Consumer demands are driving innovation in the auto industry
The automotive industry continually grows and changes — and recently, that growth increased exponentially. Much of this growth is fueled by new lightweight materials entering the market or becoming more affordable. Let’s take a look at these lightweight materials and what they’ll mean for the future of economics of the automotive market.
First, what lightweight materials make an appearance in the automotive marketplace, and why are they so important?
Cutting the weight of a car doesn’t just make it lighter. It also helps to improve the fuel economy of the vehicle — reducing the weight by only 10 percent can increase the fuel economy by between six and eight percent. By switching traditional steel out for lightweight materials like alloys of aluminum, magnesium, high-strength steel, polymer composites and, of course, carbon fiber, manufacturers can reduce the weight of a car body by nearly 50 percent.
Parts made from liquid silicon rubber (LSR) are also growing in popularity, especially in the development of driverless cars. Workers can quickly mold and install these parts and it’s expected they will become a more significant part of the market as truly self-driving vehicles start to become more readily available.
How are these materials fueling the growth of the automotive market?
Growth in the Automotive Market
The need for lightweight, low-cost materials in the automotive industry is not a new one. More than 40 years ago, the climbing cost of oil left manufacturers scrambling to make their cars more efficient so they would still appeal to consumers. That trend has continued today, and while the price of oil isn’t as high as in 2008 when gasoline exceeded four dollars a gallon, consumers are still more likely to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle than a gas guzzler.
The lightweight automotive materials global market is climbing high. According to industry experts, they expect it to grow slightly over six percent and hold a worth of $110.5 billion by 2023. The increase in fuel economy plays a large part in fueling the growth of this market, especially in the United States where car manufacturers face pressure from the EPA to increase the average fuel economy of their vehicles to 50 miles per gallon by 2025. While the Trump Administration promised to relax these regulations, most companies continue to increase the fuel economy of their cars to appeal to eco-friendly consumers.
Consumers Pay Less
Creating a lighter and more cost-effective car isn’t just good for consumers. It’s becoming a necessity in the automotive industry. The average percentage of household income spent on a monthly car payment has dropped 40 percent in the last 30 years, from 12.5 percent in 1980 to over seven percent today. On the manufacturing side of things, this means it’s up to car companies to create more cost-effective models that still allow them to make a profit on each sale.
Globalization will play a large part in this. Most car manufacturers once resided in a very narrow global niche, but to continue to succeed, they will need to expand. General Motors is an excellent example of this. Solely an American company, GM has extended its borders, investing in some different international car companies like Suzuki in Japan, Saab in Sweden and Vauxhall in the UK.
Innovation is also key in making sure these companies remain competitive. Consumers look for cars with higher gas mileage and fewer emissions and in general and aren’t going to buy a truck with fuel efficiency in the single digits. Eco-conscious consumers change the way we look at cars, and the industry will need to adapt, or it will fail — it’s as simple as that.
Innovation in Automotive
This consumer-based desire for more energy-efficient cars fuels innovation in the automotive sector and is mostly responsible for the industry shift toward lightweight materials. While aluminum and carbon fiber may never replace steel entirely — since most car frames derive from steel, as are many of the components under the hood — many vehicle manufacturers are starting to make the transition and including these lightweight materials in their designs.
Advances in battery technology also make it easier and cheaper to market electric cars. Vehicles with electric motors can still benefit from having a lighter frame, especially since traditional electric car batteries weigh so much. The further an electric vehicle can travel, the heavier the battery with some of the most massive exceeding 500 kilograms or more than 1100 pounds.
The automotive market is growing exponentially, and much of that growth stems from the adoption of lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber. While the final impact of this growth remains unseen, as new alloys are discovered, and new manufacturing techniques perfected, we could potentially see more upward growth in this facet of the industry. For the manufacturers themselves, the best course of action right now is to get in on the ground floor. Start now by developing new designs or implementing the use of new materials before the market takes off. Finding a successful niche in the automotive industry isn’t always easy, and this is a perfect opportunity to get a foot in the door, so to speak, before the industry accelerates out of reach.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/