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Automakers are working to meet the improved vehicle fuel economy ahead of the 2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards implementation and lightweighting tops the list of possible solutions, according to Ward’s Automotive Trends survey.

The 2017 Wards Auto survey finds that lightweighting and the use of lightweight structural materials continue to lead the list of technologies respondents are most focused on to meet the 2025 CAFE standards. Engine efficiency programs came in second. Vehicle electrification technologies came in third (mild hybrid/start/stop) and fourth (full hybrid/plug-ins) respectively, both demonstrating slight gains over 2016.

Though aluminum remains the most-cited material choice for meeting the 2025 CAFE standards, automakers have sharpened their focus on engineering plastics as a lightweighting tool, which increased by 5 percentage points year-over-year – the single-largest increase in material choices versus 2016 – while interest in multimaterial solutions retreated by 4 percentage points. Advanced composites like continuous fiber and carbon fiber took fifth place, behind advanced, high-strength steel.

“In addition to enabling innovations in passenger safety, comfort and convenience, plastics have been delivering lightweighting solutions for more than 30 years,” said Brian Fish, North American automotive marketing manager, DuPont Performance Materials. “The newer emerging technologies like advanced composites hold promise. However, by engaging material suppliers early in the design process, there are still many opportunities for lightweighting with existing materials.”

Under the Hood and in the Cabin

The vehicle powertrain remains the most-cited focus area for vehicle lightweighting efforts, up two points from 2016, with the chassis running a distant second.

The survey spotlighted another change worth noting: the rise in vehicle interiors as a lightweighting target, interest in which practically doubled year over year. OEMs are introducing creative lightweighting solutions to help differentiate vehicle interiors, contributing to passenger safety and comfort and improving utilization of space through the use of new materials in these critical areas.

Published in the September 2017 Edition of American Recycler News