The cars today - even in their basic configuration - are equipped with many features: air conditioning, electric windows and airbags for example. The price for improved comfort and safety on board has been an increase in weight. Even though engines have become more fuel efficient, fuel consumption is still comparatively high, due to the additional weight of the cars.
In the EU project Super Light Car engineers from 38 European partners succeeded in building a C-class body with lighter materials. Instead of steel many parts were replaced by aluminium, magnesium and carbon fibre reinforced plastics. This way the engineers achieved a weight reduction of 35%, or 100 kilograms. This lowered the CO2 emissions by 8.5 grams per kilometre. But the effect on fuel consumption is relatively low: only up to 0,5 litres are saved per 100 km.
To achieve a loss of weight the engineers also had to develop advanced forming processes of available materials, e.g. hot and cold forming of magnesium and aluminium or long-fibre reinforced thermoplastics. Additionally they had to find ways to join the different materials: Laser welding or special gluing techniques were the solutions.
The challenge was now to fulfil a wide range of automotive requirements in areas such as stiffness, crash performance, fatigue and corrosion resistance. Virtual tests show that the new materials and the new multi-material joining technologies fulfil the safety requirements.
A weight reduction of 5 to 10 percent does not seem too significant, but it is still an important step for the European car industry, says Dr. Michael Goede, project coordinator: “Lightweight design is a key issue for us to reduce CO2 emissions. The Super Light-Car body concept shows for the first time an intelligent composite construction for mass production of compact cars.” Implementing the pre-competitive achievements of the light construction into series production beyond 2012 will serve as a basis for saving tons of fuel and carbon dioxide.
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