Automakers Press On with Lightweighting Plans According to DuPont Sponsored Survey

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Engineering Plastics Post Gains in List of Materials Relied on for 2025 CAFE Compliance

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In addition to enabling innovations in passenger safety, comfort and convenience, plastics have been delivering lightweighting solutions for more than 30 years.

Lightweighting tops the list of strategies automakers are using to meet the challenge of improved vehicle fuel economy ahead of the 2025 CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards implementation. That’s among the key findings of the seventh annual Ward’s Automotive Trends survey, released to coincide with the annual Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars, recently held in Traverse City, Michigan.

Conducted by Penton Market Research and sponsored by DuPont, the annual survey polled nearly 750 automotive sector employees – from system, component and parts manufacturers to engine and engine-service companies and vehicle manufacturers. The pool of respondents represented expertise within the engineering, design, manufacturing, marketing, sales and corporate segments.

The 2017 Wards Auto survey suggests that automakers are moving forward with strategies to reduce vehicle weights and improve fuel efficiency. The auto industry competes in a global marketplace, and engineers continue to look for innovative lightweighting solutions – and global material solutions providers like DuPont are well-positioned to offer the materials and expertise required.

Lightweighting Remains a Key Focus

The 2017 Wards Auto survey finds that lightweighting and the use of lightweight structural materials continue to lead the list of technologies respondents are most focused on to meet the 2025 CAFE standards. Engine efficiency programs came in second. Vehicle electrification technologies came in third (mild hybrid/start/stop) and fourth (full hybrid/plug-ins) respectively, both demonstrating slight gains over 2016.

Plastics Show Promise

Though aluminum remains the most-cited material choice for meeting the 2025 CAFE standards, automakers have sharpened their focus on engineering plastics as a lightweighting tool, which increased by 5 percentage points year-over-year – the single-largest increase in material choices versus 2016 – while interest in multimaterial solutions retreated by 4 percentage points. Advanced composites like continuous fiber and carbon fiber took fifth place, behind advanced, high-strength steel.

“In addition to enabling innovations in passenger safety, comfort and convenience, plastics have been delivering lightweighting solutions for more than 30 years,” said Brian Fish, North American automotive marketing manager, DuPont Performance Materials. “The newer emerging technologies like advanced composites hold promise. However, by engaging material suppliers early in the design process, there are still many opportunities for lightweighting with existing materials.”

Under the Hood and in the Cabin

The vehicle powertrain remains the most-cited focus area for vehicle lightweighting efforts, up two points from 2016, with the chassis running a distant second.

The survey spotlighted another change worth noting: the rise in vehicle interiors as a lightweighting target, interest in which practically doubled year over year. OEMs are introducing creative lightweighting solutions to help differentiate vehicle interiors, contributing to passenger safety and comfort and improving utilization of space through the use of new materials in these critical areas.

Autonomy Impacts R&D

For the first time this year, the survey asked respondents whether the push for autonomous vehicles was impacting their R&D spending. Surprisingly, nearly half of respondents reported that autonomous vehicle research has negatively impacted other areas of research and development spending.

“Autonomy is a critical new area that holds great promise for passenger safety and convenience, and appropriately, the industry is investing heavily into advancing this technology,” said Fish. “But as the industry spreads its available R&D resources into autonomy, investment in lightweighting solutions and new materials technologies like advanced composites is challenged. In this environment, accessing the capabilities and engaging the resources of full-service material suppliers like DuPont can play a major role in helping deliver lightweight solutions and reduce total costs.”

Electrification on the Rise

Vehicle electrification was the big winner in this year’s survey, posting gains across the board. As a technology focus for meeting 2025 CAFE, interest in electrification more than doubled over 2016. When asked which electrification system was getting the most attention and resources, respondents put hybrid vehicles and pure electric vehicles on equal footing.

CAFE in Question

Currently under review, the 2025 CAFE standards require automakers to deliver a fleet average of at least 54.5 mpg by 2025. A midterm review by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is designed to determine the industry’s technological readiness and ability to implement the standards at an acceptable cost. A final decision is anticipated in 2018.

The standards’ future looks uncertain, a sense that was echoed in this year’s Wards Auto survey. Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents, in fact, said they expect the standards will become less stringent. By contrast, in 2016, 86 percent of respondents said they expected the standards would strengthen or remain the same.

DuPont Automotive offers more than 100 materials and product families for the global automotive industry. Through its global application development network, DuPont Automotive is committed to collaborating with customers throughout the value chain to develop new products, materials, components and systems that help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and protect people and the environment. For more information, visit For additional information about DuPont Performance Materials, visit

DuPont (NYSE: DD) has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials and services since 1802. The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment. For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit

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Donna Swain
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