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NEWS
Reducing Vehicle Body Structure Weight Using Aluminum
April 15, 2011

By analyzing 26 automotive components, a recent study concluded that using aluminum in select automotive components could reduce vehicle body structure weight safely by as much as an additional 40 percent compared to today’s vehicles, far more than competing materials. The study, conducted by the University of Aachen in Germany for the European Aluminium Association (EAA), assessed steel and aluminum’s potential and limits in weight reduction. In his keynote address at the 2011 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress, the chairman of the Aluminum Association’s Transportation Group (ATG) detailed key findings from this automotive materials sustainability study as well as the anticipated increase in usage of automotive aluminum to meet new fuel economy and emissions standards.

“We are on the cusp of a materials upheaval in the auto industry. Reducing vehicle weight is key to cutting carbon emissions and boosting fuel economy, since lighter vehicles can produce fewer emissions and need less fuel or battery power to operate. As automakers race to improve fuel economy, this data confirms aluminum can take out significantly more weight safely than the even newer steels, which is why auto aluminum use is expected to double in the coming decade,” said Randall Scheps, ATG Chairman and Director of Ground Transportation, Alcoa Inc.

By comparison, the study found that weight reduction potential using high-strength steel was limited to only an additional 11 percent. The reason the potential weight reduction using high-strength steel is so small, is that nearly 40 percent of the parts analyzed simply cannot be made thinner regardless of the grade of steel used. If high-strength steel were to be used to downweight these parts, their stiffness actually would be reduced and the car’s performance would suffer, whereas, aluminum could be used without reducing stiffness or causing the car’s performance to suffer.

This study combined with other data on the benefits of aluminum suggest a total of about 525 pounds of additional weight savings, which could result in 2.7 more miles per gallon or a nearly 10 percent further improvement in fuel economy over a typical auto today. This can be done while maintaining – if not further improving – vehicle safety.

“The answer for cleaner, more efficient, affordable cars and trucks is a holistic approach to include low-weight, high-strength, affordable materials – like aluminum – matched with smart design, advanced powertrains and cleaner fuels,” said Mr. Scheps.

For a copy of the Aachen study, or the ATG’s presentation at the SAE World Congress, please visit www.aluminumintransportation.org.


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