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Throughout The Car Industry

Something Old, Something New

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On: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 5:48PM | By: Karen Cook

Something Old, Something New

They say everything old becomes new again. Fashions go out of style only to come back a few years later. The same happens with hairstyles, although I’m hoping we never get nostalgic for the afro. Cars are no different from any other trend. Shapes and colors come and go in cycles. Style and the coolness factor are not the only things that can bring back something from the past. Necessity plays its part too, and car manufacturers are digging into the history of the automobile to find ways to make modern vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient.

Ford is manufacturing the first aluminum truck, the F-150, which will be 700 pounds lighter than its steel counterpart. VW is using more aluminum too and BMW is beginning to use carbon fiber to replace steel. Finnish papermaker UPM-Kymmene Oyj has even more ideas for reducing a vehicle’s weight along with making it almost recyclable. He has developed a street-legal prototype called the Biofore which will be shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March. What’s special about this car is that it is made primarily from tree pulp and plywood. It even runs on fuel derived from tree bark and branches. Its creator has made sure that his car meets European safety standards while replacing heavy steel with a naturally renewable resource. Wood can reduce a car’s weight by as much as 15%.

Wood is not a new material in the automotive world. The first car frame makers were the same guys who made horse-drawn carriages and, naturally, used wood, not steel. Wood went out of fashion as sheet steel and aluminum appeared and then new techniques in metalworking were developed, making it easier to shape and provide uniformity through mass production. Wood had troublesome knots.

But, as we’ve stated, steel is heavy and causes a vehicle to use fuel less efficiently than lighter materials. Car manufacturers are again looking at the possibilities of utilizing wood for more than decoration, both for its weight and its renewability. Wood is also cheaper to work with at the factory and uses very little energy compared to steel, aluminum or carbon fiber. The drawback for car makers at this point is that they have already invested in very expensive stamping machines to shape steel auto bodies; new machines would have to become available and affordable for this idea to have any merit in their eyes.


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