive alone most of the time, we should be driving in a two-seat, single-purpose commuter vehicle most of the time, one that doesn't need to be as massive as a multi-purpose vehicle that is the industry norm. Such a single-purpose vehicle wouldn't need exotic composites to accomplish weight reduction. It's important that a single-purpose, hyper-efficient vehicle be low cost, since consumers will perceive such a vehicle as only providing half the utility of a multi-purpose one.
        Marco Polo
        • 4 Years Ago
        @fred schumacher
        Wonderful idea! Except that each time some idealist produces such a vehicle, they discover an amazing fact. No one wants one! (well, not enough anyway). So then these idealists, instead of saying to themselves, oh well maybe no one else shares my vision, start inventing conspiracy theories or why the authorities should make everyone buy one, "for their own good"
      Timo
      • 4 Years Ago
      You can easily meet those mpg figures with hybrids. Look what Volt gets. Real life mpg for huge majority of people is higher than 100mpg. For pure EV:s even better. Cost or performance of the hybrids or pure EV:s is no problem, if those car makers just use more than one braincell to seek the cheapest solutions. You can make 40mile worth battery that Volt has for about 4-3000 dollars worth of batteries, building the rest of the car around that wont cost much more than ordinary car (electronics and electric motors are *cheap* if mass-produced), and you get fuel economy to guarantee interest for buying those. Volt is over-expensive for its technology. There are also emerging technologies that make lightweight materials a lot cheaper and stronger in the future. Google for graphene paper. Graphene is one miracle substance, it can be used for way more ways than just lightweight body panels, it also is great conductor with right treatment (way better than copper, while being several times lighter) it is heat resistant and heat conductor (whichever way you want it to be) and so on and on.
      Mr. Sunshine
      • 4 Years Ago
      Well, if enough vehicles, planes and products make use of carbon or other synthetic fiber, it won't be so costly. It'll probably be cheaper than steal or aluminum. Synthetic materials are manufactured from artificial or organic cellulose. The amount of carbon fiber than can be produced and recycled at a economically sustainable rate is limitless compared to the amount of steal or aluminum.
        Jorge Pinto
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Mr. Sunshine
        Carbon fiber recycling is non existing at this point. You can try to reuse it, though. CF cost doesn't scale with volume in the way metal does, because it has a number of steps that require long times (hours), and minute inspection. The toxic/hazardous materials used on the process are also a high-costs drive.
          Mr. Sunshine
          • 4 Years Ago
          @Jorge Pinto
          I know, but that doesn't mean that the technology can't change. Maybe not carbon fiber but a different synthetic fiber or composite can scale. And there is some major development in regards to recycling it as we speak.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 4 Years Ago
      maybe try fiberglass..
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        Ordinarily I don't agree with you, but on this I think you have a point. There are many kinds of fiberglass, many of which are not quite so rigid and prone to shattering in sharp, jagged edges when impacted.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 4 Years Ago
          actually fiberglass is more flexible than carbon fiber and it's used for explosion proof cargo containers for planes. fiberglass isn't fragile. that's a misconception. it's a rather great material. which is why it's used for expensive boats and aircraft. most don't bother with carbon.
          GoodCheer
          • 4 Years Ago
          More specifically, the fragility of fiberglass composites, like an fiber reinforced composites, depends to a great extent on the matrix (ie. 'glue') holding the fibers in position. If there is a little give in the matrix, you end up with a flexible structure... flexible in certain ways, defined by the geometry of the part.
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 4 Years Ago
          Goodcheer, the fiber itself actually flexes a lot. 5 times more than carbon. similar tensile strength though. so made the same way fiberglass will feel more floppy but it will also be tougher. as I understand it the matrix doesn't really do anything strength wise. it just holds the fibers in place and let them do their thang. and they can be 10 times stronger than steel at 1/3 the weight. no small margin.
        electronx16
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        Does this mean your crusade for light weight is over ;)?
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 4 Years Ago
          @electronx16
          hell no. just look at BMW i series. they use carbon fiber and only managed to make it even heavier. they are all so unintelligent that they will find a way to mess up everything. they will make a 2000kg car and tell you it's light. you watch. and you sheep will just accept it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      OK, so to stop using a lot of oil we are going to start using a graphite/epoxy laminate that is made from oil? Keep in mind that a huge amount of a current construction vehicle is recycled (steel, aluminum, etc.) If in the US we switch a lot of that to composite materials that aren't exactly recyclable what do we do with the vehicle and the materials when we have to dispose of it? Landfill it?
        skierpage
        • 7 Months Ago
        Saving many tons of gasoline over the life of a car is very likely a worthwhile tradeoff even if a hundred pounds of CFRP wind up in a landfill. But some CFRP can be recycled somewhat, go learn at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon-fiber-reinforced_polymer#End_of_useful_life.2Frecycling
        JP
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually there are bio resin based epoxies available.
      Vince
      • 4 Years Ago
      easy. stop selling ford F350s and Dodge Rams
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Vince
        No kidding. This is how Honda makes their CAFE rating. Most trucks are not used to haul things in real life anyway; American tastes are strange..
        Woody Becker
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Vince
        Hey Vince why don't we start with Toyota Tundras and Nissan Armadas first since they get the worst MPG?
      Ryan
      • 4 Years Ago
      It also won't rust. I will wait to buy one of these vehicles. A light weight, aerodynamic, electric vehicle... what a novel concept.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nissan Leaf has 99 mpge, Tesla Roadster 2.5 has 119 mpge. Then there are even conventional cars that reach CAFE 2025 or get very close it already. Decade from now, even such an exotic material like carbon fiber decreases in price when demand and supply for it increases. It doesn't even necessarily have to be made from graphite quarries or plastics from petrochemical plants. Polymers from nature can work if not even better than synthetic materials. Then there are metal alloys that can be recycled and could be used for strategic points of the vehicle.
      joceclam
      • 4 Years Ago
      At some point, we, as a society, will need to learn to make sacrifices. If we don't want to pay for lighter vehicles, how about having smaller vehicles. I would be interested to know what would happen to fleet fuel economy if you offered the smaller models and smaller engines that are available in other markets (such as Europe). Ex: Ford Ka with a 1.2L engine. I say give people the choice to buy small.
        Marco Polo
        • 4 Years Ago
        @joceclam
        Small cars are offered by nearly all major car manufactures. People do have the chance to buy small. Some do, some love small cars. Others don't and buy a variety of sizes. That's called freedom of choice, that most people prefer medium sized vehicles, reflects the buyers preference.
          Jorge Pinto
          • 4 Years Ago
          @Marco Polo
          I think it's not so much related to the size per se, but more to how the interior materials feel, how poor/well damped it is (sound and mechanically), and all those Noise, Vibration and Harshness care only makes good financial case for a product whose base price is high. Audi, for instance, had quite a flop selling the small, very well built (in and outside), noise/vibration free, and stupendously economic A2... using a lightweight aluminum frame+body. It stands as a shouting example to everybody in the industry that building premium econo-boxes on the lower segments is not viable. Now their at it again with the A1, and from what I'm seeing, mileage won't vary.
      LEONARD
      • 4 Years Ago
      their kidding right ??? there is no will to build lighter ?? and if there were it could be done in many ways on the cheap and safe even with Wood, again how come people can do this in a tuff shed with Beer money and the big auto makers are like it's to hard ???
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