Consumer preferences have limited the downsizing options available to automakers, and safety and performance standards have resulted in a very limited ability to reduce weight further with conventional materials. With 75% of vehicle gas (energy) consumption directly related to factors associated with vehicle weight, the potential benefits of weight reduction enable smaller powerplant (engine, turbine, fuel cells, etc.) and energy storage (battery, flywheel, etc.) systems, with corresponding cost and/or performance benefits. In all cases, the safety and crashworthiness of lighter weight vehicles is a significant consideration, as well as other ES&H issues associated with new materials and process technology.
Materials technologies to enable production of safe and cost-effective lightweight vehicles have been identified as critical to reducing fuel consumption in conventionally powered automobiles and light trucks. In addition, lightweight materials technology is critical to the success of electric and hybrid vehicles. Legislative actions, 1)Clean Air Act Amendments, 2)California Air Quality Standards (also adopted by several other states), 3)the National Energy Policy Act, and potential new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, have resulted in increased emphasis on electric, hybrid, and alternatively fueled vehicles, as well as increased emphasis on improved fuel economy of conventional vehicles.
The DOE Office of Vehicle Technologies has strongly supported several programs that have been initiated with cost sharing from the auto industry to accelerate the development of technologies leading to development of lightweight vehicles meeting all applicable federal standards and legislative goals. The program has an integral element of interaction with the United States Automotive Materials Partnership (USAMP), and has initiated cost-shared R&D on polymer composites, aluminum, magnesium, metal matrix composites, and joining. The FreedomCAR Research Partnership relies critically on lightweighting of their vehicle platforms, and USAMP is the industry partner for technical development. http://www.uscar.com
Descriptions of technical research currently being supported by the Lightweighting Materials Program can be found in the 2002 Annual Progress Report.