DuPont Automotive survey: Aluminum, multi-material solutions head lightweighting strategies in auto industry

Aluminum heads the list of materials that the auto industry is turning to in order to meet 2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards according to the annual Wards Auto survey, sponsored by DuPont Automotive. 33% of respondents cited this material compared to 32% in the 2014 survey. Meanwhile, multi-material solutions proponents fell slightly for 21% to 19% of respondents. Engineering plastics and advanced high-strength steel comprise the second tier of material strategies. Further, respondents continued to express "moderate confidence" that today's materials are sufficient to meet the future standards.


Multi-material solutions, advanced composites, lose some ground in

automobile lightweighting stakes.

"We are pretty bullish on the impact that materials can have on lightweighting," said Jeff Sternberg, technology director, DuPont Automotive, "and new solutions continue to be introduced. But materials alone are not enough when it comes to reducing vehicle weight in the 10-15 percent range. Those big opportunities require fundamental changes in design, manufacturing and assembly as well. These more 'disruptive technology' developments are taking longer, but the work is moving forward. High volume adoption by 2025 may be optimistic for some of them, as we are just a little more than two vehicle model cycles away, but I am confident we will see an impact."

Slow progress in low-cost processing technologies for advanced composites may be one reason behind the decline in backing of this material as a practical lightweighting strategy. Nine percent of respondents cited advanced composites in 2015 versus 11 percent in the 2014 study.

While lightweighting and engine efficiency again top the list of strategies the auto industry is using to meet 2025 CAFE standards, the survey, shows all technologies are getting more emphasis as the mid-term review deadline looms. Transmission technologies, new to this year's survey, and electrification form the second tier of strategies, according to the nearly 900 respondents in the automotive design and engineering community.

"Lightweighting is a universal approach because it can be applied to every system and every component and it amplifies the impact of the other strategies," said Sternberg. "Electrification, which saw one of the largest increases in mentions this year, is fast becoming another universal strategy. Light electrification, such as start/stop, regenerative braking systems and transmission and engine controls, is expanding across the light vehicle fleet."

With the mid-term review of the 2025 CAFE standards scheduled through 2017, 86 percent of the respondents say they expect the standards to strengthen or remain the same. At the same time, the majority of respondents, 87 percent, say low gas prices in combination with low sales of fuel efficient, low emission vehicles will impact programs to meet CAFE regulations.

"The survey responses might suggest that the industry is backing off technologies that lower emissions and improve fuel economy," said Sternberg, "but it's important to remember the global automotive industry has to navigate emissions regulations throughout the world, so we still need to run full-steam ahead. That said, the current market dynamic is certain to spark some lively debate during the mid-term reviews."

The light-duty vehicle CAFE and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions rate standards require, on an average industry fleet-wide basis, 163 g/mile of CO2 in model year 2025, which would be equivalent to 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100km) if this level were achieved solely through improvements in fuel efficiency. The mid-term review by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2016-2017 was designed to determine technology readiness and ability to implement at acceptable cost. A final decision is due April 2018.

Now in its fifth year, the DuPont-sponsored survey with WardsAuto was conducted by Penton Market Research, Overland Park, Kan. The nearly 900 respondents work for system, component or parts manufacturers, automakers, engine or engine-service companies or in automotive-related industries. Most represent engineering, design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and corporate management.

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