Study: Steel Cuts Weight Gap with Aluminum Car Bodies


DETROIT — The latest in a continuing series of research studies by WorldAutoSteel, strongly suggests that steel auto body structures in the near future can be as lightweight as today’s aluminum bodies, while meeting all crash performance standards and at cost comparable to today’s steel structures. The studies also show how automakers can form and fabricate sophisticated steel designs and accelerate their implementation in production vehicles.

Building on a weight reduction of 35 percent announced in 2011 in its initial Future Steel Vehicle design, the most recent studies boost lightweighting to 39 percent, compared to a baseline vehicle using an internal combustion engine. The optimized FSV body weighs 176.8 kg, putting steel on par with today’s aluminum-intensive production designs. These lightweight, advanced high-strength steel body structures, designed to carry heavier electrified powertrains, fall in line with the lightest internal combustion engine aluminum vehicles, and are on par with other concepts featuring alternative materials.

“The results show that by incorporating FSV’s materials and manufacturing technologies, automakers can avoid pursuing more costly alternatives and complicated multi-material designs to achieve their goals,” Lawrence W. Kavanagh, president, Steel Market Development Institute said.

The FSV program employs more advanced steels and steel technologies in its portfolio and consequently adds to the tool sets available to automotive engineers around the world. It includes more than 20 new AHSS grades, representing materials expected to be commercially available in the 2015 to 2020 timeframe. The FSV program addressed four 2015 to 2020 model-year vehicles: battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric  A-/ B-Class vehicles; and PHEV and fuel cell C-/D-Class vehicles. Though FSV focused on electrified powertrains, its innovations are applicable to any vehicle.

The two most recent studies, titled FSV Final Gauge Optimization and FSV Near-Term Front Longitudinal Rail Shape streamlined the FSV design and devised an alternative geometry leading to an additional mass reduction of 11.6 kg, bringing the total weight savings to 39 percent. The study includes two different, but comparable, front rail designs, expanding the range of solutions available to car makers in the near term.

Intensive use of AHSS, as FSV demonstrates, also contributes to lower total greenhouse gas emissions over the entire vehicle life cycle, compared to greenhouse-gas-intensive alternative materials.  “It is important regulators and consumers understand the impact of materials choice on the environment,” Kavanagh said. “The logical approach in designing low-emitting vehicles is to use low emitting materials like these new steels and, especially so, when they are cost-effective.”