Reduction of mass from automobiles has been a subject of keen interest in developed markets for over four decades now, and over the last decade or so, fast growing markets like India too have dealt with the necessity to lightweight vehicles with tremendous sincerity. Today, lightweight design is seen as the key to sustainable mobility, as governments across the world mandate reductions in fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
As a result, heavy materials are being replaced with lighter alternatives in certain vehicle systems, and powertrains are being downsized. Manufacturers are also looking at reducing the number of vehicle parts used, or combining different parts to make a single part, which could potentially lead to the elimination of a lot of fasteners or other fixing components. Consider Formula 1 – the sport too is riding the efficiency bandwagon. Come 2014, the naturally-aspirated 2.4 l V8 engines would be replaced with turbocharged four-cylinder, 1.6 l V6 engines.
While there are several materials of choice to bring about lightweighting in future automobiles, the one with the best potential today, is aluminium. Aluminium could lead to up to 40 % weight reduction in key automotive components, and nearly 90 % of auto aluminium can be recovered and recycled.
Compared to steel, carbon fibre and titanium could lead to up to 50 % weight saving on vehicles, but currently these solutions are prohibitively expensive to be used in mass market products. High strength steel and magnesium are other alternatives commonly considered, and in many cases, used by automakers. Aluminium on the contrary, is comparatively cheaper.
In the difficult economic situation that we currently live in, it is to be seen how manufacturers and their suppliers take to alternative materials, because their use also hikes costs substantially. The industry is aware of the need, and we could possibly see innovations around alternative materials driving our future.
Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
New Delhi, November 2012