Today’s vehicles are getting lighter, as we’ve documented in a previous blog post. A practice beginning on the heels of the Oil Crisis of the 1970s, the automotive industry continues to look to lightweighting to increase the fuel efficiency of its vehicles. As the most sustainable automotive material, steel is no stranger to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – even when the world isn’t looking – and the steel industry continues to work hand-in-hand with the automotive industry to accelerate innovation in performance, value and sustainability.
Since regulations will continue to tighten for the foreseeable future, lightweighting is here to stay, meaning automotive material choices will continue to dominate the conversation. What other benefits does lightweighting with high-strength steel provide consumers outside of consuming less fuel? We’re glad you asked. Vehicle lightweighting enhances the overall driving experience in a variety of ways and the use of high-strength steel often accentuates those benefits.
A vehicle’s center of gravity is also called the center of mass. Every object has one, including us humans. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the point at which the entire weight of a body may be considered as concentrated so that if supported at this point the body would remain in equilibrium in any position.” If you need a clear picture, let’s have the high-strength steel-intensive Lexus LC 500 show us:
When vehicle mass is changed, such as when an advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) or ultra high-strength steel (UHSS) component replaces a part made from another material, the center of gravity changes. This gives engineers another tool to improve the vehicle – the ability to put the vehicle’s center of gravity in an area better-suited to the needs of its customers. This results in improved dynamic performance, giving the vehicle more stability and greater handling.
Stopping and starting are also improved through a lighter-weight vehicle. You don’t need to be a physics major to know a Chevrolet Bolt will likely have a shorter braking distance than a Chrysler Pacifica, regardless of lightweighting achieved with steel. Though this example is much more pronounced (they are in different segments, of course), it demonstrates how a vehicle with more mass will need more stopping distance. The same goes for acceleration as well. A lighter vehicle will generally move quicker and be more agile.
The use of high-strength steels can also increase visibility! Automakers won’t be making windshields out of high-strength steel anytime soon, but as industry safety standards become more precise and account for a wider variety of crash types, the passenger cage is coming under the microscope. By using more AHSS and UHSS in a vehicle’s pillars, engineers can reduce the pillar size while maintaining or even increasing their performance and crashworthiness. This gives the driver a broader range of peripheral vision and more peace of mind driving on the highway. More visibility and stronger materials, combined with a shorter braking distance, equals a safer vehicle overall. Take a look at how the 2016 Volvo XC90, winner of the Automotive Excellence Award at Great Designs in Steel 2017, envelops the vehicle’s passengers in high-strength steels and puts the strongest steel grades in the pillars:
The safety features don’t stop there! You may have heard of automatic braking, blind zone alerts or lane departure warnings. These features have prevented countless accidents already and will play a larger role in automakers’ future safety offerings.
So how does high-strength steel play a role in those features? Easy. Those systems are complex and highly technical, often involving the use of radar and other equipment around the vehicle. One or two sensors might not weigh much, but a vehicle’s entire suite of advanced safety features add up quickly. Automakers can use the weight savings from AHSS to include additional innovative features in their vehicle to further enhance the vehicle’s safety.
Lightweighting offers automakers the opportunity to gain an edge on their competition. Which of these benefits interest you the most? It’s okay to say more than one! Leave a comment below.