Under pressure to boost fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and ensure electric vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids meet toughening regulations, automakers have been “lightweighting” — building cars and trucks that lighten the vehicle load — for at least a decade. Examples include making parts from carbon fiber, windshields from plastic, and bumpers out of aluminum foam.


Aluminum has replaced low-carbon steel on vehicles because it is lightweight, easy to work with, durable, and more corrosion-resistant.


By using aluminum and other materials such as high-strength steels, automakers have been able to shave hundreds of pounds off vehicles in some cases. Among the manufacturers robustly lightweighting are Chrysler, Toyota, and GM, which use sheet aluminum for body panels, frame rails, and intricate castings to replace parts that used to require dozens of small pieces to be assembled into one large unit, which reduces weight and complexity, as well as improving crash performance.


In ways, though, lightweighting is just beginning. The auto industry must keep the momentum going and find more places to lighten the load — and do it while balancing demands for safety and customers’ desires for the latest vehicle features. Now that aluminum has made inroads in wheels, engines, and cylinder blocks, the major growth area during the next 10 years is expected to be in body components. Low-weight aluminum in new car and truck construction during the next decade is expected at a faster pace than any time in history.


“On top of 40 years of uninterrupted growth, the aluminum industry is experiencing a level of sustained growth not seen before in any market or product sector. However, the true winners of this change are American consumers who can choose next-generation cars and trucks that are high performing, efficient, safe, sustainable and more fun to drive,” says Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association.


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