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Why Is the Use of Aluminum in Autos On the Rise?

Written By, Jordan R.

Recently, aluminum has become increasingly popular in car parts and auto design. Rather than using other metals like steel, manufacturers are using aluminum on everything from a car’s wheels to the frame. But wouldn’t a car made of aluminum be incredibly dangerous to drive? Apparently not. Aluminum is actually an asset to the auto industry.

Performance

Performance is the most obvious reason auto manufacturers have started using more aluminum in car design. If a vehicle is lighter, then it can indeed drive faster, better, and all with increased handling and drivability. Plus, because aluminum weighs less, it puts less stress on the engine, which means more mileage and a higher fuel economy. In addition, a lightweight vehicle doesn’t require a HEMI V8 to go fast!

For instance, take a look at the 2017 Chevy Corvette Stingray. Corvettes are high-end performance cars known for their racing legacy. The newest Corvette Stingray has a new aluminum space frame that is 100 pounds lighter than its previous model. That lighter frame means less weight, which in turn allows the Corvette Stingray to accelerate faster.

Now, that’s great and all, but can automakers really argue the use of aluminum when people have been crushing aluminum soda cans against their head for decades? (not advised)

Strength and Safety

Well, unlike your typical can of soda, the aluminum used on cars is much stronger and thicker, and absorbs energy better. Not only does a vehicle constructed out of aluminum weigh about half as a vehicle built with a traditional steel frame, but an aluminum body structure can perform as well or even better than steel in strength and energy absorption.

Additionally, there are different types of aluminum used on cars. While a car’s exterior exterior shell might be made of a lighter more flexible aluminum (so it can crumble in certain areas as a safety feature), other aluminum elements might be made of forged aluminum, which is an extremely strong aluminum used on planes and race cars.

Take another look at the Chevy Corvette Stingray. Though the new aluminum space frame is lighter, it is also 57% stiffer than the previous-generation Corvette. The extra stiffness and lighter weight typically results in less damage in the event of a car accident.

Hug a Tree

Let’s not forget about Mother Earth. More than a half-million tons of aluminum is recycled and recovered every year. A single ton of recycled aluminum can equate to the energy expenditure of about 20 barrels of oil.

Moreover, a vehicle constructed of aluminum weighs less, therefore it consumes less energy to do the same amount of work as a vehicle made of steel, and thus puts out less CO2 emissions -- sometimes by more than 15 percent less. In the words of Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, “You can’t do that on coal and uranium.”

The Highlights

Aluminum construction isn’t new of course. Nearly every Dodge vehicle today has aluminum wheels, and Jeep is constantly pushing for a higher percent of aluminum used in construction. In fact, the use of aluminum in auto construction has exponentially grown for the last half a decade, making it currently the second most-used material next to steel.

All-in-all, the use of aluminum benefits everyone - it costs less, which means manufacturers spend less, which can lead to more affordable vehicles; it saves the Earth; and vehicles can be designed with larger, more powerful crumple zones without the sacrifice of added weight.

Really, what do we have to lose? Color me surprised.

Photo Source: Shutterstock/Copyright: Pavel L Photo and Video

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