Automakers have been trying to make motor vehicles more fuel-efficient for decades, aiming to curb CO2 emissions and reduce the negative impact they have on the environment. In their efforts to build more environmentally-friendly vehicles, they have been mainly focusing on developing vehicles powered by alternative fuels, such as electricity, hydrogen, or even solar power. While using alternative fuels to power cars or making engines more efficient surely help make cars greener, there are other technologies that can make them even more eco-friendly, and most of them have to do with the materials used to build a car’s body.
The fact is that a significant contributor to vehicle emissions is the steel that is used by many car makers to build various automotive components, including body panels and cars’ chassis, and since it’s a pretty heavy metal, it increases a car’s weight substantially, resulting in poor fuel economy and increased CO2 emissions. This is why virtually all car companies have been using other materials during the manufacturing process for a while now, but still, most of the weight on cars is attributed to steel, and alternatives like aluminum or carbon fiber are being adopted relatively slowly.
However, there are several manufacturers that are looking to change that, and are trying to replace steel with lighter, more eco-friendly materials. American giant Ford, along with their German counterparts BMW and Volkswagen have already started the ball rolling.
Ford, for instance, has been making headlines ever since it announced that the new F-150 pickup truck would be largely made of aluminum, making it considerably lighter. Due to the fact that most components of the vehicle’s body, including the cabin and the front end, are made of high-strength aluminum alloy, the 2015 Ford F-150’s weight is reduced by 700 pounds, which eliminates the need to equip it with a large engine that burns a lot of fuel, resulting in largely improved fuel economy. In addition to aluminum, the company intends to start using wood pulp to make certain car parts.
German luxury car maker, BMW, for its part, is considering carbon fiber as replacement for steel. The recently unveiled i3 electric car is the first mass-produced vehicle that has a body largely made of carbon fiber, something that was thought to be virtually impossible to do, considering the high cost of this material. But, BMW has managed to build a car with a carbon-fiber frame, making it incredibly lightweight and quite strong. In fact, it’s even lighter than the Nissan Leaf, one of the most popular and best-selling electric cars.
Volkswagen’s XL1 is another good example of how using aluminum and carbon fiber instead of steel can make a car greener. It features a carbon-fiber body, along with certain aluminum components, and a paint coat that is only 0.0004-inch thick, which makes for a 1,800 pounds curb weight. All this helps provide a great fuel economy, with 1-liter/100 kilometers, or a range of about 235 mpg.
In conclusion, these vehicles are perfect examples of how replacing steel with materials like carbon fiber, aluminum, or even wood, can really make cars less harmful to the environment, and automakers should look beyond fuel while trying to build greener cars.
Jordan Perch is an automotive fanatic and “green cars” specialist. He is a regular contributor to a collaborative community for US drivers.