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Auto sector pros focus on lightweighting

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WILMINGTON — Lightweighting tops the list of strategies automakers are using to meet the challenge of improved vehicle fuel economy ahead of the 2025 CAFE standards implementation.

That’s among the key findings of the seventh annual Ward’s Automotive Trends survey, conducted by Penton Market Research and sponsored by DuPont.

The annual survey polls nearly 750 automotive sector employees – from system, component and parts manufacturers to engine and engine-service companies and vehicle manufacturers. The pool of respondents represented expertise within the engineering, design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and corporate segments.

The 2017 survey suggests that automakers are moving forward with strategies to reduce vehicle weights and improve fuel efficiency.  The auto industry competes in a global marketplace, and engineers continue to look for innovative lightweighting solutions.

Material solutions providers like DuPont may gain an advantage as that happens. Though aluminum remains the most-cited material choice for meeting the 2025 CAFE standards, automakers have sharpened their focus on engineering plastics and advanced composites like continuous fiber and carbon fiber.

“In addition to enabling innovations in passenger safety, comfort and convenience, plastics have been delivering lightweighting solutions for more than 30 years,” said Brian Fish, DuPont Performance Materials’ North American automotive marketing manager. “The newer emerging technologies like advanced composites hold promise. However, by engaging material suppliers early in the design process, there are still many opportunities for lightweighting with existing materials.”

The vehicle powertrain remains the most-cited focus area for vehicle lightweighting efforts, with the chassis running a distant second.

The survey also spotlighted arise in vehicle interiors as a lightweighting target, interest in which practically doubled year over year.

For the first time this year, the survey asked respondents whether the push for autonomous vehicles was impacting their R&D spending. Nearly half of respondents reported that autonomous vehicle research has negatively impacted other areas of research and development spending.

“Autonomy is a critical new area that holds great promise for passenger safety and convenience, and appropriately, the industry is investing heavily into advancing this technology,” said Fish. “But, as the industry spreads its available R&D resources into autonomy, investment in lightweighting solutions and new materials technologies like advanced composites is challenged.”

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