Advanced materials are essential for boosting the fuel economy of modern automobiles while maintaining safety and performance. Because it takes less energy to accelerate a lighter object than a heavier one, lightweight materials offer great potential for increasing vehicle efficiency. A 10% reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6%-8% fuel economy improvement. Replacing cast iron and traditional steel components with lightweight materials such as high-strength steel, magnesium (Mg) alloys, aluminum (Al) alloys, carbon fiber, and polymer composites can directly reduce the weight of a vehicle’s body and chassis by up to 50 percent and therefore reduce a vehicle’s fuel consumption. Using lightweight components and high-efficiency engines enabled by advanced materials in one quarter of the U.S. fleet could save more than 5 billion gallons of fuel annually by 2030.
By using lightweight structural materials, cars can carry additional advanced emission control systems, safety devices, and integrated electronic systems without increasing the overall weight of the vehicle. While any vehicle can use lightweight materials, they are especially important for hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and electric vehicles. Using lightweight materials in these vehicles can offset the weight of power systems such as batteries and electric motors, improving the efficiency and increasing their all-electric range. Alternatively, the use of lightweight materials could result in needing a smaller and lower cost battery while keeping the all-electric range of plug-in vehicles constant.
Research and development into lightweight materials is essential for lowering their cost, increasing their ability to be recycled, enabling their integration into vehicles, and maximizing their fuel economy benefits.
The Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) works to improve these materials in four ways:
- Increasing understanding of the materials themselves through modeling and computational materials science
- Improving their properties (such as strength, stiffness, and ductility)
- Improving their manufacturing (material cost, production rate, or yield)
- Developing alloys of advanced materials
In the short term, replacing heavy steel components with materials such as high-strength steel, aluminum, or glass fiber-reinforced polymer composites can decrease component weight by 10-60 percent. Scientists already understand the properties of these materials and the associated manufacturing processes. Researchers are working to lower their cost and improve the processes for joining, modeling, and recycling these materials.
Automotive Lightweight Materials Market
According to the Allied Market Research report, the global automotive lightweight materials industry was estimated at $71.65 billion in 2020, and is anticipated to hit $126.76 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 7.1% from 2021 to 2030.
Growth in need for improved safety and enhanced performance of the vehicle and stringent regulations for fuel economy and automation emission drive the growth of the global automotive lightweight materials market. On the other hand, high cost of the materials and declined production and sale of automobile impede the growth to some extent. Nevertheless, entering into agreements and contracts with automotive OEM and growth in vehicle electrification are projected to pave the way for lucrative opportunities in the future.
Restraint: High cost (material cost and process cost)
The high cost of materials such as carbon fiber-reinforced composites, titanium, and magnesium can hinder the extensive usage of these materials. The price of 1 kg of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP) for automotive-grade can go up to 3900% more than normal steel, and the price of titanium can go up to 900% more than normal steel. Hence, the use of CFRP is restricted to high-end cars such as Bugatti, BMW, McLaren, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and other racing cars. Glass Fiber Reinforced Plastics (GFRP) cost approximately 400% more than normal steel. The usage of this material is expected to increase, as its price has decreased over the last few years. The price of high strength steel is higher than regular steel but lower than aluminum, fiber composites, and magnesium. It is, hence, used as a lightweight material by automotive OEMs globally. As raw materials have a high cost, OEMs in developing countries, who depend more on economy passenger cars, prefer to use conventional materials than lightweight materials. However, the use of lightweight materials is expected to increase gradually in the coming years.
Opportunities: Upward trend of vehicle electrification
By vehicle type, the IC engine powered segment contributed to around four-fifths of the global automotive light material market share in 2020 and is expected to lead the trail by the end of 2030. The fact that the available fleet across the globe is dominated by the IC powered vehicle drives the growth of the segment. However, the electric powered segment is expected cite the fastest CAGR of 10.4% from 2021 to 2030. This is attributed to the rise in penetration of electric vehicle and growing trend of usage of green mobility solution.
The introduction of electric vehicles has resulted in a technological revolution in the automotive industry. These vehicles have superior performance than their internal combustion counterparts. Factors such as the increase in environmental awareness, government support and incentives, and investments by OEMs have paved the way for electric vehicles. Leading automotive players such as Volkswagen, BMW, Tesla Motors, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have ventured into the electric vehicle segment. Electric vehicles are more efficient, energy independent, and better than gas alternatives. Since electric vehicles have low power engines, they use lightweight materials that drive the engine’s pulling capacity. Therefore, the increasing demand for electric vehicles provides an opportunity for the growth of the lightweight material market.
Challenges: Maintenance of lightweight material
In addition to high cost, lightweight materials require high maintenance. Lightweight materials have great strength and rigidity. However, their weak points are hard to track. For example, the maintenance of carbon fiber parts is difficult. Physical damage cannot be seen by naked eyes but with the help of acoustic emission detection or thermal, ultrasonic, or x-ray imaging. To reduce weight, many OEMs develop monocoque out of a single material without joints and welds. This gives the structure strength and lightweight, but in case of an accident, the whole monocoque needs to be changed as it is one piece, and this is a costly affair. Hence, it is a challenge in the lightweight materials industry to make materials that are easy to repair and maintain compared to regular steel.
BEV is expected to be the largest segment in the automotive lightweight material market, by electric and hybrid vehicle, during the forecast period
BEV is projected to be the largest market for automotive lightweight material. A BEV or battery electric vehicle is powered by an electric battery that uses chemical energy stored in the battery. The battery used in a BEV is rechargeable and accounts for about 70% weight of the electric vehicle. OEMs are investing heavily in research and development to increase the efficiency of electric vehicles by reducing the overall vehicle weight. Increasing demand for BEV and increasing focus on vehicle lightweighting will drive the lightweight material demand in this vehicle segment.
Metals are the largest segment of electric vehicle lightweight material market, by material type, during the forecast period
Metals are estimated to hold the largest share in the global market for electric vehicle lightweight material. By material, the market is segmented into metals, composites, plastics, and elastomers. According to MarketsandMarkets analysis, the market for metals is estimated to be the largest by 2027. There are three kinds of metal materials extensively used in vehicle lightweighting. These are High strength steel, aluminum, and Magnesium & Titanium. These materials are lighter and stronger than steel. Hence, these metals are expected to be used in electric vehicles in the near future.
In ICE vehicle type segment, HCV is projected to be the fastest growing segment during the forecast period
HCV is projected to be the fastest growing market for automotive lightweight materials, by ICE vehicle type. HCVs comprise vehicles such as buses, coaches, and heavy trucks with a vehicle mass of above 7 tons. OEMs such as BMW, Daimler, Dongfeng, Fiat, and Isuzu are rigorously focusing on weight reduction in HCVs due to stringent emission and fuel economy regulations. The use of lightweight material helps reduce the total vehicle weight, which in turn allows the vehicle to carry additional load. Hence, HCV is projected to be the fastest growing segment of the automotive lightweight material market.
Based on component, the exterior systems and components segment accounted for more than two-fifths of the total market revenue in 2020 and is projected to retain its dominance by 2030. Furthermore, the segment would also manifest the fastest CAGR of 7.9% throughout the forecast period. This is owing to the change in manufacturing outlook of the automotive development and growing adoption of the lightweight materials by the automotive manufacturers.
Based on region, Europe, followed by North America, held the major share in 2020, garnering more than One-third of the global market. The market across this region is also anticipated to register the fastest CAGR of 8.0% from 2021 to 2030. This is due to the rising adoption of automotive lightweight materials and growing need for fuel efficient automotive solutions. The other regions studied in the report include Asia-Pacific and LAMEA.
Europe is expected to account for the largest market size during the forecast period
COVID-19 has resulted in a decline in vehicle production, thereby affects the overall automotive lightweight material market. However, a projected steady recovery by Q1-Q2 of 2021 in vehicle production will support the growth of the automotive lightweight material market in the coming years. Europe is projected to hold the largest market share by 2025. The implementation of Euro 6 norms, which are followed by the members of the European Union, will have a knock-on effect of reducing pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. It will also compel OEMs to improve fuel economy and lower CO2 emission levels. Also, lightweight materials manufacturers and suppliers are investing heavily in R&D to create new and advanced lightweight materials. With the increasing demand for vehicles, Europe is expected to remain the largest automotive lightweight material market during the forecast period.
The automotive lightweight material market is dominated by global players and comprises several regional players. The key players in the automotive lightweight material market are BASF SE (Germany), Covestro AG (Germany), LyondellBasell Industries Holdings B.V. (Netherlands), Toray Industries, Inc. (Japan), ArcelorMittal (Luxembourg), thyssenkrupp AG (Germany), Novelis, Inc. (US), Alcoa Corporation (US).