News outlet Nikkei reports that Japan-based steelmakers and chemical firms are developing materials and components that will make vehicles significantly lighter. The reason? Putting an end to Japanese automakers procuring components from rivals overseas.
These innovative lightweight materials include high-density steel tubes made by Sumitomo Metal Industries. A unique heat treatment process makes these tubes easy to mold into complex shapes, while at the same time making them up to 150-percent stronger than conventional steel. On the fiber front, both Toray Industries and Teijin are working to develop technology for producing low-cost carbon fiber components.
Finally, on the plastics side, DIC Corporation will build a production line for polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), a high-function resin. PPS has been drawing massive amounts of attention as a lightweight alternative to metal. It's main use is in components surrounding engines, like the fuel injection rail pictured above. DIC controls roughly 30 percent of the global PPS industry and with the additional production line, DIC will have the capacity to pump out up to 5,500 tons of PPS components a year.
Lightweight steel, low-cost carbon fiber and high-tech resins – a three-component approach to remain competitive with foreign rivals while at the same time reducing vehicle mass. Add it all up, and you've got the potential to bump up fuel economy in a big way.