Lightweighting is a Pinnacle of Innovative Vehicle Design
Driven by increasingly ambitious regulations in North America and around the world, the future of the mobility industry is being shaped by a growing need for improved fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Lightweighting – the process of reducing the weight of a vehicle via a variety of engineering efforts – has emerged as a viable strategy to help original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) reach these new standards across nearly all vehicle platforms. From passenger cars and hybrid-electric vehicles to linehaul trucks and even some off-highway equipment, lightweighting is now a critical element of the design phase.
In 2015, Frost & Sullivan published a Strategic Analysis of Powertrain Light-weighting Measures that identified vehicle lightweighting as a key area of fuel efficiency with the potential for up to 50 percent improvement. Vehicle manufacturers are taking this to heart and looking to collaborate with innovative suppliers that can develop, test, and refine the best implementations of this fuel-saving strategy.
Alternative Materials for Weight Reduction
Lightweight material development is a large and growing market, according to a report from McKinsey and Company. Today’s lightweight material mix includes plastics, high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, glass fiber, carbon fiber, and other lightweight metals – all of which vary in cost, strength, and weight advantages. Once cost-prohibitive, the price of some lightweight materials is now being offset by the penalties associated with unmet efficiency targets. Additionally, smarter designs continue to drive down the initial investment in these materials.
The light-vehicle industry is working to reach an average fleet-wide standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025 set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and most North American OEMs believe that removing weight from existing components is key to getting there. From the powertrain to tail lights, every system is being scrutinized for opportunities to reduce weight. A recent WardsAuto survey of 900 automotive engineers and designers determined that lightweighting is the top focus for improving fuel efficiency in passenger cars and light-duty trucks.
Dana is employing lighter weight materials in Victor Reinz® engine sealing components for the light-vehicle market. For example, our oil pan modules utilize advanced thermoplastics and an integrated design that combines multiple parts into a single component to achieve considerable reductions in both weight and cost when compared with a traditional stamped pan.
Another example of this weight reduction tactic for commercial vehicles is the Spicer® E-Series steer axle featuring a lightweight, steel-forged beam design to maximize the system’s integrity while eliminating up to 35 pounds from the steer axle assembly – increasing payload capacity and maximizing efficiency.
Reducing Individual Component Size Leads to Major Weight Savings
Automakers have realized that for every pound removed from an individual component, not only is that component lighter but other parts of the vehicle can also be downsized, reducing overall weight even further. Smaller engines require smaller fasteners. Lighter driveshafts allow for lighter bolts. These incremental weight savings can produce major dividends without sacrificing durability.
In the off-highway market, vehicle hybridization is a growing two-fold weight-reduction trend. OEMs are able to select a smaller engine and eliminate the need for costly exhaust after-treatment systems that would otherwise be necessary to meet emissions regulations. Dana is now offering an advanced hybridization solution in Spicer® PowerBoost® hydraulic-hybrid powertrain technology, which helps to reduce total cost of vehicle ownership by allowing for the use of a lighter, downsized engine. Ideally suited for hydrostatically-driven drivetrains, Spicer PowerBoost technology uses an energy-management system to evaluate the levels of power needed. It captures kinetic energy otherwise wasted throughout the drivetrain and then uses this recuperated energy to help power the vehicle.
Enabling Technologies to Achieve Weight Reduction
Removing weight from a vehicle is not a stand-alone strategy to reach emissions standards, and employing these tactics does not come without consequences to consider. Lighter, more efficient powertrain systems that maintain power and torque generate more heat. This has led to an increased need for products to manage these higher temperatures. The focus of thermal management has shifted from traditional cooling solutions to more complex repurposing or dissipating of heat energy.
Dana is utilizing thermal management to offset the byproducts of lightweighting with technologies such as exhaust gas heat recovery. By capturing otherwise wasted thermal energy and redirecting it to rapidly warm powertrain fluids, friction is reduced and fuel economy is improved. This heat recovery system can even direct warmed coolant back to the cabin heater core to warm the vehicle in cold temperatures.
We’d like to hear your thoughts.
- When it comes to weight reduction, what do you think is the most important outcome? Fuel savings? Reduced emissions? Maintained durability? Increased payload? Something else?
- Which lightweight materials would you like to see incorporated into new vehicle designs?
- What vehicles available today do you think best implement lightweighting without sacrificing reliability and performance?
- What other tactics have you implemented to reduce weight? How successful have they been?
- What are the downsides of lightweighting?