Execs: We're on the prowl for weight savings
Ankil Shah, Toyota: "We are aiming for the ultimate eco-vehicle that could go coast-to-coast on a single tank of fuel."
Photo credit: GARY SERAPHINO PHOTOS
DETROIT -- Picture a Toyota Prius hybrid. The energy stored in its battery pack powers the car during low speeds, assisting the internal combustion engine.
With only electric drive, Toyota would need three such battery packs to propel the Prius 12 1/2 miles. To cover 62 miles, it would need 10 packs.
The Prius example makes it clear that the auto industry needs breakthroughs in batteries and materials so future vehicles will be lighter and more fuel efficient, says Ankil Shah, materials engineering manager for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.
"To solve these challenges, we believe more material development is required," Shah said during a presentation last month at Plastics News and European Plastics News' Plastics in Lightweight & Electric Vehicles 2011 conference in suburban Detroit. Like Automotive News, Plastics News and European Plastics News are published by Crain Communications.
The auto industry is investing heavily in new and lighter parts to create vehicles that go farther on less fuel. By the 2025 model year, the corporate average fuel economy requirement in the United States is expected to be 54.5 mpg.
While available credits may help automakers meet that standard, much of the burden will fall on lighter vehicles, improved engines and more hybrid and electric powertrains.
Much of the buzz for the plastics industry has been in creating new ways to process carbon fiber for structural parts and other high-strength composites that can be weight-saving substitutes for metal parts.
Iron and steel make up 62 percent of the weight of a car, Shah said. Plastics, in contrast, account for 8 percent of the weight.
Tobin: Reduce grams; kilograms will follow.
Toyota created a 925-pound carbon-fiber structure for its 1/X concept car as the automaker looks at weight-saving options.
"We are aiming for the ultimate eco-vehicle that could go coast-to-coast on a single tank of fuel," Shah said.
Carbon fiber and other high-end materials remain too costly for wide-scale use today. Officials at Mazda Motor Corp. believe that when companies look out for individual grams, the kilograms naturally follow, said Jim Tobin, chief marketing officer for Magna International Inc.
The same thinking is true at Toyota, Shah said. Toyota began using a new blend of its Toyota Super Olefin Polymer on the 2012 Camry's bumper fascia, which is 20 percent lighter than the previous vehicle's fascia.
"A number of technologies are being commercialized," he said.
The industry needs to continue improving resins and increasing use of long-glass-fiber composites and carbon fiber, Shah said.
Omotoso: More hybrids and all-electrics
While hybrids will get more emphasis from carmakers and become more widespread, internal-combustion engines will still represent the biggest share of the U.S. auto market, said Michael Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecasts with LMC Automotive.
In 2015, LMC expects hybrids to make up 6.4 percent of the U.S. auto market, up from less than 3 percent today. All-electric vehicles, though, will make up just 0.6 percent.
By 2020, hybrids will make up about 9.3 percent of the market and electrical another 1 percent, according to Omotoso.
He said standard gasoline engines will continue to dominate the U.S. industry for at least the next 20 years.
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