Researchers Find Reducing Cars’ Weight Will Be A Tall Order

According to researchers from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, automakers won’t be making any massive leaps in terms of weight saving until they have high-volume production supply chains for composite materials at their disposal.

For this study, the research group inquired about what went into 44 different 2015 model year cars, then asked what materials carmakers would need to use in order to cut 5%, 10% and finally 15% of an automobile’s overall mass.

“If you have to get lighter weight vehicles, there is a huge shift to composites, and especially carbon fiber,” said Jay Baron, CEO of the research group. “Even in pillars and crossbeams and rails. In other words, the message to me was (from the automakers): We cannot get to a 15% lighter weight car without getting very aggressive with composites.”

The study was conducted with support from nine automakers, who provided detailed information on their parts with the sole condition that the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) would not disclose the vehicles used in the study, as reported by Autonews.

While high strength steel and aluminum may be familiar territory for most automakers, once they’ll need to trim 15% off, the material landscape changes, even from a structural perspective. Still, composites like carbon fiber (a strong contender for weight reduction) are also very challenging to introduce into high-volume models. According to Baron, it’s not just a question of cost but of know-how, too, as automakers do not yet have the expertise to produce composites right now and wouldn’t necessarily want to shift production for key components to outside suppliers.

“They say, ‘We worked hard to get standardized processes, and now that we have them you want us to make a composite door? It’s not standard, so you’re disrupting the process. Where is the leadership going to be to establish these processes for composites, for the high-volume production supply chain that is needed? This lack of a supply chain is a major barrier”, added the CAR CEO.

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  • james

    It should be easy cars weighed less a decade ago. remove airbags and auto climate controls and auto closing tail gates and save hundreds!

    • anonymous

      And then people won’t buy one because they feared for their safety and inconvenience. Everybody wins!

    • Status

      Remove airbags? Great idea! Might as well get rid of seatbelts too, those things weight at least 50kg. While you’re at it, dump the crumple zones and collision detection.

      Saving money should take priority over safety, right?

  • Kagan

    yes you could save some weight removing gadgets but the safety weighs.

  • ChrisInIL

    The average weight of a car produced in Europe is about 3,064 lbs (around 1,390 kg). The average weight of a car produced in the US is about 4,079 lbs (around 1,850 kg).

    Auto manufacturers know how to reduce weight in cars without changing “standard” processes.

    They just don’t want to face US consumers who unbendingly want larger and heavier cars.

    • Axel Cortez

      avg weight of the same class of car?

      • ChrisInIL

        All cars.

        • Axel Cortez

          roads are smaller in europe so they tend to use smaller cars so if production is averaged from all type of cars and they excel in making little compact cars avg weight is going to be lower, while in US roads are big, houses are big, cars are freaking big thus weighting in avg more

          • ChrisInIL

            I understand. The point is, auto manufacturors know how to make lighter weight cars, so reducing weight won’t be tall order, as they claim.

            Countering customer demands will be the tall order.

          • Axel Cortez

            You don’t seem to understand me. cars are smaller over there if you get the same size car they would weight almost the same no matter the country or continent.

            So bringing weight down while maintaining size and price point is a very tall order

          • ChrisInIL

            In my original post, I provided stats on the average weight of cars in Europe and in the US.

            What do you think I don’t understand?

          • Axel Cortez

            That in Europe most cars are smaller tiny little cars thus weighting less than the average American car that is larger.

            That is why in my first reply I asked if the was average weight of the same class or all cars sold over there.

            Making it smaller, yes makes it lighter but that is not the question overhere, the issue is to preserve the average size and cost and make it lighter.

          • ChrisInIL

            Why do you believe I don’t understand that just over 3,000 lbs is a lower weight than just over 4,000 lbs? Do you believe I don’t understand that European cars are smaller as well?

            Please reread my original post to see that I mention both the difference in weight and that US cars are larger and heavier.

            Automakers are claiming they can’t easily make lighter cars. They already do this in Europe, so that’s a false claim.

    • Kagan

      I don’t think so it most be old figures. Many family cars weighs 1700-1800 kilos in europe. Often more than the statistics which fools you as the emmisons do still.

      • ChrisInIL

        Good catch! I did not note the date of the US information I found, and it was old.

        According to the EPA, in 2015, the average weight of a car in the US was 4,034 lbs (1,830 kg).

        The Europe information provided previously was from International Council on Clean Transportation Europe for 2014 at 3,064 lbs (around 1,390 kg).

  • SteersUright

    Big business will always moan and bitch when progress and innovation requires, surprise, added R&D investment. But then those that don’t invest bitch and moan later when they have to play catch up with those that invested and suddenly have the most relevant product out in the market. They need to suck it up, embrace progress and if that means composites, then get your best and brightest to work!

  • Dustin

    This is assuming all the weight of the vehicle comes from the body? Why is the entire focus on panels and structure – that a 15% overall weight reduction requires making the body 15% lighter?

    A lighter body means smaller (and lighter) chassis and brake parts can be used, means a smaller (lighter) engine can be used, etc. (Except the latter won’t happen, as everyone only wants more power, with no regards to power-to-weight ratio.)

    Nevermind that it all runs counter to current regulations, where manufacturers are encouraged to build heavy SUVs which face lower EPA demands than cars.

  • Astonman

    The automakers need to get together and make a consortium on how to manufacture composite. It would speed up the process – cut down costs big time.

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