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Hydroforming and new welding methods help reduce vehicle weight

New CAFE standards have automakers reaching for any technology they can find to help improve fuel economy. Many manufacturers are going to electric vehicles or hybrids to increase their overall fleet mileage averages. The problem with focusing only on hybrids and electric vehicles, however, is that most consumers aren't in the market for that type of vehicle.

On traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, automakers are increasingly turning to weight savings as a way to help improve fuel economy. The lighter a vehicle can be made, the less weight the engine has to push or pull around and the less fuel it uses because engines could be made smaller without sacrificing performance.

Some automakers are even turning to removing some features of cars such as CD players and the spare tire to reduce weight according to the Detroit News. Both General Motors and Ford are turning to new processes in vehicle assembly to help remove weight from the body of mainstream vehicles.

2013 Ford Fusion
Many automakers are using aluminum rather than steel to help reduce the weight of their vehicles. Hoods, trunks, and lift gates as well as door skins are commonly made from aluminum today. Ford is also experimenting with carbon fiber on the Focus.

Switching to lighter materials isn't the only way automakers are going about reducing the weight of the vehicles they produce. They're also reducing weight by changing the manufacturing processes used. Ford, for instance, is using hydroforming on the steel structural pillars of its 2013 Fusion.

One of the big benefits of hydroforming is that it allows the forming of complicated and larger parts that don't need to be welded together. Traditional stamping produces multiple parts that have to be welded at joints. Those joints are points of weakness and add weight. Using hydroforming, rather than other forms of stamping, sheds 18 pounds from each car by eliminating the additional welds.

GM is also doing its part testing a thermal-forming process for lightweight magnesium that weighs 75% less than steel. GM also plans to use a patented welding technology to allow the company to integrate more aluminum into automotive bodies by saving the company from using rivets to join aluminum body panels. The use of the welding process rather than rivets will cut nearly 2 pounds from parts such as hoods, lift gates, and doors.

Source: Detroit News

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Gotta say, in many respects
By bill.rookard on 10/25/2012 12:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
This is all a matter of compromise. Physics dictate that in an crash, *in general* a heavier vehicle will offer more protection than in a lighter vehicle. Inertia allows the heavier vehicle to decelerate slower (in other words, carry through farther) - reducing the g-forces experienced by the occupants. A lighter car on the other hand, wont carry through - increasing the g-force on the occupant.

This of course depends on you hitting another mobile vehicle. Hitting a building won't do you much good. Building isn't going anywhere. :)

Contributing to the weight of the vehicle is of course all the safety requirements, mandated by the government. Not always a -bad- thing, but sometimes overkill. Mandatory tire inflation monitors. Mandatory full surround air bags. Minimum crash standards. All of this combines into significantly more weight.

Then - we have the luxury items requested by the buyers (or offered in an attempt to pad profit margins). Leather seats, heated. Soundproofing. Built-in navigation systems with hard drives, AWD, anti-lock brakes.

Meanwhile, on the flip side is fuel economy. More weight? Worse economy. Period. Now this doesn't have much effect while moving (cruising - your economy is governed by aerodynamics), but accelerating from a stop -slaughters- your gas mileage average. Thus - the lighter the car, the less power required to move it.

So where do we draw the line as to what is acceptable? I can certainly see a problem if there were a huge variation in weight out on the road, but being realistic - that's always going to be the case. Some people are going to need heavier vehicles (towing/cargo hauling/people hauling), some people don't. So overall - the weight discrepancy is a moot point and we might as well toss it out.

That leaves us with allowing the manufacturers to build the small cars as strong as possible to minimize damage while still hitting their fuel economy points. And - incremental reductions will eventually add up to significant overall reductions, then the processes can be carried over to other vehicles.

Personally I think manufacturers should really start offering what would be considered 'stripper' models of their vehicles. No, not ones that only strippers would drive, but totally pared down vehicles without the electric everything. I had a 83 Mustang. No power windows. No power locks. No cruise control. No remote trunk latch. Basic radio. No air conditioning. Came like that from the factory and went like stink. Why? No excess weight. Came in at just a stitch under 3000lbs - with a full iron block/head engine (very common for the time). Current weight by the way for a new GT? Right around 3800lbs.

Now imagine taking a few hundred lbs off that 83GT - aluminum engine, composite hood/decklids, modern construction and hydroforming techniques, and the newest electronic controls. The vehicle itself is fine - it was a solid enough car for transportation - but knocking even 200lbs (possible JUST by going all-aluminum on the engine which is common THESE days...) results in a perfectly drivable and serviceable vehicle almost 1000lbs lighter than the current model.

And the current V6 Mustangs touch 31mpg while making 100hp -more- than the old iron V8.

I don't think it's necessarily impossible to get some really big reductions in weight, but ultimately I think it's going to require a change in attitudes towards what cars are supposed to be for - transportation. Right now though, we're not always getting offered that. Curb weight on a 2012 Ford Focus? Supposedly a small 'economy' car. 3200lbs. Sheesh.

RE: Gotta say, in many respects
By zephyrprime on 10/25/2012 12:37:35 PM , Rating: 2
nobody would buy it.

RE: Gotta say, in many respects
By freedom4556 on 10/25/2012 1:53:36 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with stripped-out cars, besides safety regulations, is what I like to call the "Porsche 911 effect". After you get to the model with all the bells and whistles, Porsche starts charges extra to take things off . Compare the prices and weight of the GT2, GT3, and GT3 RS. Clarkson from Top Gear once joked, "...what's next, a million dollars for no Porsche at all?"

RE: Gotta say, in many respects
By zerorift on 10/25/2012 2:42:14 PM , Rating: 2
I would.

I've been pining for a car that is easier/cheaper to maintain (fewer computers / moving parts) for years, yet they keep making things more complex by adding garbage. Adding things like center console computer systems adds to the initial cost of the car, the cost of maintenance and the car's weight / mpg, all to give the consumer something they probably shouldn't be using on the road at all.

As an example, my boss' BMW has no less that 16 independent computers on board to essentially provide the same driving experience as a mid-ranged 80's sports car (luxury items notwithstanding). In the last year, that same BMW has been in the shop so often that my boss has actually logged more time driving rental cars than the one he originally purchased.

Lacking any sort of market research, it's foolish to make claims either way about what would hypothetically sell. I certainly will not be buying a BMW, or anything like it, any time soon....

RE: Gotta say, in many respects
By Spuke on 10/25/2012 3:18:53 PM , Rating: 2
You can just go by history. Others have already collected data over the years and written articles about it. Also, automakers occasionally will experiment by offering a car really no one wants just to see if anyone will buy it. See BMW's numerous attempts at selling a 318i here (or cars like it). Go to the automakers website and do the build and price thing. Look at the standard equipment. Cars don't come loaded from the factory, dealerships ORDER them that way because high content cars sell more (and at higher profits) than stripped cars. BUT, certain dealers WILL allow you to order a car to your specifications. I've done three cars like that. I had a friend that ONLY bought stripped cars and had to order them cause no one carried them on their lots.

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