Environmental activists’ concern over energy consumption and greenhouse emissions in the transport industry is nothing new. According to a study commissioned by the International Aluminium Institute, entitled “Energy savings by Light-weighting”, the concern has not abated and current political targets and societal voices call for a substantial reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Vehicle lightweighting, in other words, the reduction of the weight of vehicles, has become one of the most discussed methods of reducing the energy consumption and resulting CO2 emissions caused by vehicles and associated upstream processes. Governments worldwide have set numerous targets to bring the consumption and emissions down, and the concept of reducing the weight of vehicles has gained a lot of traction. A proactive lightweighting strategy entails more than just replacing a few steel panels with lightweight materials, such as aluminum. It is about using the right material for the right part. Lightweighting is becoming a whole-vehicle concept, improving not only fuel economy and emissions but also vehicle performance and safety. There are several advantages to purchasing lightweight vehicles as opposed to their heavier, bulkier and less efficient counterparts. Below, we highlight three of these advantages:
1. Energy Efficiency
Lightweight materials are essential for boosting the fuel economy of modern cars while maintaining their safety and performance. Because it takes less energy to accelerate a lighter car than a heavier one, lightweight materials offer more potential for both automakers and auto buyers. Our research shows that when automakers reduce the weight of a vehicle by 10%, they boost the fuel economy of that vehicle by 6 to 8%, thereby putting dollars back in the pockets of fuel consumers. Traditionally, the automotive industry has approached reducing the weights of its vehicle by downsizing, a strategy that has seen a traditional vehicle go from 3,500 pounds to 2,500 pounds over the last 20 years. Today, however, that strategy has reached its limits. How much space can you cut out without affecting the quality of the vehicle? The new approach to reducing the weight is to select a lighter weight material, such as aluminum or magnesium, as opposed to the traditional, basic carbon steel.
2. Improved Safety
Composite materials, such as aluminum, magnesium and steel blends, have been proven to have better energy absorption than solid metals such as steel alone, and thus provide more protection upon impact. In addition, every modern car, either light or heavy, has something auto makers call “crumple zones”. These zones are designed to absorb the impact of any accident. If a vehicle is missing the zone, no matter what the weight of the metal used, the impact from the crash is transferred into the cabin. Unsurprisingly, lighter cars perform better in poor road conditions because their weight does not force the vehicles down, impeding necessary changes of direction. The momentum created by heavier cars is thus a liability during hazardous driving. Braking distance is also a safety issue. Due to the heavier car’s extra weight, the brakes must work harder to bring the car to a stop, which is another demerit in the overall safety profile of the heavier automobile.
3. Enhanced Performance
Not only are lightweight vehicles energy efficient, they also enhance performance. Models made from traditional steel feel heavier when driving, and they can also feel awkward when steering. Lightweight vehicles, on the other hand, are usually more maneuverable and easier to park in tight spaces. Replacing heavy vehicle components with units made from lightweight materials can reduce the weight of any vehicle from 10% to 60%.
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