Higher safety and environmental regulations in the automotive industry push designers to use stronger, lower-density metals.
Engineers wrangling with material technology continuously try to find the right balance of properties. However, it’s safe to say that two properties have remained constant over the years—stronger and lighter.
Around the end of the last millennium, tighter regulations caused the automotive industry to look for new ways to reduce the energy associated with making and operating vehicles. The challenge became greater when stricter safety regulations arrived around the same time. Beyond that, car manufacturers need to satisfy customer demand for a cost-effective vehicle, both in sticker price and operation cost, which makes navigating this capital-intensive industry an interesting venture even for big corporations (see “Capital-Heavy Changes” at the end of the article).
Passenger vehicles are estimated to cut an average of 640 lb from their total weight between 2010 and 2020 by using different materials. This may not sound like much, but it’s happening despite increasing safety regulations. For example, about 20 years ago, the roof strength requirement to resist roll-over crush was roughly the weight of the vehicle. Today, roll-over strength is about four times the gross vehicle weight.