Vehicle lightweighting critical to achieve net-zero targets: experts at Autocar Pro conference

As industry increasingly balances cost with efficiency and safety, vehicle lightweighting is gaining traction as a route to greener motoring and also profitability. Autocar Professional’s two-day conference sees engaging, informative discussions between industry experts.

By Mayank Dhingra calendar 21 Oct 2022 Views icon6032 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

As the automotive industry increasingly balances cost with efficiency and safety, vehicle lightweighting is gaining traction as a route to greener motoring and also profitability. From automakers to component suppliers, they are all actively engaged in shaving off grams and slashing kilos from vehicles using the latest technologies, new material mix, high-performance plastics and modern manufacturing processes. And in the era of electric vehicles, lightweighting is gathering even more prominence. 

Autocar Professional conducted the second edition of its annual Vehicle Lightweighting Conference on October 18 and 19 in a virtual format.

The webinar focused on the overarching theme of lightweighting and its increasing importance in the automotive industry as it strives to achieve decarbonisation and net-zero targets by innovating products and technologies amidst attempts to reduce global warming and climate change.

The two keynote speakers were Venkatram Mamillapalle, Country CEO and MD, Renault India Operations and Dr Royston Jones, CTO, Altair and MD – Altair UK and Ireland. Dr Tapan Sahoo, Executive Director (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki India and Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Stratasys, India and SEA, and Sanjay Apte, Senior General Manager and Chief of CoC Body and Trims, CV Engineering, Tata Motors, were the other key speakers.

The event kicked off on the first day with a keynote address by Renault India CEO Venkatram Mamillapalle, who described lightweighting to be an imperative for the industry that is headed for sustainability. Mamillapalle mentioned that lighter cars are more fuel efficient and therefore solve the OEMs’ drive towards making vehicles more energy efficient. “There is a sharper focus on ESG – Environment, Social and Governance – targets that is driving the need for vehicle lightweighting in the present scenario,” he said.

“Lightweighting means efficiency, stronger vehicles and better performance. As a concept towards delivering more efficiency, it’s about doing more with less,” he added. Mamillapalle also touched upon the elephant in the room by taking the cost and safety aspects head-on. “There are efforts to balance weight reduction and higher cost of alternative materials. New-generation materials with lightweight properties are now increasingly becoming cost competitive. Lightweighting also gets cost benefits over the entire lifecycle of the vehicle from a total cost of ownership perspective,” he concluded.

The panel discussion on the first day comprised Dr Sahoo of Maruti Suzuki India and Seetharaman Krithikumar, Vice Director, Transportation, Performance Materials, BASF India, who mutually agreed upon the context set by Mamillapalle that sustainability indeed is the biggest enabler for lightweighting. Dr Sahoo identified three major drivers of vehicle lightweighting – carbon neutrality, consumer demand for latest technology and globalisation.

“Reducing carbon emissions is the foremost driver of lightweighting, followed by the changing consumer expectations that are pushing engineers to optimise vehicle weight to offer latest features, and lastly, the OEMs’ drive of developing multiple products on a single platform that appropriately suits needs of multiple markets around the world,” Dr Sahoo said.

“Vehicle weight has a significant impact on fuel efficiency, safety, ride and handling. That is why lightweighting or ‘rightweighting’ is critical,” he added.

According to Krithikumar, “Globalisation is driving the industry and lightweighting is getting integrated into country norms; stringent emission norms are also influencing vehicle weight. Every part of the vehicle mattes when it comes to lightweighting.”

The panellists touched upon the different aspects of engineering methodologies to identify the right components or places in a vehicle to slash kilos, as well as the challenge of costs, manufacturability with alternative materials like plastics, aluminium, composites and adhesives. The two agreed that with the right balance of material technology, physics and commercials, lightweighting could offer substantial benefits both to OEMs and customers.

While BASF India’s V Naresh took the audience into a technical breakout session to dive deep into lightweighting and system integration through PU composites and engineering plastics, Rajiv Bajaj of Stratasys showcased the audience how OEMs are embracing additive manufacturing and generative design to achieve lightweighting benefits both at the component and process level.

Bajaj said that additive manufacturing has tremendous cost advantages; it enables part consolidation – from 25 parts to 5 parts, reducing costs and weight. “Sustainability is now an imperative; we need to create a better today,” he added.

Optimising materials for lighter vehicles

The second day which revolved around alterative materials and processes was kicked off by Dr Jones of Altair by showcasing the audience the true potential of simulation to drive optimisation between cost, weight and performance attributes of a vehicle. “We see new automotive players and brands wanting to develop vehicles quickly – 24 months is the mantra. Heavy use of simulation technology is really the key to achieving weight optimisation.”

“Furthermore, the real focus in an EV is how the battery pack is packaged. Simulation can help innovate and enable efficient and creative packaging,” Dr Jones said.

The panel discussion focused on alternative materials and their usage in different categories of vehicles, including commercial vehicles, which were represented by Sanjay Apte, Senior General Manager and Chief of CoC Body & Trims, CV Engineering, Tata Motors. Apte’s co-panelists were Chandrabhan Singh, DGM, R&D, Sujan Continental as well as Pradeepkumar Verma, Head of Product Development & Engineering – IMEA, Henkel Adhesive Technologies.

Apte said that for any vehicle development programme, it is imperative to identify the purpose of the vehicle followed by optimisation of weight and costs. “Choosing the right platform and material mix – ferrous, non-ferrous, polymers, composites or adhesive technology – is critical.”

According to Chandrabhan Singh, “At Sujan Continental, we are using high-density materials that damp out vibrations in our products. We are also using reinforcement materials.” Henkel’s Verma added that increasingly, there are more requirements now in the automotive industry for sealing purposes which calls for usage of new materials for reinforcement and damping.”

While Verma took the audience for a detailed presentation on sustainability of lightweighting solutions, the two-day webinar ended on this green note of achieving the right size, cost and carbon footprint when it comes to vehicles of the future that have been given the task to curtail emissions in the global transportation segment.

Autocar Professional thanks the keynote speakers, all the top industry panellists, lead sponsor BASF, technology partner Henkel and the online audience.

 

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