Strict regulatory standards and EVs to drive future trends in automotive lightweight materials industry

Rapid expansion of the automotive lightweight materials industry in recent years can be attributed to strict government regulations aimed at minimizing vehicular emissions. Weight reduction is directly linked with lower carbon emissions. Additionally, it helps drivers save taxes and ensures that manufacturers’ fleet averages are in line with the mandated targets.

Plastics, owing to their high strength, durability, and lower weight, are gradually replacing aluminum and steel in automotive applications. Moving away from conventional metals and alloys towards plastic materials doesn’t compromise the safety of the driver or passengers in any way. This is because modern vehicles with plastic based designs still need to pass the same strict safety tests.

It is estimated that the global automotive lightweight materials market size will reach nearly US$310 billion in revenue by 2026. The use of lightweight materials in interior applications is growing steadily. With the growing trend of carsharing and autonomous driving, transforming the vehicle interior into a living and working space is gaining prominence. Plastics, compared to other alternatives, are ideal for making car interior spaces functional on account of their shape and low weight.

The demand for lightweight materials in the auto industry will be fueled by the growing popularity and adoption of electric vehicles. EV makers are focusing on weight reduction to make electric cars more sustainable.

In August 2020, McLaren Automotive had unveiled a new flexible, lightweight automobile architecture which it plans to use in its next-gen electric vehicles. Engineered, developed, and produced in-house at its UK-based McLaren Composites Technology Centre (MCTC), the new architecture is specifically designed to accommodate new hybrid powertrains.

Keeping in mind the sustainability factor, many automakers are also experimenting with new lightweight materials. In October 2020, for instance, Jaguar Land Rover had announced that it is participating in pioneering research trials for testing the capability of advanced lightweight composites and metals to be used in future vehicles.

The two-year project will see Jaguar Land Rover use technology designed for the aerospace sector to understand how different materials respond to different environments. Reportedly, samples of new metals and composites will be integrated with aerospace-grade sensors and tested out in some of the world’s extreme physical conditions.

These sensors will constantly measure the performance of these materials and share data with the company’s product development team in the U.K. These results will allow the engineers to accurately forecast the material’s performance in future vehicles. This in turn will help the company ensure that the materials align with the latest regulatory standards.

Vehicle weight reduction is becoming a whole-vehicle concept, improving not just the fuel economy and performance, but also the passenger safety. It is one of the most effective methods of reducing energy consumption and subsequent carbon emissions. Government and regulatory bodies worldwide have set numerous targets to keep vehicular emissions in check, and the concept of lightweight materials in the automotive sector has gained a lot of traction.

With constant efforts by automakers to develop low weight and high-performance auto designs, the lightweight automotive materials industry will grow substantially in the near future. In August 2020, Covestro, Engel, and Dr Schneider Holding had collaborated to design high-quality, lighter, and slimmer in-vehicle systems using continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites.

The three companies had built a new modular table system called the lightweight table for the autonomous cars of the future. Weighing just 690 grams and with a thickness of less than a centimeter, the table can carry up to 50 kilograms of weight.