Demand for lightweight automotive materials in the North American light vehicle market is anticipated to rise 5.2 percent annually to 22.3 billion pounds in 2018, according to research conducted by The Freedonia Group, an Ohio-based market research firm.
Titled "Lightweight Automotive Materials in North America," the study discusses how the current race to lighten the automobile is largely being driven by increasingly stricter fuel economy standards being adopted throughout North America.
“Advances will significantly outpace gains in automotive materials overall,” said analyst Bridget McMurtrie. “Regulatory pressure will be the major force propelling growth.”
The best growth prospects are exterior and structural components, propelled by the ongoing development of lightweight materials suitable for use in structural applications and the substantial weight savings such materials can provide. The study expects that this segment will account for nearly three-quarters of total average vehicle weight reduction through 2023, with body and frame applications alone accounting for about half. According to the study, interior applications are relatively mature and will see only limited growth going forward, as plastics have long been used in interior components, thus restricting opportunities for further weight reduction.
Aluminum and high-strength steel represent the primary lightweight materials employed in this market. The Freedonia Group expects that aluminum will enjoy rapid growth in exterior and structural applications, as automakers explore the adoption of this material in place of steel for body components such as closures and panels.
In addition, The Freedonia Group states that automakers will closely follow Ford’s highly publicized switch to aluminum for the body of its 2015 F-150 pickup to determine whether they too will make a similar move. According to the study, high-strength steel is predicted to offer the best opportunities for growth based on its relatively low cost and the ongoing development of new grades that provide a combination of exceptional strength and formability, which will make it the material of choice for structure and frame applications.
Engineering plastics will remain the leading polymer type through the forecast period, having successfully supplanted metals in a number of applications based on advantages such as their ability to enhance design freedom. Demand for high-performance composites will rise rapidly from a small base due to the materials’ substantial vehicle weight savings potential, although their high cost will remain an obstacle to more widespread adoption.