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IN - Major automakers gearing up for making ultra light cars

ET reported that Mahindra & Mahindra wants to build an SUV that weighs less than a tonne, Maruti has saved INR 147 crore by working on one gram weight reductions on components all because customers want lighter cars that drink less fuel and cause less pollution.

Cars have become sophisticated machines compared to what they were in the seventies. For example, engines can now think and make independent decisions on the use of fuel to generate just the right amount of power. With infotainment and Telematics systems, passengers can now do in their cars pretty much everything they do at home or at work. Cars are now stronger and safer, providing better handling and passenger comfort. All this is great news. But there is also bad news: the average weight of a car has doubled.

Estimates by Corus Steel and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan suggest that cars now weigh about 1,500 kilogram as compared to 750 kilogram in the seventies. Heavier cars need more power to drive them. That means more fuel, a resource becoming more expensive by the day. And more fuel means more emission, adding plenty to the daily degradation of environment. Heavier cars also need more metal, the cost of which has been climbing steeply. Car makers are now facing a new challenge. They can't strip the modern car of any of these cool gizmos, but they do need to shed a lot of flab. You could call it the auto industry's weight loss challenge. In India, M&M wants to build a new SUV that weighs less than a tonne half the weight of the lightest SUVs on the road.

At Maruti Suzuki, before it was hit by labour trouble, workers were given cash incentives for every gram of weight reduction achieved; the company saved INR 147 crore. Car makers have increased focus on light weighting as a key enabling technology to lower emissions and increase fuel efficiency, and yet be cost competitive. Till 2008, car launches saw an average 20% increase in weight over their earlier models through heavier and bigger engines, thicker steel and heavier parts. Post recession, the target for most new vehicle programs is to reduce needless mass and switch to smaller, fuel efficient engines that deliver more power.

New lightweight, but high strength, materials like carbon fibre reinforced plastic are replacing steel. CFRP is 50% lighter than steel and stronger. It also costs more. But customers want lighter, faster, cleaner and cheaper cars. It's a new balance all car makers are learning. Here's what two Indian and two global manufacturers are doing.

Sourced from Economic Times

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