Aluminum body structure at 2012 NAIAS

Auto industry behind 8-ball by choice with lighter auto bodies


While Bob Lutz writes ranting op-ed pieces at Forbes against so-called, right-wing Volt bashers, the auto industry sits there like a bump on a log, still behind in achieving the weight reductions via aluminum body structures necessary to make both EVs and IC engine cars fully efficient.

Bob Lutz has the right to say that Volt bashing by right wingers is harming American workers. However, he misses the point that failure on the part of the industry to act on the behalf of all its customers isn’t helping either. And one area that he misses, centers not on propulsions, but on the lack of large (yes, large) lightweight body structures, which would avail more jobs, greater efficiency for all auto lines and help the energy reduction.

I strongly suggest Mr. Lutz especially remind himself how much effort it takes to be able to afford an automobile today. He may have earned every dollar he ever made, but he may have forgotten what is really important to customers - affordability; and right now, the EV is very far from that goal. And smaller cars are not what Americans want, although they are paying dearly for it anyway.

He may also applaud the Volt propulsion technology, as do I for example, but he is constantly missing the point when government (read taxpayer) money has to be used to support sales. While I have mostly been a supporting fan of Mr. Lutz, I wish he would expend that mouth energy toward something that would really make a difference, like low-cost, lightweight body structures.

Anyone with a rational mind knows the auto industry is expending serious sums of money on propulsion technologies like the Volt, when it should be spending at least as much on the next wave of auto bodies. Why? Weight reduction is where the problems really reside. It is public enemy #1 of both the EV and the IC engine automobile; and Lutz knows that..

I agree with Lutz on one point: It gets sickening after a while; you know, all the side comments about how inefficient the IC engine cars are while the EVs are too damned expensive for the average driver; and I admit that I'm one of them speaking out. Truth is, both comments are right, but not for a lack of technological advancements.

The EV has surely come a long way from barely getting much attention to getting greater acceptance, so much that they are no longer on special displays at the 2012 NAIAS. And the downsizing of IC engines with turbos is making a statement; albeit still not enough to reach that 54.5 MPG by 2025.

When it comes to cost, though, the choice of lithium is not a slam dunk either. First, it is limited in supply; there is very little, if any, in America. Most of the supply is in Bolivia; and China has been courting the Bolivians to secure supplies for their needs; and they have gold to pay for it, while we have Bernanke dollars.

We need a cheaper battery like zinc-air. Yet, Lutz never ever mentions that. He touts HCCI a bit, but seems hopelessly lost when it comes to discussing split-cycle engines with any knowledge. I asked him that very question in December on the phone at a call-in show, and he dodged the question. The when I wanted to clarify the question at NAIAS in Detroit, he didn’t have time; OK, he’s a busy man.

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Comments

Billet steel trades around $500/ton, while aluminum trades $2,200/ton during a period of rock bottom aluminum prices. If you cut a thousand pounds off the weight of a car by going aluminum, the ton of aluminum you had would still add over a thousand dollars to every car. A major challenge to these kind of conversions is the cost of forcing every customer to make the investment in their vehicle. Lowering the weights of cars is definitely the future, but there are lots of potential ways of doing it. The auto industry could very easily take a page out of Boeing book and investigate carbon composite body structures. Or a page from the SmartCar book and investigate high-strength steel reinforcements. The other thing to consider is that US automakers won't seriously invest in technology that they can only sell in the US. Europeans and Chinese already drive small cars that don't benefit as much proportionally as American sized cars and CUVs from switching materials. Downsizing engines as global potential. A 1.0L 3-cyl turbo may only see the hood of a Fiesta here, but internationally it will be the standard engine for everything from microcars to CUVs, which provides huge justification for the R&D that went into it. A car like the Volt will no doubt be a Frankenstein of hybrid technologies in 10 years and a fraction of the weight, but it's very complicated to speculate how they will shave the pounds.
Billet steel trades around $500/ton, while aluminum trades $2,200/ton during a period of rock bottom aluminum prices. If you cut a thousand pounds off the weight of a car by going aluminum, the ton of aluminum you had would still add over a thousand dollars to every car. A major challenge to these kind of conversions is the cost of forcing every customer to make the investment in their vehicle. Lowering the weights of cars is definitely the future, but there are lots of potential ways of doing it. The auto industry could very easily take a page out of Boeing book and investigate carbon composite body structures. Or a page from the SmartCar book and investigate high-strength steel reinforcements. The other thing to consider is that US automakers won't seriously invest in technology that they can only sell in the US. Europeans and Chinese already drive small cars that don't benefit as much proportionally as American sized cars and CUVs from switching materials. Downsizing engines as global potential. A 1.0L 3-cyl turbo may only see the hood of a Fiesta here, but internationally it will be the standard engine for everything from microcars to CUVs, which provides huge justification for the R&D that went into it. A car like the Volt will no doubt be a Frankenstein of hybrid technologies in 10 years and a fraction of the weight, but it's very complicated to speculate how they will shave the pounds.
Billet steel trades around $500/ton, while aluminum trades $2,200/ton during a period of rock bottom aluminum prices. If you cut a thousand pounds off the weight of a car by going aluminum, the ton of aluminum you had would still add over a thousand dollars to every car. A major challenge to these kind of conversions is the cost of forcing every customer to make the investment in their vehicle. Lowering the weights of cars is definitely the future, but there are lots of potential ways of doing it. The auto industry could very easily take a page out of Boeing book and investigate carbon composite body structures. Or a page from the SmartCar book and investigate high-strength steel reinforcements. The other thing to consider is that US automakers won't seriously invest in technology that they can only sell in the US. Europeans and Chinese already drive small cars that don't benefit as much proportionally as American sized cars and CUVs from switching materials. Downsizing engines as global potential. A 1.0L 3-cyl turbo may only see the hood of a Fiesta here, but internationally it will be the standard engine for everything from microcars to CUVs, which provides huge justification for the R&D that went into it. A car like the Volt will no doubt be a Frankenstein of hybrid technologies in 10 years and a fraction of the weight, but it's very complicated to speculate how they will shave the pounds.

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