Altair Honors Weight-Saving Innovations

Vehicle lightweighting and sustainability initiatives recognized with 2021 Altair Enlighten Awards.

Magna won the Sustainable Component category for its active air deflector and grille shutters on the 2019 Ram 1500. (Magna)

Sustainable and stylish: two words not commonly paired but that aptly apply to this year’s Altair Enlighten Award winner for Sustainable Product – Vehicle, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. The battery-electric performance SUV with an iconic badge and 100% “vegan” interior is one of six category winners to be honored at the 9th annual lightweighting competition conducted by global information technology company Altair and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E battery-electric performance SUV features a 100% “vegan” interior. (Ford)

“The 2021 Enlighten Award once again shines a light on the inspiring work of automotive engineers worldwide. Now more than ever, sustainability and emissions reduction are critical challenges not just for the automotive sector, but society as a whole,” said James Scapa, Altair founder, chairman and CEO. Altair assists lightweighting efforts by enabling “unprecedented convergence of simulation, data analytics and high-performance computing,” Scapa said, technologies employed by many of this year’s nominees.

While the awards acknowledge the automotive industry’s best initiatives to reduce vehicle weight and meet emissions targets, they also consider other parameters such as cost reduction, improved performance, part count reduction and applicability to other vehicle programs. The new Sustainable Product and Process categories also consider progress toward a reduced carbon footprint and factors such as water/energy consumption and material reuse and recycling.

“Lightweighting is central to the quest for greater fuel economy and electrification, which in turn is vital to the future of the whole sector,” said Carla Bailo, president and CEO of CAR. Winners were recently recognized in conjunction with CAR’s Management Briefing Seminars.

Sustainable Product – Vehicle

Faurecia's NAFILean Stiff polypropylene compound uses 20% bio-sourced contents and is 100% recyclable. (Faurecia)
ArcelorMittal's Fortiform 980GI Gen3 steel launched in production vehicles starting in January 2021, offering potential weight savings of up to 20%. (ArcelorMittal)
An industry-first composite tunnel reinforcement on the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee achieves a 40% weight savings on the component itself and a further 20% reduction on the subsystem compared to the steel alternative. (Stellantis)
Future of Lightweighting winner: AAM's electric drive unit saves more than 25% in mass compared to similar units on the market. (American Axle & Manufacturing)

On sale since the end of 2020, the battery-electric Mustang Mach-E kicks off Ford’s strategy to increasingly electrify its vehicles to help the company achieve carbon neutrality globally by 2050. Ford expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be all-electric by 2030 and has raised its electrification spending to $30+ billion by 2025, including development of IonBoost batteries.

Ford uses 10 plant-based sustainable materials in production to date, and its engineers are experimenting with dozens more. The Mach-E features a soyfoam headliner, kenaf door bolsters, Miko synthetic suede, and coffee-chaff head and taillights that are 20% lighter and require 25% less energy​.

Sustainable Product – Component

Magna International won for its active air deflector and grille shutters on the 2019 Ram 1500. Using 78% recyclable plastics, the active aerodynamic devices reduce drag by 9% for better fuel economy. Aero products on the Ram 1500 have reduced CO2 emissions by 641.9 thousand metric tons since January 2015.

Runner-up: SAIC GM Wuling Automobile Co, Ltd. for the Wuling Victory body-in-white that employs an increased proportion of high-strength steel (63%) and ultra-high-strength steel (31.5%) including hot forming 1500-MPa steel (10.1%). The whole vehicle weight is reduced by 61.5 kg (135 lb), enabling an improvement in fuel consumption of 0.2 L/100 km.

Sustainable Process

Faurecia took top honors for its NAFILean Stiff polypropylene compound that uses 20% bio-sourced contents and is 100% recyclable. NAFILean Stiff is the latest innovation of the NAFILean family, which has been implemented in 17 production vehicles since 2013, benefitting a fleet of 14 million vehicles. Delivering a 21% weight reduction, it has offered an estimated savings of 100,000 tons in CO2 emissions.

Runner up: Henkel for its PALLUMINA metal pretreatment process. Used in the production of the 2021 Toyota Tacoma and Tundra, PALLUMINA provides significant sustainability advantages compared to conventional processes, including eliminating the use of heavy metal phosphates, reducing sludge generation up to 90%, and decreasing the use of water up to 50%.

Lightweighting Enabling Technology

ArcelorMittal won for its Fortiform 980GI Gen3 advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) that offers the ductility of DP600 at the higher strength level of 980 MPa. Application launch of this grade in production vehicles commenced in January 2021, offering potential weight savings of up to 20%. Physical tests and simulation studies by ArcelorMittal demonstrate that energy-absorption parts like front and rear rails, which currently are most-commonly designed using DP600, can be downgauged by 20% while achieving the same energy-absorption levels​. Fortiform 980GI is engineered to resist liquid metal embrittlement (LME), a big challenge during welding zinc-coated products​​.

Runner-up: JAC Group established an integrated, simulation-driven design process for body structural design, applied to the JAC SOL A5 fastback sports car. The multi-disciplinary approach also considered safety, NVH and durability while reducing the whole vehicle weight by 106.3 kg (234.4 lb).

Honorable mention: U.S. Steel for body-in-white assembly using its 980 XG3 Gen3 AHSS. Combining strength and formability without compromising weldability, 980 XG3 realizes weight savings of approximately 10% with potential improvement in safety performance compared to previous program BiW.

Module Lightweighting

An industry-first composite tunnel reinforcement (CTR) on the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee took first place. Partners on the project – Stellantis, BASF and L&L Products – designed the CTR to carry a critical load path while achieving a 40% weight savings on the component itself and a further 20% reduction on the subsystem compared to the steel alternative. Because the CTR is much more efficient for load transfer, the high-pressure die cast crossmember that the reinforcement attaches to was able to be optimized for cost and weight. Total weight savings per vehicle is 2.08 kg (4.59 lb) and is combined with lower costs for both the component and initial tooling.

Runner-up: Rassini Suspensiones for its lightweight multi-material leaf spring. The “hybrid” leaf spring uses GFRP composite materials and HP-RTM manufacturing technology to enable a 30% weight savings over the previous product generation. Because the design is widely applicable to light-duty trucks as well as medium and heavy commercial vehicles, the potential total annual market is estimated at nine million leaf springs.

Future of Lightweighting

American Axle & Manufacturing won this category – reserved for advanced technology that has not yet been employed on a commercial production platform – with its electric drive unit (eDU) that saves more than 25% in mass compared to similar units on the market. Integrating the electric machine, gearbox and inverter in a compact package, and eliminating the high voltage cables, the eDU also demonstrates a higher power-to-weight ratio than competitor products, AAM claims.

The primary enabler is a high-speed electric machine with rotation speeds up to 24,000 rpm, compared to the 13,000-15,000 rpm speeds typical of production units. This allows the stator diameter to be 153 mm (6.02 inches) and results in “significant” mass and cost benefits. AAM’s eDU has been developed for use in hybrid and battery-electric light- and medium-duty vehicles. The technology also has been developed for truck beam axles as well as corner-module integration for light transportation vehicles.

Runner-up: Shiloh Industries for its industry-first aluminum curvilinear laser welded blank. This one-part, one-stamping solution eliminates four original parts. In a typical liftgate, for example, this results in a 16% weight reduction. Potential cost savings of $18 per vehicle can be realized.

Honorable mention: Dura Automotive Systems for a modular EV battery tray that can be tailored to multiple platforms and vehicles of all types and sizes. The EV battery tray delivers a 10% weight savings over the surrogate design and a reduction in CO2 emissions of 3.8 tons over the program life.