Vehicle Lightweighting and Safety

Lighter vehicles made with high strength steel may increase occupant safety

Reducing vehicle weight and lightweighting the structure allows for increased ride quality and passenger safety Reducing vehicle weight and lightweighting the structure allows for increased ride quality and passenger safety

High school physics tells us that in a collision, the heavier vehicle will generally win – heavier cars are more likely to move the obstacle in their way, reducing the forces on their own occupants while increasing the forces on the occupants in the lighter vehicle. This fact presents a challenge to automakers since one of the most important levers designers have to dramatically reduce fuel requirements over the next decade is vehicle lightweighting.

Lighter Vehicles, Not Smaller, Could Increase Safety in Collisions

Since the fuel economy standard is based on a fleet average, one might imagine that this rule would result in automakers pushing consumers toward smaller vehicles, which are by nature lighter. However, the new fuel economy standards discourage this action by increasing the standard in accordance with a decrease in vehicle footprint. This thankfully prevents an overall downsizing of the fleet especially since SUVs and large luxury vehicles are highly popular platforms and where many automakers make their best margins. The result of these regulations then is that all cars will need to be lighter – not smaller, with the heaviest cars likely to experience the greatest reductions in weight. Since the heaviest cars will be getting proportionately lighter, safety in collisions could actually increase because there will be less difference in weight between vehicle classes.  

Performance of Lighter Vehicles Made with High Strength Steel

While vehicle mass is a key factor in safety, it is not as important as a clever body-in-white structural design using high performance materials. Take for instance this IIHS video of a 1959 Chevy Bel-Air colliding with a 2009 Chevy Malibu in a front offset crash test. The Malibu is 177lb lighter than the Bel-Air, but anyone who watches this collision would much rather be a passenger in the Malibu.  This is the effect of innovation in the design of crash energy absorption components and the introduction of higher strength steels over the last 50 years. Watch first-hand how a lighter vehicle made with high strength steel fares against the heavier 1959 Chevy Bel-Air.

Steel innovation continues with new 3rd generation advanced high strength steels that will allow automakers to reduce weight without sacrificing ride quality and safety. Learn more about how NanoSteel’s automotive sheet steel is poised to meet the demand for increased vehicle safety and fuel economy.