Renault India Operations’ Country CEO and MD was a keynote speaker at the recently held Autocar Professional Vehicle Lightweighting Conference.
As vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers innovate to meet the challenges of lightweighting in the face of global demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles and also increased range for electrified vehicles, there is ample reason to believe that the cost challenge can be overcome.
With OEMs compelled to adopt alternative materials in vehicle body structures and interior and also deploy new manufacturing processes, it is felt that the industry shift to developing lighter vehicles comes at an increased cost.
However, Venkatram Mamillapalle, Country CEO and MD of Renault India Operations, dispelled that in his keynote address at Autocar Professional’s virtual Vehicle Lightweighting Conference on October 18. He stated that while the industry had faced a significant cost impact in the nascent stages of making the switch from steel to aluminium, “it is all a matter of time, evolution, and volumes.”
“As we have progressed over the years, the cost too has come down. While aluminium is more expensive compared to steel, its appropriate use at the right places in the vehicle can help balance costs," he said.
Mamillapalle cited Renault’s extensive deployment of perforated aluminium sheets in one of the company’s upcoming models, to drive down weight while not compromising on the stiffness offered to the body panels, and therefore, maintaining a high crash performance.
“It is all a matter of design,” he mentioned. “How one adapts the new materials and brings about more strength and reliability, is a matter of clever design and right adaptation. One can reduce weight and optimise the cost impact as well. Vehicle lightweighting is not necessarily expensive, it also has cost benefits.”
Moreover, he explained that from the customer’s point of view, the benefits of higher fuel efficiency, better reliability, and lower total cost of ownership, compensate for the high initial acquisition cost due to the use of new-generation, lightweight materials in the vehicle.
Mamillapalle also mentioned that use of alternative materials at the right places in the crumple zones of a vehicle enhances the crash performance of a platform. “Appropriate use of lightweight materials improves the vehicle crash performance, whether it is by using sandwich materials, ribbed structures or hardened steel,” he said.
Furthermore, citing examples of some of the new-generation materials that are being made available today by raw material suppliers, Mamillapalle said that these alternatives “while not necessarily cheap, are much more cost competitive.”
Mamillapalle elaborated on the importance of material optimisation to achieve lightweighting gains and how, globally, Renault has been embracing the use of materials such as high-strength and advanced high-strength steel, aluminium, magnesium, fibre-reinforced plastics, and composites to drive down weight in key areas of a vehicle’s exterior. He referenced a global Renault engineering team being able to reduce a model’s body-upper structure weight from 134kg to 89kg by application of aluminium sheets and extrusion profiles.
“Similarly, the vehicle interior too is seeing application of alternative materials such as polyurethanes, low-weight reinforced thermoplastics, cardboard for roof insulations and parts such as the instrument panels are switching to micro-foam injection moulding consoles which offer more aesthetic value while adding more strength. Glass-fibre reinforced thermoplastics is the future to lower the weight of seats which are some of the heaviest components inside a vehicle.
The global industry which is characterised by the highly-intertwined nature of its supply chain is in the driver’s seat in the road to sustainability and achieving decarbonisation in transportation systems the world over. As a result, Mamillapalle indicated that it is important for vehicle manufacturers as well as component suppliers to stitch together their ESG targets and review them through individual KPIs or key performance indicators.
“We must take care of our environment and continue research and adoption of lightweight materials going forward as we move towards offering sustainable mobility solutions like electric vehicles,” Mamillapalle signed off.
Vehicle lightweighting critical to achieve net-zero targets: experts at Autocar Pro conference
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