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Auto survey: Aluminum has slight advantage over plastics as fuel rules change

Aug 27th 2015 at 7:53 PM


Rising fuel-economy performance will "fundamentally change" the way cars and trucks are made in the U.S., according to a new survey of parts suppliers and automakers.

Much of that change will include materials used in vehicle production, with plastics and carbon-fiber composites running just behind aluminum in rising use, suppliers said. The survey, sponsored by Ward's AutoWorld and DuPont, was released Aug. 2 during the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.


More than 1,000 executives responded to the survey, which asked what they thought the effect would be of a higher corporate average fuel economy requirement. The survey asked about a potential 56.2-mpg CAFE requirement. The federal government now is proposing a 54.5-mpg requirement for cars by 2025.


Seventy-seven percent said a 56.2-mpg requirement would change the way carmakers make their products, but only 29 percent said they believe consumers will understand what that requirement will mean in terms of the types of cars they will drive in the future.


And few of the engineers and executives surveyed — 5 percent — said they are confident the industry has the materials needed to hit requirements of more than 50 mpg by 2025. Of those they are familiar with, aluminum will be the "most helpful" in meeting new standards, according to the survey, which asked respondents to rank the materials in order of importance.


However, they also favored both plastics and carbon-fiber composites — listed separately in the survey — putting the two resin systems in a tie for second place as most helpful material. "Elastomers and fiber reinforcement," also listed separately, came next, ahead of two metals more familiar to the auto industry: high-strength steel and magnesium.


More than half, 52 percent, said reaching higher requirements will mean relying on electric and hybrid-electric engines, while 49 percent said they expect that the powertrain system will see the biggest impact in terms of new materials being used.


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