New vehicle innovations are reshaping the automotive industry at a more rapid pace than ever before. Global manufacturers are developing new products and processes at an accelerated rate, which is helping the automotive industry to become more efficient and technologically advanced.
One of the major trends leading this revolution is the lightening of vehicles throughout their design – from small components to large body panels. Using composite materials that are stronger, yet lighter than steel enables companies to create vehicles that require less fuel and create fewer emissions.
Why Are Automotive Manufacturers Constructing Lightweight Vehicles?
North American automotive OEMs are making their vehicles lighter for 2 key reasons:
1. Meeting Vehicle Emissions Standards
The U.S. federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed the National Program for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Economy Standards.
This program aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through various means, including through improved fuel economy. There are 2 phases of the program applying to light-duty cars and trucks:
- Phase 1: Model years 2012-2016
- Phase 2: Model years 2017-2025
By 2025, the National Program for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Economy Standards are expected to:
- Cut 6 billion metric tons of GHG over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025;
- Save more than $1.7 trillion in fuel costs; and
- Reduce the United States’ dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per-day by 2025.
The Government of Canada created the Passenger Automobile and Light-Truck Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations in 2011, which are aligned to U.S. emissions standards. The regulations seek to create a “level playing field that will lead North American manufacturers to produce more advanced vehicles” according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
2. Meeting Fuel Efficiency Standards
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are U.S. federal government regulations, first introduced in 1975, designed to drive incremental fuel economy gains in the fleets of automotive OEMs selling vehicles in the U.S. market.
CAFE has set incremental efficiency improvement goals out to 2025. As vehicles are not produced separately to meet U.S. and Canadian fuel economy standards, this ensures that all vehicles sold within Canada also meet the U.S. CAFE standards.
Canada has similar regulations to CAFE in place, named Company Average Fuel Consumption (CAFC) standards, which have been harmonized to CAFE standards since CAFC’s inception in 1976.
How are Vehicles Becoming Lighter?
OEMs and automotive parts suppliers achieve vehicle lightweighting by (1) using new, advanced materials that are both lighter and stronger than traditional steel components, and (2) through new advanced manufacturing methods.
Advanced Lightweight Materials
Common high-strength, lightweight materials used in automotive production include:
- Carbon fiber;
- Polymer composites; and
- Steel alloys, including:
- Dual-phase steel
- Multi-phase steel
- TRIP steel
New automotive manufacturing technologies also contribute to vehicle lightweighting. Some examples include:
- GM’s Aluminum-on-Steel Spot-Welding: GM became the first manufacturer with aluminum-on-steel welding capabilities by modifying electrical supply and robotics programs, eliminating the need to heavy-duty steel rivets.
- Ford & GM Aluminum Vehicle Design: Ford’s 2015 and later F-150 half-ton pickup trucks are made largely of aluminum components, as opposed to traditional steel. This vehicle contains 1,080 pounds of aluminum, whereas GM has also introduced extensive replacement of steel components with aluminum in their latest Chevrolet Corvette and Malibu models.
- Fiat Chrysler Magnesium Moulding: Chrysler’s 2017 Pacifica minivan will use a magnesium rear lift-gate. Magnesium is 75% lighter than steel, 33% lighter than aluminum, and can be shaped in simple molds to reduce manufacturing waste and allow for more complex designs.
How Vehicle Safety is Maintained
A key priority of efforts to lightweight vehicles is to maintain vehicle safety. Advanced materials, such as magnesium, are typically lighter and stronger per-volume than traditional steel, meaning that occupant safety is not compromised.
OEMs must still comply with federal vehicle safety standards and achieve competitive crash test results regardless of the materials being used, ensuring that vehicle safety is maintained as innovation progresses.
Canadian Government Funding to Develop Lightweight Automotive Materials
There are various categories of Government grant programs targeted at manufacturers, and even funds targeted specifically at automotive parts manufacturers, including:
Capital Equipment Grants
- Southwestern Ontario Development Fund (SWODF): Offers funding for business development and the expansion of SMEs located in southwestern Ontario. Projects should focus on creating jobs, attracting new investments and facilitating new business initiatives. Funding can be used to invest in new capital equipment, provide training, enhance productivity, and develop new infrastructure. Covers up to 15% of eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $1.5 million in non-repayable grant funding.
- CME SMART Green Fund: Offers grants to accelerate the adoption of innovative technologies that improve a company’s productivity and energy efficiency. Manufacturers who reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while simultaneously improving productivity may be eligible for grants to offset capital investment costs. Provides up to 50% of project expenses to a maximum $200,000 in Ontario government grants per facility.
- FedDev nvesting in Business Growth and Productivity (IBGP): Assists southern Ontario businesses scale-up to increase business capacity to participate in global markets. No-interest repayable loans are available up to a max of $20 million per project. Up to 25% of eligible project costs covered.
Research & Development Grants:
- Automotive Supplier Innovation Program (ASIP): Covers up to 50% of eligible expenses towards the development of innovative products or processes in the automotive sector up to $10 million.
- IRAP Mid-Size Projects Research Grants: Offers research grants to Canadian businesses specifically for the internal development and improvement of innovative technologies, products, and processes. The research grants are provided to offset up to 65-80% of eligible labour costs.