Steel’s Promising Role in a 54.5 MPG Fleet

staff_kavanaghRecently, there has been a great deal of media attention and discussion about the dramatic changes required in powertrains, structural design and alternative manufacturing materials for the auto industry to meet the upcoming 2025 EPA/NHTSA corporate average fuel economy mandate of 54.5 miles per gallon. And there’s no question that weight reduction will play an important, if not the primary, role in reaching this goal.

Automakers and academics are now looking at and contemplating the implementation of new, less cost effective, and expensive materials to replace traditional steel in their search to reduce vehicle weight, as in automotive development terms, 2025 is right around the corner.

Yet, because of established norms, incorrect perceptions and slow utilization of the recent advancements in properties of a material that has virtually been reinvented, they risk missing the one material that offers many available solutions to meet weight reduction goals.

That solution is the new steel.

While others dream about how complex composite materials and expensive metals may eventually be economically feasible with several anticipated design and manufacturing technologies evolving, the steel industry has already made the lightweight steel vehicle real. In collaboration with global engineering organizations, the steel industry created the FutureSteelVehicle (FSV), an advanced steel vehicle demonstrated to compete effectively with the weight of benchmark aluminum-intensive vehicles (www.autosteel.org).

FSV’s remarkable achievements in reducing the weight of a modern body-in-white have already been confirmed by recently published NHTSA studies (Honda Accord, and EPA/ICCT (Toyota Venza).

Using EPA and NHTSA’s own models, the steel industry has clearly demonstrated that such significant levels of weight reduction – combined with improved powertrains and light weighting from other areas of the vehicle – can get the future fleet to its prescribed standards without the need for more expensive light-weight materials and corresponding manufacturing changes.

Best of all, the new steel designs achieve this at a lower total system cost and a lower total lifecycle carbon footprint than if other lightweight materials are used. These new steel solutions can be implemented without substantial stamping plant or body shop investment compared to the more radical changes in infrastructure and testing investment needed by other materials.

Further, building on those achievements, the steel industry is already developing a whole new generation of steels that will provide even greater potential to reduce more weight in the years ahead.

Clearly, steel should be considered a viable choice — perhaps the only truly viable choice that is cost-effective, safe and eco-friendly – for attaining the weight reductions needed to fully meet the 2025 challenge.

The automotive industry is enjoying a remarkable comeback from the depths of the Great Recession. To keep this comeback alive and keep sales robust, the cost of meeting the 2025 rules must be minimized.

And while other materials may advertise future cost reductions and “some-day” feasibilities, today’s reality is that steel is the lowest cost weight reduction technology for getting there. As such, automobile designers must continue to give steel strong consideration for use in their future vehicles.

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