Shedding Car Weight with Simulation Technology

13th July 2012 by Royston Jones

Earlier this month, I wrote an opinion piece for Environmental Leader, a magazine dedicated to energy, environmental and sustainability news. My contribution gave an overview of how automotive manufacturers are increasingly turning to simulation and optimisation technologies to help achieve their weight targets. I’ve posted a few highlights below but you can read the full article over at Environmental Leader.


Gas prices seem to be coming back down, but that perception is partially an artifact of the general theory of fuel relativity. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that fuel prices will continue to fluctuate wildly and that current prices still range north of $3.00 a gallon in the US — a level that once was considered to be on the far end of the skyrocket but today feels relatively down to earth.

The auto industry knows that consumers want much more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, and the entire industry has restructured to provide them. While SUVs still drive a significant portion of the auto-buying population, smaller, lighter American cars — many of them hybrids — have never been so numerous in their selections and their approaches to fuel savings.

Certainly advancements in powertrains (conventional, hybrid and electric) have improved the fuel consumptions of the fleet, but opportunities exist to further reduce the mass of the components used in most passenger vehicles. Beyond developing smaller vehicles, product designs driven by structural optimization technology are yet to become policy—and if the projected impending increases in commodity prices also materialize, weight reduction will be not just be desired by consumers but imperative for maintaining profitability in the auto industry.

Optimization uses sophisticated simulation software that reveals ways to design  components in a manner that uses less material without sacrificing performance. Through simulation, vehicle designers and engineers can discover methods to lighten the vehicle by using a different material, changing a component’s shape or putting holes in the component where structural support is not needed. Optimization can be carried out for instrument and door panels, seats, brackets, cross-car beams, engine cradles and just about any other part of a vehicle as well as the entire body-in-white.

Multiplied over the thousands of components in millions of cars and trucks, the cost and weight savings can be considerable. Lighter vehicles, of course, get better mileage and burn less fuel than their conventional counterparts. That means even traditional vehicles that fill up with gasoline can contribute to reducing impacts on the environment if their design is weight-optimized…

The article continues at Environmental Leader