Home > Uncategorized > For Lightweight Cars, a Race Among Steel, Aluminum and Carbon Fiber – NYTimes.com

For Lightweight Cars, a Race Among Steel, Aluminum and Carbon Fiber – NYTimes.com

October 13, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Mr. Scheps also said it was difficult for automakers to give up accepted industry practices. “They’ve had 100 years of working with steel,” he said. “It’s a very comfortable material for them.” But he offered a long list of advantages that he said should persuade carmakers with an eye on the CAFE standards to switch to aluminum.

“It performs as well as steel in accidents, and it absorbs twice the crash energy per pound of mild steel,” or older steel, Mr. Scheps said. “An aluminum crash rail folds up like an accordion, which is exactly what you want it to do.” He said aluminum also had advantages in corrosion, handling and braking.

He pointed to cars like the 2013 Range Rover, whose all-aluminum body is up to 39 percent lighter than older models, the company has said. The new Cadillac ATS uses many aluminum components, including the engine, hood and wheels. Mr. Scheps said the higher cost of aluminum was offset by lighter cars that required smaller engines, suspension and braking components.

That argument is also used in favor of carbon fiber, which is very light and strong but remains expensive. The BMW i3, a battery electric car designed for urban use, has an upper body structure of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic sitting on an aluminum chassis. It is scheduled to appear in late 2013. Although limited-edition supercars like the SRT Viper use carbon fiber, a BMW spokesman, Dave Buchko, said the i3 was “the first volume-produced vehicle that uses carbon fiber for the full body structure.”

Greg Rucks, a transportation consultant to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based environmental research group, said that carbon fiber offered “unparalleled performance advantages,” but estimated that replacing a steel “body in white” with carbon fiber would cost $1,200 per unit. Another hurdle for carbon fiber is a slower production process.

Despite all that, Mr. Rucks nonetheless sees a business case for using carbon fiber today, because it offers lower tooling costs and manufacturing processes, and significant fuel savings for the customer.

For those weighing the energy costs of producing alternatives, Mr. Rucks said the fuel savings from switching to lightweight carbon fiber composites would “far outweigh the energy intensity of producing the fiber, even with today’s relatively immature processing technology.”

It’s safe to say that carmakers will increase their use of all three materials — advanced steel, aluminum and carbon fiber — and creatively blend them into future cars. All offer big weight savings, and that’s critical in the countdown to 54.5 mpg in 2025.

via For Lightweight Cars, a Race Among Steel, Aluminum and Carbon Fiber – NYTimes.com.

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