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When It Comes To Future Cars, Lighter Is Better

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On: Thu, Apr 29, 2010 at 5:22PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

When It Comes To Future Cars, Lighter Is Better

One of the major ways to save on gas is to shed the weight in an automobile. The less weight there is to carry around, the less energy is needed to do the hauling. Over the years as the automobile has evolved, the average weight has increased, not only to provide more space and comfort, but also to help to increase safety ratings in crash tests.

With tougher environmental regulations being set these days, most automakers are now integrating the principle; less weight equals less gas, into engineering of new cars. The challenge is to build cars light and to keep them safe at the same time. Building cars that dissipate energy during a crash is a challenge, using new lightweight, but strong materials such as carbon fiber parts is one solution. According to marketing experts; “The ability of automakers to incorporate lightweight materials into their vehicles will go a long way toward determining their global competitiveness.”

As more research is being done on the most effective materials being used for fuel efficient cars, what is being discovered is that two characteristics: light and small, are being confused when it comes to automobile safety in crash tests. In 2002 a research company called Dynamic Research Inc. utilized data that had been incorporated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in past studies, and proved the government had been operating under some misinformation related to size, weight and safety in automobile accidents. What the new research showed was that “weight being equal, size protects passengers; size being equal, more weight kills more people.”

When automakers reduce the size of cars without changing the materials they are made from, they actually increase the risks of injury during car wrecks because the heavy material does not have as much “crush space” which is the amount of space that is available for the steel to be compacted into. Cars that are made of very lightweight carbon-fiber composites can absorb up to 12 times more crash impact than steel, and provide fuel economy at the same time.

Honda has been making lightweight cars that are very high in safety ratings and fuel efficiency for years and Toyota plans to introduce several new materials for its Lexus LFA sports car with plans to launch by the end of the year. Windows in the Lexus LFA will be small, and made from polycarbonate which is 30 percent lighter than glass. The LFA will be designed using carbon fiber inside and out. Nissan has adopted aluminum alloys for the doors and roofs of its sports cars.

Volkswagen is increasingly using aluminum for its luxury brands like Audi and Porsche, and BMW recently announced a joint venture with SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, would build a carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, Washington.
The new facility is part of a strategy to commercialize the manufacturing of ultra light weight carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in future vehicles.


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