According to the TV ads, the sound the Golf makes when you close the door is reassuringly solid, but maybe that’s all about to change.
Legislation on CO2 emissions as well as tax breaks for low emission cars is encouraging car manufacturers to think far more seriously about whether new, lighter materials could replace steel. According to The Engineer 99.9% of all cars on the road are steel intensive; if they weighed less they would be more fuel efficient which would be good for the environment as well as our purses.
Sports cars, racing cars and aerospace manufacturers have been experimenting with different materials from aluminium and polycarbonates to vegetable based composite materials. WMG’s EcoF3 car may look like a Formula 3 car, but it’s made from experimental materials like polymers derived from the starch in carrots and potatoes and brake pads made of cashew nut shell fibre.
Although there are some exceptions – Jaguar Land Rover switched to all aluminium bodies in 2009 – for most car manufacturers the cost of changing plant and manufacturing processes away from steel has been just too expensive to justify. The article in the Engineer argues that electric cars might be the game changer as the battery is so heavy manufacturers must make everything else lightweight to compensate. As more and more manufacturers introduce electric cars into mainstream production it will challenge those traditional processes and materials.
A switch away from steel would mean new skills would be required too. Stamping, pressing and bonding skills are different for steel than aluminium for example and skills learnt in motorsport and high end sports car production could become more broadly useful.
The full article in The Engineer provides more information about the advances in ‘lightweighting’ car production.
Recently, German scientists have developed the lightest material in the world, Aerographite. Researchers think that the new material could allow for great reductions in battery weight, leading to more efficient electric cars and bikes.