Lotus Engineering, a consulting firm affiliated with the Colin Chapman’s legendary sports car company, has presented a way automakers can reduce vehicle weight by as much as 40 percent at minimal additional cost and with no loss in body strength.
In a study for the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Lotus built on their findings from an earlier project commissioned by another client that showed it was possible to reduce the weight of the body-in-white (a vehicle body with all of the structural elements assembled, but without pieces like doors, hoods, etc.) by 36 percent using magnesium, aluminum, high-strength steel and composites instead of the usual materials. The use of the more exotic materials does drive the cost up by as much as 50 percent, but it recaptures much of that additional cost through a huge reduction in the components required. Lotus said it reduced the overall parts count in the 2009 Toyota Venza body-in-white used for the study from 400 to fewer than 170.
Weight reduction is one of the “holy grails” of automotive engineers looking to improve vehicle fuel economy: a 10 percent reduction in weight can increase fuel efficiency by 6 percent or more. The CARB intends to use the results of the Lotus study to persuade automakers to get creative in their weight reduction strategies.