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Casting the Future of Lighter Vehicles- Wall Street Journal

02.19.16

Lighter materials that are often more expensive are becoming more common in car designs. Since 2009, the percentage of aluminum as a component of vehicle weight has shot up 17% to 379 pounds a vehicle, or nearly 10% of the total.

Carbon-fiber composites also are showing up in some vehicles, but auto makers are reluctant to commit to the expensive material. BASFAG ’s new carbon fiber oil pan is 40% lighter than steel or aluminum versions, for instance, but the company is still looking for a buyer.

Chrysler’s Pacifica, which has aluminum sliding doors, could be a pioneer when it comes to wider use of magnesium. Used on cars since 1920, the average light vehicle has about 10 pounds worth of the material in its composition, that number is poised to triple by 2025, according to a forecast by Ducker Worldwide, a Troy, Mich., consulting and research firm.

“Magnesium has always been an interesting product for engineers since it provides a lot of weight savings but still provides strength,” said Abey Abraham, a project director at Ducker Worldwide. The average light vehicle has about 10 pounds worth of the material in parts such as instrument panels and seat frames, and its use is poised to triple by 2025, it estimates.

“As the new emissions guidelines get closer, magnesium is starting to appear in more vehicles and in bigger parts,” Mr. Abraham said. Ford Motor Co. ’s Lincoln MKT luxury crossover was the last vehicle to use magnesium for the lift gate, but its volumes were slight compared with expected demand for the Pacifica.

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